Tinder Bundles: Part 1 Ember Extenders


Over a series of blogs we will be taking a closer look at tinder bundles.  We will be taking it apart and rebuilding it with you piece by piece, focusing on materials that are available to us now at this time of year. We will also look into detail on the subtleties that can make all the difference between failure and success.


Our ancestors knew exactly how, where and what they could use in their natural surroundings depending on their need or requirement at the time. The knowledge they used to live was imperative to their survival unfolding in to our future.They knew exactly what and how they could use everything around them to their advantage, in whatever the season

There is nothing primitive about the knowledge and skills they passed on to one another through thousands of years. Much of what we term bushcraft today was everyday life for them and a joy of rediscovering these skills is usually simply recreation for ourselves. With the convenience of our lives today it is easy to lose sight of the value in the wealth of knowledge they possessed. Nowadays, information can be obtained from the swipe of a digital device whereas our ancestors either learned from their elders or bitter experience.

Ask most a people who enjoy bushcraft which skill they would most like to master and friction fire is close to the top of the list. In this series of  blogs we are focusing on a small but very important aspect of friction firelighting, and that is converting your ember into a flame using a tinder bundle and this particular blog is focusing on one aspect if the tinder bundle, namely ember extenders. I’ll be taking a look at what is available to me at this time of year in my local area.  Not all the material covered might be available in your area and in turn you may have  access to other not mentioned here.

So what are ember extenders and what part do they play in creating fire? Ember extenders are one of nature’s fine fuels. You may well recognise it as the fluffy material in our hedgerows, woodlands, in and along our watercourses. They are nature’s way of transporting the reproductive hopes of the plants i.e. the seeds, and carrying them away with the lightest of breezes. They are the vehicle by which you can transform a coal produced through friction fire lighting to expand rapidly becoming more stable and in turn generating the heat required to ignite the coarser tinder that makes up the bulk of your tinder bundle (which we’ll look at in a future blog).

It can achieve this with two main properties, its slow burn rate and low combustion level. Of course neither of these properties can help you if it is not in its optimum condition. Like good, but not all firewood it needs to be foraged dead & not green. We want all the nutrients to have retreated back into the plant and any moisture to have dissipated as they do not aid the production of fire.

It’s great when we come across some material in the perfect condition, but prior to diving into all that fluff we do well in remembering the legalities and staying the right side of the law. We need to remember that all land is owned by somebody.


We do have a common law right to collect the four F’s, fruit, flowers, foliage and fungi. Providing it is growing wild and for your own use. This does not entitle you to uproot any plant as you need the landowner’s permission to do this. Rare plants (which we will not be dealing with here) are protected by law and should be left alone. The four F’s privilege is removed on Countryside Rights of Way (CROW) land. Be aware of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Specific plants are protected on this land by law and you should make yourself aware of them. Land under the control of the National Trust, Forestry Commission, Local Authority, Wildlife Trust and Nature Reserves, etc will have their bylaws or regulations in place which may prohibit you taking any materials.

On private land we need explicit permission from the land owner. This puts you in a great position and having an agreement that allows you access all year round is of great value and well worth the energy in perusing, as it could open a window for you to practicing other bushcraft activities that may be of interest to you. A bottle of whiskey on the right day can go a long way.

(I have referenced Hedgerow by John Wright which is No7 in the River Cottage Handbook series as it has one of the clearest definitions of the very complex law that effects foraging).

There is an unwritten law, a code of foraging good practice if you will. It is basically common sense really. When foraging don’t clear everything in sight, leave plenty to allow the plant to reproduce, after all we may well want to come back to the site the following year and others may well do to. As we are mainly dealing with seed heads at the time when they are ready to spread, help the plant by actively releasing them into the breeze as you go. Skipping is optional!  Others may rely on what you are foraging, think of insects, birds & small mammals and leave plenty for them. Observe the countryside code,

Collecting it in plastic bags can be convenient, especially as most of my collecting is done opportunistically on a nice dry day on the way to somewhere else. It is nice however to make a day of it and organise yourself and take time to enjoy the country side at the same time.  After you have collected your bounty it is a good idea to leave it exposed to the outside air for a time. This enables anything you have collected inadvertently to crawl out and find a new home.  I generally collect in a large canvas holdall which I can store it in as well. This allows the contents to breath and any moisture present to leave in a way that will keep it in good condition until you need it. Using a brown paper bag or leather pouch has the same desired effect. Storing it in a plastic bag has the opposite effect and the contents sweats inside trapping the moisture and over time wild attract mildew and your efforts will begin to spoil. For the same reasons avoid storing your tinder in damp or humid conditions. The shed if you have one, a warm attic is better, in the spare room if you can get away with it.

mixed ember extenders

Mixed plant seed heads in leather, canvas and brown paper bags

When using ember extenders as a vehicle for creating fire it is wise not to use anything in isolation, although as with most things in nature there are exceptions. This is because each tinder has different characteristics to other tinders, some finer and others coarser. When they are used in conjunction with each other only become greater than the sum of the parts. As I mentioned earlier there are exceptions to this available now, so let’s take a look at it first. Rosebay Willow Herb


Rosebay Willow Herb – Chamerion angustifolium

It is also aptly named Fire Weed, due to its ability to germinate on burnt ground. It is one of the great ember extenders and the last remains can still be found now. Each plant has up to 80,000 seeds which open up gradually from the bottom to the top releasing them in stages. You will find the best examples in sheltered areas or ones that have been blown over slightly, where the seeds have been sheltered from the wind dispersing them.

When collecting draw your hand from just below the bottom of the flower spike, collecting everything from the stem.

The fluffy seed heads and the husks from them work excellent together in a tinder bundle. The seeds work as the fine fuel with the husks acting as the catalyst to ignite the tinder bundle very efficiently.



Greater Read Mace – Typha latifolia

Often miss named Bull Rush due to a religious depiction of Moses in a basket surrounded by them, this ember extender is a great one to forage. In not much time and little effort you can collect enough to make many fires. It is pre-compressed on the stem. Due to it being so compressed, if it does contain any moisture on collecting, it may take some time to dry.

It separates very effectively, almost too well. If you were to put a naked flame to a small amount that has been well fluffed up, you would observe that it flashes over very quickly. In this state it does not work well in a tinder bundle. It becomes more effective when you slightly compress it a little. It will achieve results on its own, but works nicely in a mix. On the other hand if we wanted to carbonise it we would need is fully compress it with the aid of water to achieve good results.



Phragmites Reed – Phragmites australis

Also known as common reed and makes a great thatching material. However it is the panicles of seed we are interested in. The featherings used to transport the seed are joined with a coarser husk that works very well as an ember extender. They do not require any preparation other than being scrunched up into your tinder bundle.

They are found on the edges of lakes and rivers and ponds, where they grow abundantly. Picking the ones from the bank leaves plenty in deeper water for you to make less of an environmental impact. Try to gather from a wide area rather than clearing big areas of it.


Clematis – Clematis Vitalba        

Also known as, Old Man’s Beard and Travellers Joy, amongst others. This grows in abundance in my area, looking more like cotton wool balls draping themselves over our hedgerows and woodlands like a veil. It often grows high upin out of reach in places, but when you do come across the plant it is usually growing in abundance.

With its rounded,coarser seed heads it makes for an excellent addition to your tinder bundle. Working both in isolation and in a mix. If you have locally it will be available for a while as it is quite resistant to the wind and rain.


That’s is all for this part of the blog, so get out there and see what you can find. Next time we will be focusing on the coarser material available to us now for creating the tinder bundle itself.


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