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How to avoid poison berries and select a camping knife

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Posted: Sunday, August 1, 2010 4:47 am | Updated: 1:04 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

Q: My kids are very interested in picking berries and seem to always come home with some to show me. Are there any poisonous berries I should be worried about them picking?

A: The one that I frequently see around the Interior that should be avoided is Baneberry, also known as Doll’s Eye or Chinaberry. Just a few of these berries ingested can cause an adult to become violently ill, and only a couple can kill a child. Luckily, it is easy to identify. The plant grows 1- to 3-feet high. The berries can either be white or red and may be round or oblong shape and are very glossy. There is also a dark spot on each berry, explaining it’s “doll’s eye” namesake. The berries grow in a spike above the plant and each berry protrudes off the spike from a single stem. Look for it in the open woods and in moist, shady areas. Just last week I found a giant patch growing under a tree in Valdez along the green belt- the most prolific example I’ve ever found of this species. Usually I just find a single plant. Teach your children to avoid it. When I find this plant around my house in the woods, I show it to my children, then uproot it and throw it in the burn pile. I’d rather not have to worry about it.

To learn more about edible and non-edible plants in Alaska, I highly recommend “Discovering Wild Plants,” by Janice Schofield. It is a fascinating guide with full-color pictures and recipes for your harvest.

Q: Do you have any recommendations for a good camping knife?

A: When out on a camping trip, I never leave home without my Leatherman securely attached to my belt or close at hand in my backpack. The combination of tools are widely used while camping, especially the knife and the can opener. That’s one.

Depending on what I’ll be doing, I’ll also have a filet knife or my 3-inch sheath knife with an antler handle. That one is a replica of one I lost along the Melozi River years ago that my father had given me. Many knives are like that — really special because of who gave it to you, what trips you’ve gone on, the game you have cleaned with it. You look at that knife and the memories come back. Guns are the same way.

I was recently reading an old book called “Woodcraft,” by Bernard S. Mason. His reasoning about good knives made complete sense to me. According to Mason, “The test of a knife is whether or not it will slice bacon. If it is thin enough and sharp enough for that job, it is a first-class camping knife. And right here is the chief type of use to which a hunting knife is put. No matter how enthusiastic a hunter one may be, he will slice bacon and cut bread with his hunting knife more frequently than he will cut up bear or skin deer! Not only is this capacity to slice bacon the test of the style of blade but it is the everyday test of the condition in which it is kept.”

He goes on to say, “It is in the matter of thickness that many hunting knives are at fault. Made for rugged use the blades are usually heavy and thick enough to stand much battering. Frequently there is a groove down each side to lighten the weight without sacrificing strength — such knives are better sticking instruments for killing animals than cutting tools. The ideal camper’s knife has a thin, keen blade…”

Words of wisdom from 1973, still relevant today.

Brookelyn Bellinger is an independent filmmaker from Delta Junction, and author of the book “The Frozen Toe Guide to Real Alaskan Livin’.” Send your questions to or visit her website at


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