Wood ash from your fireplace, woodstove, or outdoor boiler may seem like a waste product, but there are a surprising number of uses for wood ash. Historically, wood ash was an asset, and there are still plenty of creative ways to use wood ash in your modern home, garden, and even your kitchen!
If you’re heating with wood, there’s always plenty of wood ash to go around, and you may find yourself wondering what to do with fireplace ashes.
Our homestead is relatively small by modern standards (~1200 sq feet), and the walls are nearly a foot thick and super-insulated. To save on wood (and work), we only heat our house to around 62 degrees day and night.
Still, cold Vermont winters mean that we burn roughly 4 cords of hardwood each year, or 6 to 8 cords of softwood which has a lower BTU.
A cord of hardwood produces roughly 5-8 gallons of wood ash, or about 20 to 25 pounds of ashes per cord.
That means we have around 30-40 gallons of wood ash in the spring. That’s way too much for any single-use, so we’ve had to find creative ways to use wood ash, when it would otherwise be a waste product.
Ways to Use Wood Ash
Wood ash is little more than the remaining minerals after burning wood, and fireplace ashes contain calcium and all manner of other things that can be handy around the house, if used properly.
There are a lot of uses for ash, so I’ve broken them down into convenient categories for you:
- Household Uses for Wood Ash
- Yard and Garden Uses for Wood Ash
- Primitive and Survival Uses for Wood Ash
- Recipes Using Wood Ash
- Wood Ash for Food Preservation
- Medical & Cosmetic Uses for Wood Ash
Click on any of those links, and it’ll jump you to the right place in the article. (Or, you can just scroll down and read them all.)
Some of the most common modern ways to use wood ashes include:
- De-Icing Driveways and Sidewalks
- Natural Pest Repellant
- Garden Fertilizer & Compost Booster
- Cleaning Stove Glass
- Silver Polish & Dish Detergent
- Odor & Stain Remover
- Natural Flea Treatment for pets
- And many more!
I’ll walk you through how you’d use wood ash to solve each of these common everyday household problems.
Household Uses for Wood Ash
Even if you don’t have a “homestead” or a back garden, there are plenty of ways to use wood ashes around the house, indoors, and out. Most of these work just as well in any household, whether you’re in an apartment in the city or way out in a rural community.
Natural Ice Melt
Probably one of the most practical uses for wood ash is to use it slowly over the course of the winter as ice melt. The natural minerals in wood ash work the same way as salt does to melt ice on driveways and walkways. Be careful using it near your front door though; tracking wood ash into the house makes a big mess.
We use it as ice melt on our front walkway, and once the ice has melted, we sweep it to the sides, so we don’t track it in the house. Chemical de-icing salt really isn’t that different, and it often gets tracked into the house too. Salt that’s tracked in will damage floors, while wood ash tracked in can just be swept up later without issue.
Winter is a messy time, one way or another. At least with wood ash, you don’t have to worry about it being toxic to kids and pets, as some walkway salts are.
Traction on Slippery Roads
This suggestion was submitted by a reader, and I have since tried it, and yes, it does work! I now carry a coffee can full of wood ashes in the trunk of my car, and it’s gotten me out of many a slippery situation.
Since wood ash is a natural ice melter, it can quickly create traction on slippery roads. The spots where the ash hits melt in seconds into tiny pockets, creating a sandpaper-like surface on otherwise slick ice. The actual minerals in the ash also help with traction, just like sand but more effective.
“We are truck drivers. We always carry a tin of wood ashes with us. They have gotten us out of trouble several times. We use them if we are stuck on an icy patch after waiting for wrecks to be cleared. My husband will put the truck in granny gear, and I walk beside the drive tires and throw a handful of ashes under the tires. The ash acts like course sandpaper. Usually, it only takes a few feet of rolling to get us out if the situation. When we run out of ashes, we stop at cracker barrel, and they will let us have some of theirs.”
Natural Toilet Cleaner
Wood ash is especially valuable as a toilet cleaner, not only because it polishes the bowl, but also because it won’t harm septic systems.
Bleach-based toilet cleaners will kill the natural bacteria that keep a rural septic system, causing them to back up and potentially fail. My parents had this happen, and they were told to stop using all bleach-based or sterilizing cleaners in their house. Anything that’s strongly antibacterial will also kill the natural flora, when washed into the septic tank. They couldn’t even use normal bleach-based cleaners on their tub or shower tile.
Using natural cleaners is one option, but they’re often less effective.
Wood ash happens to be incredibly effective at cleaning toilets, as well as tile and other bathroom fixtures, and it actually promotes waste breakdown in the septic tank. Later I’ll talk about how wood ash is used in outhouses and camp toilets to prevent smell, and it does it by helping the waste break down more efficiently.
(This is less of a concern if you’re in the city on a public sewer line. Still, it works as well as bleach, so it’s healthier for you while you’re cleaning even if it’s not helping to save your septic tank.)
Stove Glass Cleaner
Adding a bit of water to a small amount of wood ash creates an effective stove glass cleaner. Let the mildly abrasive wood ash scrub the soot off the glass so you can enjoy watching the fire all winter long.
This also works with regular window glass, and it was used that way historically. Be careful though, many modern windows are not made of glass anymore, and they’re a type of polycarbonate instead. That could potentially scratch the window.
Stove glass is a high-temperature safe glass that’s made to be in contact with ash, so it’s a perfect choice there. Ironically, the same soot that makes the glass dirty in the first place is also perfect for scrubbing it clean.
Cleaning Cloudy Headlights
One of my readers told me they “make a rubbing paste from wood ashes and remove clouded headlights on a vehicle.” It makes sense because road grit and the accumulated exhaust fumes from the car in front of you aren’t that much different than dirty stove glass.
Cloudy headlights are often a bit more than Windex can clean, but just right for a wood ash scrub.
In the same way that wood ash works to clean glass, it can also polish silver. Just dampen a towel and add a bit of wood ash before working some tarnished silver.
Wood ash is also commonly used to scour dishes in rural communities and while camping….so it’s not just for the silver spoon-owning crowd.
Skunk Odor Remover
Wood ashes naturally help neutralize skunk odor on pets. If an animal gets sprayed, dust them thoroughly with wood ash and leave them outside for a few hours before giving them a thorough bath.
While this method is likely effective to an extent and may have been important historically, these days there are many better options. If you have a skunk-sprayed animal, use wood ash if you have nothing else on hand, but I’d highly recommend keeping skunk-off spray and skunk-off pet shampoo on hand if you live in the woods as we do.
Hiding Stains on Paving
Wood ash is naturally grey, and it can help cover up stains on sidewalks and paving.
Simply dust a bit on and scuff it in with your boot.
Cleaning Oil Spills
In the same way that wood ash can be used to hide stains on concrete, it can absorb oil spills to help prevent them in the first place.
My dad kept a bucket of kitty litter in the garage for cleaning up the garage floor, since it would absorb any spills. Wood ash works just as well, and it’s free.
Spreading a bit of ash in dark corners of the house or under appliances will keep roaches out. Their hard outer shell doesn’t stand up well to wood ash, and it’ll keep them from setting up shop in your house.
Clothing Moth Repellant
I’ve read that putting a bit of wood ash on stored clothes keeps moths from eating it. While that may work, I’d worry about ash stains. Sources say you can just dust the ash off when you take them out of storage, but I’m skeptical…
Natural Flea Treatment for Pets
You may have heard of using diatomaceous earth on pets to kill fleas naturally. Wood ash works the same way. The tiny particles in the ash leave micro cuts on the hard-bodied fleas, which causes them to dry out and die.
We’ve tried this on our cat and it works well, but you need to wash it out after about 24 hours. A cat is naturally unhappy about cleaning itself when it’s covered in wood ash, so do the treatment and then help your feline friend out with a bath.
Similar to baking soda, wood ash can help absorb odors around the house. Try adding a small jar to the fridge to absorb odors. It works even better if there are small pieces of charcoal still left in the ashes to help out.
Wood ash can be used to absorb humidity and help prevent moist areas from developing mold. Place a cup of wood ashes in a damp cupboard or basement room. Again, small chunks of charcoal left in the ashes help for this purpose.
Sifted wood ash, mixed with water to form a paste, can be rubbed on stains to remove them. It works best if applied as soon as possible after the stain. I would imagine the action is similar to applying baking soda paste as a stain remover.
While I’ve read plenty of sources that verify this, I still worry about the ash actually making more stain than it fixes, but I’ve yet to test it out.
Wood Ash Fire Starter
There are actually quite a few ways that wood ash can be used as a fire starter, if properly prepared.
I’m going to discuss most of them in the next section, primitive and survival uses for wood ash because they have been used for millennia to help extend tinder or cary fire from one camp location to the next.
However, this particular modern homemade wood ash fire starter idea was submitted by several readers, and they all said it works better than just about anything for starting fires (especially on green wood). Since it uses kerosene, I’m calling it a “modern” solution, but I do suggest you read on for the primitive fire-starting methods that use only natural woodland materials and wood ash.
“I’ve been using wood ash for starting fires in my fireplace for 50 years (yes, I’m old). Take the cold ashes from your fireplace (be sure they’re cooled off), and mix in some kerosene to make a mud slurry, not too overly wet. Put in fireplace and then load wood and light. It will start with the greenest wood. No, does not smell up the house; no, it will not flare up. It is perfectly safe and will save you money and time starting your fires. Leave the slurry in a bucket With a tight-fitting lid for the next time you build your fire.”
Yard And Garden Uses for Wood Ash
Using up wood ash in your yard and garden is a natural solution. The minerals from the wood are restored to nature, where they can be reused again.
Wood ash contains all the trace minerals from inside a trees wood, which are the building blocks needed for plant health. While it doesn’t contain carbon or nitrogen, those are in ready supply from compost.
The University of Vermont recommends about 5 gallons of wood ash per 1,000 square feet of garden. Since wood ash will raise the pH of soils, it’s not good for acid-loving crops like blueberries or potatoes.
A small amount of wood ash can help give compost piles a boost. While birds may be beautiful around a backyard compost pile, in rural areas open compost can attract bears. We’ve found that dusting a bit of wood ash on top of the pile helps keep bears and other large omnivores from digging in the scraps as well.
After we started adding wood ash to our compost, we noticed that it was markedly more healthy. Stick a hand into the middle of the pile, and you’ll come out with a palm-full of hard-working worms actively converting everything into nutrient-rich compost.
Control Pond Algae
Since wood ash contains micronutrients that plants need to thrive, it can also help strengthen aquatic plants. The potassium in wood ash can boost rooted aquatic plants in a pond, making them better able to compete with algae. That in turn, slows the growth of algae in a pond. Be careful not to add too much.
Use some rough math to calculate the volume of your pond, and then add about 1 tablespoon per 1,000 gallons of water.
Preventing Plant Frost Damage to Plants
I’ve heard that dusting plants with wood ash before an early light frost can help prevent frost damage. It makes sense, as the mineral salts in wood ash would lower the freezing point of water without harming the plant tissues as other types of salt might.
Our garden is always packed or undercover early in the season, so I tested this method, but it might be worth a try.
Prevent Calcium Deficiency in Tomatoes
Those ugly black spots on tomatoes are often the result of calcium deficiency. Eggshells and bone meal are often added to tomato planting holes to provide them with calcium, but wood ash can do the same job.
Add about 1/4 cup of wood ash to each tomato planting hole and scratch it into the soil before setting out transplants.
Raising Soil pH
As noted above, wood ash helps buffer acidic soils and can help raise soil pH if that’s needed on your particular plot. This is handy for most garden vegetables, with the exception of potatoes which grow best in slightly acidic soils.
Be aware that not all parts of the world have acidic soils, and if your soils are already alkaline, then adding wood ash could cause issues.
Slug and Snail Repellant
Creating a circle of wood ash around crops prevents slugs and snails from crossing into plant beds. We use this around our homegrown shiitake mushrooms, which are particularly susceptible to snails and slugs.
It’s also a good solution for leafy crops like lettuce. The wood ash barrier is only effective until it rains or the ash gets wet, which is unfortunate because you’ll need to reapply regularly. The benefit, on the other hand, is that it’ll wash off easily at harvest time.
Beyond just keeping pests off homegrown mushrooms, wood ash is also used to sterilize mushroom-growing media (straw, sawdust, etc).
One reader sent me the following instructions:
“Wood ash and water is used to sterilize the straw or cardboard for mushroom growing. It lowers the ph of the water enough to kill most competing funguses present on the straw or cardboard. Then the ashy water is drained off and the ph rises enough to grow the chosen mushrooms.”
Non-Toxic Ant Repellant Around Kids & Pets
Placing a pile of wood ash on top of an anthill gives them notice that they need to move their nest.
It won’t kill the nest, but they will have to pack up and relocate, which works great for relocating ants’ nests away from kids’ play areas.
Protecting Bee Hives from Ants
Generally, bees are capable of defending their own hives from intruders, but with all the challenges they currently face, most hives are in a slightly weakened state. They can take all the help they can get! One of my readers suggested making a circle of ash around a beehive to help deter ants.
Since ants will move a hive in the presence of wood ash, it makes sense to me that this would help keep ants from invading a beehive to steal honey. I do not know if it would have unintended consequences, but I think it’s worth a try if ants are getting to your bees.
Dustbath for Poultry
Since wood ash helps treat fleas and other insects, it’s perfect for helping poultry relieve themselves of parasites. Chickens and turkeys naturally dust bath to help clean their feathers of unwanted intruders, and adding a bit of wood ash to the bath only helps get the message across.
Our turkeys had a particularly bad infestation of avian lice, and we filled a plastic children’s swimming pool with wood ash for them. They dove on it with excitement and spent long hours rolling in the ash. No need to apply pesticides; the birds know how to solve their own problems organically, given the right tools.
No need to worry if they eat a bit since wood ash is also an avian mineral supplement…
Chicken Feed Supplement
Since wood ash is high in minerals, it can be good as a food supplement for chickens in small amounts. Community Chickens notes that “Wood ash offers calcium and potassium. Adding wood ash to your chicken feed (less than 1% ratio) may help to extend a hen’s laying period and can help reduce the smell of chicken droppings.”
One of my readers also mentioned to me that charcoal bits are used to help treat eggbound chickens. A bit of further research, and I found that charcoal bits are given to chickens to help prevent diarrhea and treat for intestinal parasites. So the tiny flecks of charcoal in with the ash will also help the chickens.
Other sources note that wood ash is used as a general dewormer for livestock, but I haven’t found anything specific about how it would work in other animals beyond chickens.
When using ash as a feed supplement, be especially sure that you didn’t burn anything but clean, untreated wood in the stove.
Primitive & Survival Uses for Wood Ash
Long before our modern wood stoves and households, humans made fire and therefore wood ash. You can bet if there was a way to put wood ashes to good use they worked hard to find it. Waste not…
Bronze Age Medicinal Ash Tattooing (Or Primitive Acupuncture)
An archeological find from 1991 indicates that ash may have been inserted under the skin at injury sites in as a form of medicinal treatment.
Ötzi, the oldest iceman ever discovered, was found in the Swiss Alps and dated to around 3300 BC. He is most famous for carrying two mushrooms, Birch Polypore and Tinder Polypore, both known to be medicinal according to modern science, indicating the very early use of mushrooms in medicine. Beyond that, he’s also the oldest evidence of tattooing in the archeological record, with a total of 61 tattoos. The tattoos themselves were made by inserting wood ash under the skin, in the same way ink is used today.
The most interesting part though is that each of the tattoos corresponds to a location on his body that had an injury. Both chronic pain-like injuries such as spinal degeneration and several acute accidents like injuries in his ankles. It’s thought that wood ash tattooing was a traditional form of medicine similar to how acupuncture is used today in eastern societies. (Source)
Hide Tanning Wood Ash Pre-Soak
Brain tanning is an ancient method of preserving hides and helps keep them soft and supple for clothing. I found a reference on a brain tanning instructional site that mentions that a wood ash soak was used by Neolithic peoples for tanning, but also by more modern native American peoples:
“Many tribes soaked their skins in wood-ash water prior to scraping. The reason for this is often credited to the ashes causing the hair to fall out. The real value of the ashes lies in the alkalinity’s ability to disrupt the mucoid bonds. It opens the structure in two to four days… By adding ash to your pre-scraping soak, you can get complete brain penetration in one simple braining with fresh hides.”
Many readers noted that they also use wood ash water as a pre-soak for hides, and specifically noted that they don’t actually put ash on the hides themselves. Rather, they soak the ash in water to make a lye water (as you would when making wood ash soap) and then pour off the water for use, discarding the ashes.
One reader, however, notes that they actually use wood ash paste directly on the hide instead:
“I use wood ashes for tanning and removing hair. After preparing/fleshing hide, I rub a paste of wood ashes into the hair side, then roll it up, hair to inside, that gets put into a 5-gallon bucket of water mixed with wood ashes and alum powder; after about 3 or 4 days I remove it from the bucket and use the blunt end of a knife to scrape off hair, it comes off easily. The leather can be stretched now or used like rawhide; shoelaces could be made this way. I cut it into strips while wet and wrapped the bow on my dogsled to reinforce it. It shrinks on as it dries and becomes hard.”
Removing Tannins from Acorns
Acorns were a staple food supply for ancient peoples around the globe, not just native Americans. They were critical to the stone age and iron age food supply in Greece, Italy, Spain, North Africa, and throughout Asia. The earliest direct evidence of their importance in the food supply comes from an archeological site in Morrocco dated to around 15,000 BC.
All acorns must be leached of tannins prior to consumption, regardless of the type of acorn or the peoples that consumed them. Leaching strategies differed across regions, but most involved soaking the acorns in several changes of water to remove the water-soluble tannin, leaving a sweet, nutritious acorn flour.
While adding wood ash to acorn leaching is not strictly necessary, its use as a leaching agent arose in multiple locations across the globe. The theory is that wood ash helps to leach tannins more effectively, binding them so that they are removed from the acorn flour easier. The flavor is changed in the process, and sources I’ve read noted that the resulting acorns taste more like pickled olives than starchy nuts. Depending on the tastes fo the culture, this may have been seen as a positive or negative change, but regardless, the consensus was this processing step rendered the acorn flour more nutritious and digestible.
This fall, we harvested a large crop of acorns, and I’m still slowly working through processing them all into acorn flour, acorn coffee, roast acorn nuts and all manner of delicious acorn-based foods. Thus far, I’ve only done hot water and cold water leaches, but I’ve saved some aside for wood ash leaching this winter, with fresh, clean hardwood ashes from our woodstove.
Iceland may be beautiful, but it isn’t exactly known for being the land of milk and honey. Before modern trade, life was hard and the traditional cuisine reflects that. The Nordic Cookbook (which is one of my favorite cookbooks of all time; seriously read it…) describes how Icelandic moss was prepared using wood ash, to leach out the toxins and render it edible:
“[Icelandic Moss] is rich in carbohydrates and has historically been of vital importance as a source of food in the region. It contains a lot of mildly toxic lichenic acid, which will upset your tummy and taste very bitter. The lichen was traditionally made digestible by soaking it before cooking in potash, a potassium carbonate solution produced by soaking wood ashes in water.”
He then describes how the lichen was eaten with porridge or other grains to help add calories during lean times. He notes that some traditional Icelandic breads that you can buy in the store still contain ash-treated lichen as an ingredient. You can buy Icelandic Moss by the pound for use in recipes, cosmetics, and for medicinal use.
Putting Out a Fire
The most obvious and practical use for ashes in a primitive world is putting out the fire. Simply bury a campfire in ashes to help smother it.
Wood Ash Tinder Fire Starters
Even though wood ash is often used to put out fires, when prepared properly, it can be used to help tinder actually start a fire.
This video walks you through the process of using wood ash-coated tinder as a fire starter.
Wood Ash Fire Extenders
Similar to using wood ash in tinder, you can also use wood ashes to help bank coals from a fire and keep it slowly burning overnight.
If you’re hoping to carry fire from one campsite to the next, without having to restart it (ie. before convenient lighters and matches), a wood-ashed cloth could be used to keep a fire smoldering for many hours.
Just carry it with you in a fireproof container, and then drop it on some tinder at your next campsite.
Since wood ash helps absorb the smell and boosts compost, it can work double duty in an outhouse or composting toilet. Add a small amount to helps speed the breakdown of wastes, but be careful not to add too much and change the chemistry too much.
It might also be helpful on extended camping trips…
Wood Ash Pottery Glaze
An ancient form of pottery glaze that is still used today, wood ash glazes originate around 1500 bc in China. We’ve played around a bit with making primitive pottery, harvesting the clay from our own backyard. I’m excited about trying out wood ash glazes on our homemade bowls. Here are detailed instructions on how to turn fireplace ash into a glaze, along with a bit more of the history behind wood ash glazes.
These days, dying clothing is an industrial affair, but there are still quite a few small-scale fiber artists that practice the craft using natural materials.
While wood ash itself is not a dye, it’s used as a pre-treatment to scour the fabric before dying, which makes it more receptive to the dyes.
One of my readers sent me a note saying, “Cotton or other natural fabrics can be ‘scoured’ before being dyed, by boiling them in wood ash water. This typically makes the resulting color look more clean and bright. I have tried this myself. Simply replace the soda in this fabric souring pretreatment with wood ash.”
Another botanical dyer sent me a note saying that,
“I’m a botanical dyer and have started experimenting with wood ash as a color modifier with plant and insect dyes. I imagine it will work similarly to other ph modifiers like cream of tarter and calcium.”
Why not? It’s adding calcium and adjusting the pH, so I’d imagine it would do some creative things to the dying process.
Wood Ash Glue
I’ve found several sources that say wood ash was used in combination with milk and vinegar to make a glue that was used for shoemaking and repair, as well as on battlefield shields…and likely other things.
One reader sent me this tested recipe for wood ash glue:
“Soak some wood ash in water overnight. Next day, warm some full cream milk. Remove it from the stove and add enough vinegar to curdle it, then scoop out the solids. Squeeze these dry, then put them in a clean bowl. Add enough water from the wood ash to make a thick, creamy liquid. Store in a screw-top jar.”
Wood Ash Soap
The idea for soap had to come from somewhere and as the story goes, soap was discovered when rain combined with cooking ashes and fat animal drippings, resulting in primitive soapy water.
Obviously, the process has been refined since then, but you can still make soap with wood ash lye and fats.
Wood Ash for Dish Washing
You can also clean directly with wood ashes, without actually turning them into soap. At least a dozen readers have sent me notes saying that wood ash is the standard way for washing dishes in their countries all across Africa, India, and Southeast Asia.
Here’s one example:
“While visiting an ashram near Bangalore in India, we did all our washing up by using the ashes from the cooking fire with coconut husks to scour with. It worked fantastically. No dish soap, and I can’t remember having sore hands afterward either.”
And another example gives even more detail:
“We were living off the grid on some jungle land in south India, and the locals taught us how to use wood ash (we cooked on wood-fired as they did) for washing the dishes. We used a dry coconut half as a bowl, filled it with sieved (to make it fine and not too gritty or it would be tough on your hands) ash, and for a scrubber, we used the hairy top of a coconut – which we would throw when worn out and replace with another from our infinite supply as we are coconuts daily. The ash was good at cleaning everything but greasy dishes (ghee/butter), so we sometimes added soapnut powder (again growing locally) which made it more effective against grease.”
Wood Ash Cement
You can make a primitive wood ash cement by mixing wood ash with terra cotta. There’s a process to it, and this video from primitive technology demonstrates all the steps (turn on the subtitles for a more detailed description of what’s going on).
Wood Ash Levening
Wood ash is an alkalizing agent, like baking soda. For the most part, straight wood ash wasn’t added directly to baked goods because it added a lot of ash flavor along with lift. More often it was processed into potash and then pearl ash, more on that in a minute. Still, there are some records of wood ash being added directly to baked goods as a leavener. One particular Native American Dish that uses wood ashes directly in the batter is Piki, or hopi blue corn pancakes, which I discuss later.
According to Joe Pastry who writes about historical cooking and food chemistry, “It was Native Americans who first invented chemical leavening, using ashes as they did to “lighten” grain cakes…. ashes contain alkaline salts. Put them into a wet grain porridge and the result will be bubbles. Not a lot of bubbles mind you, but enough to make a difference in the cooked porridge cake’s texture.”
I was all fired up to put wood ash leavening to the test, but then I found a site called Homestead Laboratory that had already done extensive experiments leavening biscuits with wood ashes and wood ash water. In the end, they made some pretty good-looking wood ash-leavened biscuits.
Pot Ash Levening
When the European settlers saw native Americans using wood ashes for leavening, they started to work with chemical leaveners too. Baking soda didn’t come into use until the 1860s, and before that yeast and whipped egg whites were the primary leaveners in Europe. They weren’t the only leaveners though, and a compound refined from wood ash known as “pot ash” was an alkali that reacted with acidic ingredients in the recipe like buttermilk or honey.
Potash is still used in many traditional Scandinavian holiday recipes, as well as traditional german and eastern European baked goods. It’s still sold in Europe around the holidays, and there are online sources to purchase baking potash as well.
The downside is that potash tends to give baked goods a woodsy or smokey flavor, and people accepted that when there were no other options for levening holiday treats, but when better options became available potash levening was quickly abandoned.
The book Caveman Chemistry contains detailed instructions on making potash from wood ashes, including all the applicable chemical reactions. If you’re interested in a fun science book that’ll really get kids engaged and will help everyone learn lost skills in the process, I’d highly recommend it.
The instructions are also on the caveman chemistry website:
“Whatever we extract from wood ashes must be there to begin with. Wood ashes are a complex heterogeneous mixture of all the non-flammable, non-volatile minerals which remain after the wood and charcoal have burned away. Because of the presence of carbon dioxide in the fire gases, many of these minerals will have been converted to carbonates. Burned soil may also be present. So the ashes probably contain predominately sodium and potassium carbonate, sodium and potassium chloride, silica, and calcium carbonate.
If we add the ashes to water, the soluble potassium and sodium salts will dissolve while the insoluble silica and calcium carbonate will settle to the bottom. We can then drain off the water (containing the “good stuff”) and throw the insoluble material away. To separate the chlorides from the soluble carbonates, we will exploit the greater solubility of the carbonates in hot water. We will bring the liquid to a boil and continue boiling until enough water boils away for an insoluble precipitate to form. This is very likely a mixture of sodium and potassium chloride. From this point, we will continue boiling until half of the remaining water is removed. At this point, we can be reasonably certain that only the soluble carbonates remain in solution. We will carefully pour off the hot liquid into another container, leaving the solid material behind. As the liquid cools to room temperature, the less soluble sodium carbonate will precipitate leaving the more soluble potassium carbonate in solution. Finally, the remaining solution can be drained off and boiled to dryness, producing solid potassium carbonate.
One of the observations you make should be that it takes a lot of wood to make a little ash and a lot of ash to make a little potash. Thus, while it is not particularly difficult to extract potash from wood, you will go through an enormous amount of wood to produce commercial amounts (pounds and tons) of potash.”
Pearl Ash Levening
After potash came pearl ash, or a refined form of potash. It no longer gave baked goods a smokey flavor, but it still wasn’t as clean as modern baking soda. When used in recipes that contained a lot of fats, pearl ash would give the food a soapy aftertaste so it was quickly abandoned once baking soda came to the market.
King Arthur Flour describes the process for making pearl ash from raw wood ashes, “To make pearlash, you first have to make potash which itself is made from lye. To make lye, you pass water through a barrel of hardwood ashes over and over until an egg can float on the residue. (To make soap you boil this “lye water” with lard or other fat until it is thick, pour it into molds and harden it into cakes.) To make potash, you evaporate lye water until you have a solid. Pearlash is a purified version of potash.”
Their description stops before the refining process, but I found another source that says, “The potash was refined in a kiln at a high temperature to burn off the impurities. The resulting white salt or ‘pearl ash’ (potassium carbonate or salt of tartar) was water-soluble, and formed a strongly alkaline solution.”
Recipes Using Wood Ash
I know, you’re skeptical here. Eating wood ash, seriously? It’s actually a part of a number of traditional cuisines, and some recipes just can’t be made without it. Wood ash is also used in haute cuisine to create unique flavors, and each type of wood has its own characteristics.
Native Americans soaked field corn in lye made from wood ashes helps to render make certain B vitamins bio-available, which can prevent nutritional deficiencies. (source)
If you’ve ever made homemade soft pretzels, you know they’re boiled in baking soda water before being baked. Historically, they were boiled in lye water instead, made by mixing wood ash with water and then straining. Lye is also used in other bread to keep the dough soft and prevent crumbling.
Similar to pretzels, bagels used to be made with lye water, and according to the New York Times, it’s hard to make a good bagel without lye. The lye on the outside of the bagel helps to create a chemical reaction in the oven, which makes them extra brown and crispy. All the lye itself is removed by the heat of the oven, leaving crispy browned bagels with a soft interior.
There are a number of cheeses that include a wood ash layer in the cheese, and others that are coated in wood ash. That wood ash serves a purpose, and just as it reduces the acidity in soil, wood ash also makes the cheese less acidic.
“Where the cheese has a high acidity such as fresh acid cheeses (cheese made without the use of or minimal use of rennet; most of the cheeses mentioned above are this style) the ash will neutralize the surface acidity. The surface flora required of those cheeses, some added to the milk and some occurs naturally, do not grow well in very acid environments but will grow earlier than would be expected if ash is added and results in a more complex microflora of the final cheese. The ash in this situation also restricts the growth of unwanted microflora.” (Source)
Wood Ash Pickles
While these days people use something called “pickle crisp” made from a calcium compound to keep pickles crisp, they used to be made with a lye solution soak.
According to a food science textbook, “Lye is an alkali (a mixture of sodium and potassium hydroxides) traditionally obtained by leaching wood ashes. We have to be a little cautious with regard to the role of lye in pickling. Firstly, it does not, being alkali, contribute to the pickling process per se, but to the breaking down of food matter as an aid or adjunct to pickling.”
While wood ash curing is optional for cucumber pickles, it’s absolutely required for curing olives, which is only the beginning of traditional wood ash use in Mediterranean cuisine…
A Greek grape must pudding was made with lye water.
One writer describes the process, “Traditionally, the grape wood was made with wood ash to reduce the bitterness of the wine and remove the impurities from the must. If the grapes were very ripe and sweet, the addition of ash or baking soda is not necessary. How to use the wood ashes: (please, pure wood, no paper no other additions!) Boil must with ashes, let sit overnight, strain and let sit for a few hours again, strain again. I this way you will remove the grape sediment as well as the ashes completely!” The ashes themselves do not end up in the dish, but the “lye water extract” is made from wood ashes.
Greek honey cookies contain lye water as an ingredient. About 1/4 cup of wood ashes are soaked in 1 liter of water, and then the water is filtered through very fine cloth. The resulting lye water goes right into the cookie batter.
Piki (Hopi Blue Corn Cakes)
Piki is a native American bread that is leavened directly with wood ashes, rather than wood ash water like many of the others. According to Wikipedia, “Blue corn, a staple grain of the Hopi, is first reduced to a fine powder on a metate. It is then mixed with water and burnt ashes of native bushes or juniper trees for purposes of nixtamalization (nutritional modification of corn by means of lime or other alkali). The thin batter is then smeared by hand over a large flat baking stone that has been heated over a fire and coated with oil made from pounded seeds of the native American plants squash and sunflower…Piki bread bakes almost instantaneously and is peeled from the rock in sheets so thin they are translucent. Several sheets of the bread are often rolled up loosely into flattened scrolls.”
I would love to find a recipe from a more reliable source than Wikipedia, and if you know of a reputable book or study article that contains instructions for making Piki let me know in the comments.
Nigerian Akanwu or Kaun
Nigerian cooks use wood ashes to make a type of potash that is used in cooking, known as Akanwu or Kuan. One source notes, “Potash (Kaun) is edible and is usually used for cooking pulses like beans… in order to tenderize the pulses so easily. Akanwu is also added in ewedu and okro soup during preparations in order to boost the viscosity as well as to increase the greenness and texture of the vegetables. It is used for mixing water and oil while preparing local dishes like abacha, ugba, and nkwobi.”
It’s still readily available for purchase online to make traditional recipes.
Some types of Chinese noodles are made with lye water, which gives them a distinctive yellow color, chewy texture and subtly eggy taste (source).
Chinese Moon Cakes
Another baked good made with lye water to help the dough stay soft and the outside brown during cooking.
A Norwegian dish, lutfisk is made by soaking salt cod in a bucket of lye water made from wood ashes for several days. It gives the fish a gelatinous texture.
A Swedish fish dish, it’s made from herring and is also prepared using wood ashes.
Wood Ash Salt
The book Original Local discusses native American uses for wood ash to season food. The author says once you try maple ash on a meal, “you will want to fill a shaker and use it regularly.” Buffalo Bird Woman also mentions using the ash from elm and cottonwood trees in the same way. Beyond wood, other tribes extracted salt from plants with fire, namely coltsfoot, and goosefoot, and used the ash as a seasoning.
Wood Ashes for Food Preservation
Besides using wood ashes or wood ash extracts directly in the food, they’ve also been used as a preservative. Wood ash contains natural salts, and repels pests too.
Preserving Eggs in Wood Ash
Historically, having eggs year-round was a bit of a challenge. Chickens stop laying in the coldest part of winter, right when holiday baking is at its peak. Eggs can be stored in a variety of ways, but one of the simplest (and most effective) is simply covering whole, unwashed eggs in sifted wood ashes. They’ll keep for months in a cool dark cellar that way. Some sources say up to a year…
The problem is the ashes flavor the eggs a bit, and they’ll have a musty flavor after a few months. There are plenty of other better ways to preserve eggs even without refrigeration, so this isn’t high on the list.
1,000 Year Eggs
While whole eggs placed in wood ash will keep for an extended period, they very different than thousand-year eggs. This Chinese dish is made by “coating duck or chicken eggs in a paste of clay, wood ash, tea, lime, and salt, then burying them – separated by rice straw to stop them from sticking together – for a mere 100 days or so. The resultant egg, once you have washed off the foul-smelling gunk and peeled and sliced it, has a grey-green yolk and a dark, translucent, bottle green ‘white’.” (source)
Tomatoes Preserved in Wood Ash
A few years back, I read an article about a farmer in Africa that discovered a technique to preserve tomatoes for months, simply by covering them in wood ashes. Since the tomatoes are all harvested at once, he can store his and sell them at a higher price later once the market is no longer flooded.
Preserving Seeds in Wood Ash
In moist climates where seeds are susceptible to fungus (or insect infestation), studies have shown that storing seeds in wood ash is effective in both preventing rot and insect predation. Corn, bean, and melon seeds were used in the study.
Cheese Preserved in Wood Ash
The book Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning describes a method for preserving cheese in wood ash. “Take a piece of Gruyere that is not too thin. Put it in a stoneware pot and surround the cheese with one to one and a half inches of sifted wood ashes. Store the pot in the cellar. Three months later, the cheese will be as fresh as when it was stored.”
I decided to give this a try and I got a ceramic preservation crock, added wood ashes and a thick cut of gruyere cheese. I left it there for three months as suggested, and I was pleasantly surprised when I pulled it out. Not only was it still good, but the flavor had actually improved!
The whole process and results are detailed in my article on preserving cheese in wood ash.
I’ve seen multiple sites claiming that rennet for cheesemaking was stored in a horn, which was sealed in a paste made from wood ash for preservation. Since modern rennet is refrigerated to keep it from denaturing, it makes sense that they would have needed some technique to preserve rennet. However, I can’t seem to find any reputable source for this information.
Medical & Cosmetic Uses for Wood Ash
Wood ash is still used medicinally in many countries, mostly for topical skin issues, but also to draw out toxins from bug bites and stings. These uses are often backed up by peer-reviewed scientific studies.
Some anecdotal reports suggest it can help prevent food poisoning and detoxify potentially harmful plants, but I can’t find anything concrete on that.
Long before synthetic cosmetics and dyes, people used what they had as cosmetics. There are many references in ancient Greek and Roman texts to depilatory agents, and the use of makeup is centuries old. Given that even modern makeup brands market products explicitly to give you a “charred ash look,” it’s only natural that wood ash was used in ancient cosmetics.
Wood ash has been used to clean wounds, and modern studies have shown that it actually significantly speeds up wound healing.
The ash is also effective as an antiseptic, which is also helpful for topical treatments.
Treating Skin Conditions & Bug Bites
Half a dozen readers have commented that the traditional medicinal systems in their country use a paste of wood ash on insect stings and bug bites, to relieve the itch and draw out the toxins. This seems most common in Kenya, where wood ash is used not only medicinally but for washing, sanitation, and deodorizing.
I’ve also found a few sources that say wood ash is used to treat eczema, psoriasis, and dandruff.
Heart Burn and Stomach Upset
Several people reported that a small amount of wood ash added to water is used in their countries (Namely, in Southeast Asia and throughout Africa) to treat heartburn and indigestion.
It makes sense, as wood ash contains calcium (like many modern antacids), and it’s a strong alkali that can help neutralize stomach acid.
The problem is, a little goes a long way, and if you try too much, you run the risk of harming your digestive tract. Thus far, no one’s told me exactly how much is used, but I would imagine it’s the tiniest pinch because wood ash water makes lye if you’re not careful.
Wood Ash Toothpaste
Many readers have commented that they use wood ash for toothpaste, and that it results in the whitest teeth and prevents cavities. The theory is that it works just like modern baking soda toothpaste.
Most people who use wood ash as toothpaste simply dampen their finger, dip it in wood ash and scrub their teeth with it before rinsing. No other ingredients and no toothbrush involved. Here’s one example,
“I am from South Africa, 64 years old, and grew up on a farm where we could not afford luxuries like toothpaste, and toothbrushes, so we had to use wood ash to clean our teeth. Today I still have most of my teeth left, and my dentist confirmed that they are in a healthy state.”
Several other people that grew up during the depression in the US said the same thing. They just used wood ash and their finger, no special recipe involved. It’s just a solution for keeping your teeth clean either before modern methods, or when modern methods just aren’t available or are too expensive.
Wood Ash Makeup
According to Dress and the Roman Woman, a dark eyeshadow called Kohl was made by mixing ashes with other darkening agents, along with a bit of saffron to improve the smell. The powder was then applied with a dampened or oiled stick.
Along with dark ashy eye shadow, thick dark eyebrows that almost met in the center were popular, and ashes were used to create the near “uni-brow” look that was fashionable at the time.
Several readers have commented that their families used traditional hair removal strategies on young children; rubbing their legs/arms down with wood ash during adolescence caused the hair follicles to die back, and they didn’t have body hair in adulthood. I wouldn’t recommend this, as there may be other consequences to the skin (especially in young children), but it’s an interesting historical curiosity.
An article on historical hair removal strategies mentions that wood ash was used to remove hair in a few different ways:
“To remove hair from the nostrils – Take some very fine and clean wood ashes; dilute them with a little water, and with the finger rub some of the mixture within the nostrils. The hair will be removed without causing the least pain.”
High foreheads used to be in vogue, even when my grandmother was a child. Historical references note that women used to wrap their foreheads in linens soaked in wood ash water (among other things) to cause their hair to fall out along the edge of their hairline, thus producing a high forehead.
Hair Dye Pretreatment
A peer-reviewed scientific study looked into using wood ash, specifically from eucalyptus wood, to pretreat grey hair before dying. The hair was then dyed with pigments extracted from purple corn, which makes it all the more interesting to me since the entire process involved natural and historical ingredients.
The study notes that the “Alkalinizing agents such as ammonia and ethanolamine are commonly used as hair pre-treatments to loosen hair scales and remove the natural cuticle lipids, which enables penetration of dyes across the cuticle and into the cortex of the hair shaft. However, strong alkalis and hydrogen peroxide can also oxidize cysteine, resulting in irreversible damage to the structure of the hair.”
Using wood ash instead of a more caustic peroxide can help the dye to adhere without damaging the structure of the hair.
You really have to be careful here, because wood ash is also used to remove hair and kill back hair follicles…so there’s a fine line between making your hair more receptive to dye…and making it die out.
Removing Hair Dye from Skin
One of my readers mentioned that she’d used wood ash “to remove hair dye from the scalp in the past, and it worked really well, just dabbed a bit on a wet cloth and rubbed it away.” I did a bit more research, and several beauty sites and cleaning sites recommend using cigarette ash to remove hair dye from the scalp or skin.
I guess these days, cigarette ash is more accessible than wood ash to many people, but it’s good to know that both work to remove hair dye from skin.
Other Uses for Wood Ash?
I spent a while putting this list together, but I know that this list just barely scratches the surface. I’d love to hear any if you’ve experimented with any other ways to use wood ash. Old stories your grandpap used to tell, or just about any creative ideas you have.
Share in the comments below.
Looking for more ways to make use of things around your home?
- 40+ Ways to Use Spent Coffee Grounds
- Growing Mushrooms on Old Clothing
- How to Process Soil into Clay for Pottery
You’ve got a delightful typo – “Hiding Saints on Paving!”
Fixed! Thank you so much for letting me know =)
There are a lot of glaze recipe for ceramic glazes that use wood ash
In Kenya it’s used as a topical not just for wounds but also histomine reactions such as hives and bug bites.
I’ve just read your comment about using wood ash for hives xxxx
Are you able to tell me anymore details like how to prepare and apply X
Best treatment for hives is water at the temperature of 45C to max 49C.
Best treatment for hives and insect bites is the same as the treatment that life guards use in Britain when people tread on a poisonous fish that hides in shallow water in the sand at the beach.The technique is to use Water at the Temperature of 45C to 49C .At this temperature the water in all cells of organic life has a faze change.The unfortunate bather experiences extreme pain due to the poison of the fish and the simple treatment is to get the patient to put their foot into the hottest water they can stand for which the life guards keep a washing up bowl always on hand . Essentially the surface tension of the water loosens. Cells use water bellow the temperature of 45C in order to form all organic life.The stage between 45C and 49C is scientifically referred to as vicinal water when the surface tension of water alters.For many thousands of years water at this temperature has been used for it’s healing properties and is the reason many hospitals originated at the site of hot springs.The water at Bath in the UK for example comes out of the ground at 46.5C which is exactly the right temperature and explains the healing effect of the hot spring water.For insect bits that sting or itch a hot tea bag self administered can be the simplest and quickest way to administer this treatment and cures the itching and thus avoiding the need to scratch and break the skin potentially leading to infection.The temperature also acts upon the poison in the sting by causing the enzymes in the poison to unwind and break down into harmless substance.The temperature also acts upon the bodies histamine response and reduces inflammation.The technique should always be self administered as the temperature 45C WILL be experienced as very hot but bearable and temperatures over 48C to 49C will be unbearable so there a natural nervous system response is ok but until this temperature is learnt for longer term skin healing it is best to use a thermometer.The change in the acidity of the skin using wood ash is in my view problematic as it has been shown in laboratory tests that applying alkaline to the skin will cause the skin to break down.This I also know also from personal experience when using lime mortar to renovate a cottage.
Horace the cheese
Omg that’s amazing. I have always done this. I put my hand or stringed body part in however hot I can manage and it hurts a lot but then immediately the pain goes away. I also do this with a burn after it has cooled down I put it in warm water which hurts but then after for the whole day it feels fine. whereas if you put cold water it feels good while in the cold but then feels aweful for the rest of the time. Don’t know why it works for burns except maybe tricking the nerves and brain into it or creating endorphins maybe… But I’m glad to know there is some sense behind doing it for stings too! I have used all the tales of ashes or rub this leaf etc …none of them work but for kids if mom rubs even shit on it it works..because mammas rub helps kids feel better…so maybe the momma had ashes and said hey rub this it makes the pain go away..but it may only work if momma does it.
Living on a farm, my father burnt his arm with the flame while welding a cattle grid. The staff with him immediately ran to the nearest cattle shed and brought handfuls of cattle shit, which my dad patted over the burn.
Two months later there was no sign of a burn mark whatsoever.
I had witnessed this more than once when other staff had fire/burn accidents.
When I was a kid growing up in London, we had coal and coak fires. Sometimes a log was also placed on the liveingroom fire. My mum and dad would scatter the ash on the ice and snow on our front steps and sidewalk during winter.
Great for soaking up oil spills or drips in the garage.
In Kenya it’s used to treat heart burn. Especially in pregnant women who do not want to medicines
How does it work fixing heart burn?
mix with water and filtrate the water after settling it cools your nurves and reduces the acidity levels.
The best way to fix heartburn is to always eat green vegetables like cabbage or Brussel sprouts coleslaw, sauerkraut, broccoli etc etc with every meal.Get a wok and get really good at cooking stir fry vegetables and eat loads with every meal. You will then seldom or never suffer from heart burn.
Ash pumpkin juice or slices working for gastritis, in my experience in SRI LANKA
This is awesome, real eye opener.
You’re very welcome.
Joe Arnold Sr
Use a coffee can with a snap on lid and fill it about 3/4 full. Add kerosene to make a wet paste. This mixture is ideal for starting camp fires. Even if your wood is damp. A spoonful goes a long way. I used this for many years in my deer camp.
GARY W RIVERS
Put wood ashes around pecan trees to keep web worms away.
Thank you. That has been a big problem with my pecan trees.
I wonder if that would help with other bugs, especially aphids around fruit trees.
Chickens love to dust bathe in wood ash too!
Hi there, I’m from Limpopo in South Africa, I would like to learn more about historical survival. It’s very interesting and I it’s healthy living.
Cotton or other natural fabrics can be ‘scoured’ before being dyed, by boiling them in wood ash water. This typically makes the resulting color look more clean and bright. I have tried this myself, based on some reference i no longer remember.
If you ever remember the reference, I’d love to know!
Use wood ash wash to replace the soda
Wood ash is useful in controlling flea beetle in your veg garden.
Surströmming and lutfisk are two very different ways of preserving fish. Surströmming sure is salted, but is then fermented (hence the odor, or stench). Lutfisk is dried fish which is then, as you say, soaked in lyewater and then boiled and served with boiled potatoes and a white sauce.
Surströmming is’nt heated at all, but requires condements as thinbread, potatoes, raw onions and I think most people wouldn’t eat surströmming because of the smell …
The only similarities between surströmming and lutfisk is that it is fish, though different kindes.
And also: wood ash contains a number of heavy metals that are poisonous such as cadmium and it is not a good idea to use it as fertilizer on crops that you intend to eat.
My initial though reading this was that the only way there would be heavy metals in the wood ash is if there were heavy metals in the soil where the trees grew. If you’re burning wood from your land and getting heavy metals in the ash, it wouldn’t be a good idea to grow crops in that anyway….
But, for due diligence, I just had to know, because we put ash on our food crops and if this were a problem I’d be concerned. I found a study from the University of Maine extension that tested wood ash for Heavy metals and found that the concentrations were right around 0 to 2 ppm for most of the things tested. Study here: https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/2279e/
Compare that to the acceptable heavy metal concentrations in commercial fertilizer, which in the State of California are as follows:
Arsenic – 698 ppm
Lead – 3321 ppm
Cadmium – 48 ppm
I got the legally acceptable concentrations from this study, which goes on to show that the concentrations of heavy metals in commercial fertilizer it tested were much higher than the limits: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/risk/studies/fertrpt.pdf
That link is dead as of Mar 26, 2019..
Thanks for the heads up! I found the same link to that same study in the Internet Archive Wayback Machine here: https://web.archive.org/web/20180429203056/http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/risk/studies/fertrpt.pdf
There’s also an updated study from 2008 on the University of Minnesota’s website, which has updated “safe” limits: https://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/environment/risk/docs/studies/fertrpt08.pdf
excellent research. Great article, all very useful and informative and I plan to use some of the ideas, the cheese preserving and especially in the garden and for the chickens. I already use diatomaceous earth for the cats, may try the ash, or at least where they sleep. I will also research using ash for curing olives, as I cure a few quarts every year using salt, salt and water, and just plain drying. The Greeks have many ways of curing olives (I live on a Greek island) Thank you for your enjoyable, informative article.
I am so glad you enjoyed the article. That’s so cool that you live on a Greek island. Are you originally from there?
That’s awesome you live on an island!
Nothing delights me more than seeing birds and other animals enjoying the worms and plants in my compost.
We use wood ash in the outhouse during the winter months
Interesting – a person who is on the grid, using an outhouse – why? Just curious – I live in a rural location with a spring and septic. I wonder if I should use wood ash in my conventional septic system, instead of yeast.
I wondered the same thing about my septic as I was reading…
Me too! I was thinking of using wood ash to scrub the toilet instead of the bleach chemical stuff! I’m thinking it would be better for the septic tank especially in small quantities and should scrub well.
I have heard that ashes can also be used as a wormer for livestock but have never tried it.
I use wood ash to keep aphids off the broccoli plants. First I hose the infected plants off, especially spraying from the bottom upward. Then, before the plants have time to dry, i toss wood ash by the handfuls up under the leaves.
Do you think this would work on roses and lilacs too?
Take 1 part of wood ash, one part of soil, mix them together, mix this with some water (but not to be runny), put this under armpits and then wash it down with water.
It takes all smells out!!!
I use baking soda as my deodorant applied to damp skin. After several days when smells being to comeback I can simply wash with a damp washcloth and the smell disappears. Then while damp reapply a light bit of baking soda again.
I do prefer to wash more often but during construction and repairs water wasn’t so readily available and stink was gone with very minimal water clean up. My dad used ashes. I was afraid of discoloring my clothing.
Milk of magnesia with no flavours (bought at any grocery store/, pharmacy) is a great deodorant. You can put it in a roll on bottle and mix it with essential oils if you want. Magnesium is actually needed in the body and can get absorbed that way.
These doesn’t involve any wood ash, it is just an other very easy to use make natural deodorant.
Great advice from both of you, hope you have running water again now. Soil and wood ash is my favourite _ should be available. Although I am so sweet smelling I only need to wash once a week!
Maybe it can be used for stinky hands also.
I can’t think of an example right now.
That’s a very interesting idea. It would definitely be worth a try.
When I do my laundry detergent whith ashes, I keep the rest of the ashes an dry them, they are soapy, an shoamy, I put them in a pot on my sink and use it as soap for the hands and the sink. Its very good against the smell of fish, for example.
I sift my wood ash to filter out the small black bits, which is biochar and add it to my compost pile, worm bin or garden beds. I don’t run the risk of increasing my Ph while adding needed minerals. Also acts to retain water.
Susannah, would you please explain why you take out the biochar and why you don’t want it in the compost? How does that prevent the ash from raising pH? What do you do with the sifted biochar? Reason I’m asking is I had heard from a gardener that the bits of unburned charcoal is good to crush up and sprinkle into soil because it holds minerals for the plants to uptake as needed. Have you heard this or is this explanation incorrect? Anyone else care to comment on this? Thank you.
I think Susannah is saying that she adds the biochar, not the ash, to the compost.
When l was young, l stepped on a board in a
murky pond which had a rusty nail in it.
I had red streaks running up my leg. Hurt so bad.
My dad told me to soak it in a warm water
With Wood ashes. It took the streaks and
the awful pain out of my foot and leg
. I keep a jar full in my
medicine cabinet at all times.
Wow, that sounds really nasty! Sorry about the nail. Kind of crazy that worked for you? Sounds like you might have had something serious that these days would be an emergency room trip for sure. I’d still go to the ER, but good to keep as a backup for a time or place where a hospital isn’t accessible.
Cathy’s red streaks could have been tetanus! When there is nothing else to do, better than nothing!!!Thank you for all these good ideas!
My grandfather had diabetes.He about lost his leg due to a infection. He told me there was one last hope. He put wood ash in a sock and lay it wet on his infected leg. It HEALED his leg completely.
Oh my gosh!, How amazing!!! I had no idea wood ash was used for so many things! I thought it was only good for washing my fireplace glass, I’m so amazed now I’ll be saving it now
Wonderful, thank you so much!
We have a bad problem with mice one winter. Put wood ash around house no more mice. Just make sure that the ash is cold.
Will it get rid of mice already under a house?
why does the ash need to be cold?
Haaa as to not burn down your home !
Hominey was made by soaking corn in lye water from ashes until the kernels swelled and the outer skin cracked. It could then be stored in fresh lye water and rinsed off at time of use or dried and ground into a medium fine flour. This “masa” made corn tortillas or the outer dough for tomallies when simply mixed with water and kneaded a bit. A flattened ball of dough, dry fried, makes a tortilla. Moist dough spread on a corn husk, add filling in the middle, then roll or fold to close and seal, then steam cook ’till the dough is done make a tomallie.
Cherokees used the same process. The masa was used for squirrel dumplings and bean dumplings. The flavor of masa made from hardwood ashes is said to be far superior to store bought masa.
Nothing to add except, that this is one of the most interesting pages I have read in some time.
Thank you for the great work and read.
This is such a great list! So many ideas I had never even thought of before!
Does anyone have any experience using wood ash to repel snakes?
I haven’t used wood ash to repel snakes, nor have I heard of anyone doing so. But, I do have a friend who wrote an article on making a garlic based snake repellant spray (https://www.therusticelk.com/naturally-repel-snakes/) Good luck!
I have heard that human hair will repelsnakes._
Blandine From France
I live in a very cold area of France, I use ashes since a long time, for snails, it works, but only a short time, once it rains, they can go over, and sometimes they are already in the area you want to protect!!! Caution, too much ashes can kill your plants, its burns them, with the basic effect. I can burn” your plants. For snails, make a frame of ashes, for other uses, be very careful, only “spray” it lightly on the ground, rather not directly on the plants.
I use it to wash my hands and many things in the kitchen, sink, gas stove, fat things, when I do my laundry liquid with ashes, I keep the ashes therefore, they are foaming like soap, Very useful for the hands when you have cooked fish.
Poultry love it, they roll in it, but I tried to use it on the paths, that are muddy, it’s catastrophic, it brings a grey mud in the house!
I use it for pottery, with some local clay, ….
Has anyone tried putting wood ash in moles holes to see if it would repel them? One year, they were really bad in the chicken coop and mice were using the tunnels. I’m wondering if it would also deter mice. After I clean my nest boxes, I was thinking of putting a small amount in the bottom before adding fresh straw to repel mites, roaches, and any other little varmints. Is this a good idea?
Kate Rose O'Neal
Put a tablespoon on ammonia down the mole hole– so it gets well into the run, I gently poke a stick down to make sure the ammonia gets below the surface, deep into the maze of tunnels– seal the top of the hole with dirt or whatever and the moles will leave the area. To chase them out of the entire garden, start doing this in the center of the garden first and then continue outward…. into the pasture or next door neighbor’s yard! Been doing this for years and it always works 100%!!! And ammonia has a lot of good nitrogen for the garden in it so don’t worry about it not being organically friendly.
Will it work if I put it in my trash barrels to keep crows out of it? And rats, and mice?
Also does anyone know if animal ashes would work like wood ashes? I work at an animal crematory, and have many ashes that people don’t take home
Hi all. I thoroughly enjoyed this article and immediately pinned it. My question is this: Can you safely use wood ash to sprinkle in your cats litter box for odors? Thanks
That sounds like a great use to me, but I can’t speak to the safety with certainty.
With wet things, it becomes muddy, stays on the feet, and make boots…
For the car headlight paste. I didn’t see where it said how you make it. Do you just mix it with water? Or something else?
Hi Tracy, To clean glass ( eg headlights, fire glass, lamp chimneys ) I just dip a damp cloth or paper towel in wood ash and wipe. Use a clean damp cloth to wipe off residue then dry with a clean towel.
I make paint out of woodash. I think i have around 20 different colours of paint made of ashes. The colour depends of what you are burning. I use it for making paintings
How do you make paint out of wood ash? Can you please share?
That is sooo cool, I’m gonna try it!!
Glue can be made from wood ash.
Soak some wood ash in water overnight. Next day, warm some full cream milk. Remove it from the stove and add enough vinegar to curdle it then scoop out the solids. Squeeze these dry then put them in a clean bowl. Add enough water from the wood ash to make a thick, creamy liquid. Store in a screw top jar.
I loved reading this article, and some of the comments I found useful. I have used wood ash to put under my camper during storage to keep out bugs, mice, squirrels, etc… Been doing this for years and not had any issues. I didn’t realize you could cook with it. Good read thanks Ashley.
Incredibly thorough! Great research.
So many ideas! I never knew wood ash could be so useful, but then again, I live in Florida where I might have two bonfires of yard scrappings a year, if at all. I do have a question for you, Ashley, and I hope it’s not dumb. In all your research, was a certain type of wood listed for each thing? I saw that eucalyptus was mentioned for hair but I’m just curious what, if any, types of trees are best to burn for majority of these projects. We all live in different regions, as did the people of the past, so I’m sure any tree would do, but I’m just curious if there was ever a mentioning of one being better than the other. Like, here in Florida we have millions of palm trees(which I’m not even sure you could consider that wood.. maybe stringy watery wood!) But I’m not sure if it would be beneficial at all or as say, oak. I googled it briefly and didn’t really find to much, so if you know, I’m just curious. Mainly, I’m curious about the woodash being used to give to chickens. Thanks for writing such a useful and entertaining blog!
Really great question! Different trees definitely produce different ash because they have different mineral contents, and I found some details on this doing a bit of research:
According to the Oregon State Extension: “The fertilizer value of wood ash depends on the type of wood. According to Sullivan, hardwoods produce about three times the ash and five times the nutrients per cord as softwoods. A cord of oak provides enough potassium for a garden 60 by 70 feet. A cord of Douglas fir ash supplies enough potassium for a garden 30 by 30 feet.”
This particular paragraph seemed to be quoted everywhere, and I couldn’t find much information beyond that.
I did come across a study done in Ireland that found that the tree harvest time (summer v. winter) and the size of the log (log v. branch) had more of an impact than species in some cases in terms of the volume of ash produced. So clearly there are a lot of factors at play.
That’s all I can find about specific species at the moment, but I’ll update it if I find something else later on.
For Iroquois, or Lotinoshoni, hominy, it is recommended that only hardwood ash be used, and oak more than maple, as an example. Wonderful article!
Northern California natives used oak ashes to leven leached, dried, ground acorn paste to make a sort of cake cooked on a hot rock in the edge of a fire. It is surprisingly good. The ashes from ghost plant was used as a seasoning much like salt.
Was this the Ohlone?
I’ve been using wood ash for starting fires in my fireplace for 50 years(yes I’m old). Take the cold ashes from your fireplace (be sure their cooled off), and mix in some diesel to make a mud slurry, not too uverly wet. Put in fireplace and then load wood and light. Will start the greenest wood. No, does not smell up the house; no, will not flare up. It is perfectly safe and will save you money and time starting your fires. Leave the slurry in a bucket With a tight fitting lid for the next time you build your fire.
And don’t forget making let soap. My grandma taught me how.
Rebecca S Sewell
My husband and I have had wood-stoves in nearly every house we’ve had since we were married 43 years ago, including an antique wood-burning cook-stove for a brief time in Colorado. Right now we’re burning a lot of black walnut firewood, which contains juglone, a plant respiration-inhibitor, so using the ash in compost or on or around gardens, flowerbeds, orchards, etc. is not advised – unless you know for a fact that the plants you’re applying it to will tolerate juglone. Thankfully, there are lists of tolerant plants online, which I’ve downloaded and printed for quick reference. We live in a grove of black walnuts, so I have to be very careful what I plant.
I googled “recipe for Native American piki bread” and came up with one supposed to be pretty authentic – http://thegutsygourmet.net/hopi-piki-bread.html – but it doesn’t say what material to burn for the ash.
http://www.thepeoplespaths.net/NAIFood/NAIrecipes.htm – a whole lot of different bread recipes including piki, but doesn’t say what to do with all the water…
Oh interesting…I never would have thought about burning black walnut, I didn’t know it grew in firewood quantity anywhere. There are a few in the woods up here, but never enough that anyone around here uses them for firewood. They do tap them for syrup occasionally and eat the nuts. Also interesting that the juglone survives into the ash, that’s impressive, I never would have guessed. Thanks so much for this, it’s really helpful.
I live in western MA and have soooo many black walnut trees on my one acre property-the squirrels are forever burying the nuts and forgetting where they are!!! I had to have a very large old and healthy black walnut taken down from my front yard-about 500 pounds of walnuts a season was just too darned hard to deal with, not to mention having them fall on my head or on my car! I had a sawyer come and slab up to 14 foot lengths of wood to sell at his company, and I raked up soooo much sawdust from the ground where the cutting took place. I am using the sawdust to make firestarters, but never thought that the juglone would persist into the ash from my wood stove! I just can’t get away from the deleterious effects of these walnut trees!!!! I’m spreading the remaining bark and some sawdust on the side of my barn where I want to keep weeds from growing and blocking the path, but weeds and wild blackraspberries don’t mind one bit!!! There has to be a better way! Thank you for this very useful post on other wood ash uses.
Use wood ash wash to replace the soda
Thomas R Casten
Thanks for comprehensive article on wood ash. I offer a factual correction and role of wood ash in sequestering carbon to mitigate climate change.
First, no wood burning, including sophisticated bio-mass power plants completely removes all of the carbon, and the ash left over from home stoves often has significant chunks of bio-char that is nearly pure carbon.
I have seen much reporting on how this bio-char sequesters its carbon for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The Incas cleared forests for crops but burned the wood in pits which they covered with soil causing the fire to smolder for several days and create lots of bio-char. These fields retained good soil health for centuries.
I have so many pine needles and cones I have to burn a lot of them in the spring. Is their ash as good to use as the wood ash?
The needles are mostly nitrogen (rather than carbon like the wood). I’m not sure about the pine cones. You will get micronutrients from them, but I can’t say what. I know that pine needles are also quite acidic, and we use them to mulch our blueberries here. I’m not sure how much of that would translate through to the ash (if any). In short, I don’t know, but I believe the resulting ash would be quite different than burned wood ash in terms of chemical composition.
I have read your article on wood ash uses .I have I discovered a very good pathogen treatment using ash from a tropical plant that works better than antibiotics by external application.
Native Americans that had poison oak or poison Ivy would dry it up using Wood Ash Tried it myself one summer it worked just took a few days longer than Calamine lotion.
Wow!!! Thanks so much for that research and uber-useful information! SemperFi!
Good on ya Marine
an old natural remedy, here is one. A very old remedy is rubbing hardwood ashes on the area. I believe you just rub the ashes on and leave them. Your feet would look a bit dusty, but they shouldn’t look extremely dirty! (06/21/2010)
so sorry please revise my post, this is good for athletes foot, or other stinky feet. an old natural remedy, here is one. A very old remedy is rubbing hardwood ashes on the area. I believe you just rub the ashes on and leave them. Your feet would look a bit dusty, but they shouldn’t look extremely dirty! (06/21/2010)
For making wood ash cement, do I need to use terra cotta clay? I live within a few miles of Lake Erie’s south shore and even closer to an arboretum called Frontier Park. There’s clay by the creek there, but it’s not terra cotta clay. Besides the fact that it’s grey, I did some research and found out it’s probably surface clay, not earthenware clay (like terra cotta clay). That means it’s slightly higher-firing and less plastic (less flexible). I’ve tried using that grey clay in the method from the YouTube video to make wood ash cement ‘cause I want to make my own bricklaying mortar. So far, I haven’t been successful, and I wonder if I’m using the wrong type of clay. Should I just buy mortar?
That one I don’t know personally since I haven’t tried that one out. The only info I have on wood ash cement comes from that video I included, and I haven’t read anything else on it. Sorry I cant be more helpful.
Can you tell me who I should ask?
It’s possible that it’s burnt clay (cotta), i know that tiles were used for making better cements, mainly by the rommans, but not only.
Is wood ash good for deterring ticks?
That is a really good question, that I don’t have a confident answer to. Since it works against fleas and ticks on pets, I’d imagine it’d work in general…but it’d be hard to get a high enough concentration to make it work in a yard. Or so I’d guess, but I’m not sure. Maybe someone else reading this might know?
This a nice article on wood ash, now am able to formulate an organic fertilizer using this epistle thanks
Fabulous article – respect and thank you.
Bulgaria – wood ash is used in bread and soap making.
The results are: fluffy bread even from hard flours, and – chemicals free soap for babies and curing properties (mixed with burdock root and many other herbs).
Following your blog with interest.
Ben van Wyk
I am from the RSA, 64 years old and grew up on a farm where we could not afford luxuries like toothpaste, and toothbrushes, so we had to use wood ash to clean our teeth. Today I still have most of my teeth left and my dentist confirmed that they are in a healthy state.
I sprinkle my ash over my lawn and then wet it with water, otherwise the salt will burn the lawn. Ash can also be mixed with water and poured over your lawn or garden
What about wood ash that has been exposed to the elements such as lots of rain? Is is good to use in the garden?
I saw an article on Pinterest that a man in Africa (I believe) stored ripe tomatoes in wood Ash over the winter and they kept well enough for him to sell when the price increases. I have wanted to try it but haven’t yet. What he did was line a box with sifted Ash, put tomatoes in (not touching) put more ash, tomatoes, etc .. very interesting article. Thank you all for your input, excellent information!
I saw that same article (or a video about it) and I meant to try it this summer but I completely forgot!
I read the same thing about ashes preserving tomatoes. I did try it ; without success.
I wish I could print this information without all the adds as they block a good majority of the printing.
Can you tell me how to print without adds?
I’ll look into it more, but my best suggestion is to install a free adblocker for desktop where you print things.
If you’re on a Mac with Safari, you can click on the black horizontally stacked lines located just to the left of the URL address. This should make it more print-freindly without as many ads.
You can Left click & Drag to highlight the part you want; then Right click to copy. Go to Word if you have it & Right click in Word to Paste. It will probably take a long time to do it this way.
You can also use wood ash to make fire and as a coal extender.
We are truck drivers. We always carry a tin of wood ashes with us. They have gotten us out of trouble several times. We use them if we are stuck on an icy patch after waiting for wrecks to be cleared. My husband will put the truck in granny gear and I walk beside the drive tires and throw a handful of ashes under the tires. The ash acts like course sandpaper. Usually it only takes a few feet of rolling to get us out if the situation. When we run out of ashes we stop at cracker barrel and the will let us have some of theirs.
During survival training if someone get sick from something they ate, the ash and water were mixed and they would drink it fast. This caused them to throw up and what ever was in them making them sick would come out to. Not pleasant, but it was effective.
Meso-american corn centered diet required corn grain to be hydrolyzed by soaking in lime water or ash water overnight. The following day the hominy can be washed of the loose skins and wet ground into masa This changed the amino acids that make up protein so when combined with a diet of beans all necessary amino acids were supplied without need for meat. When chilies were included and pulkae from agave one could live a healthy long life without any other food sources. When the Spanish forced the indigenous population to employ dry grinding as was the practice in the old world deficiency disease became a serious problem owing to the absence of certain amino acids so wet grinding and hominy processing was allowed.
This information is most useful for dire situations when meat is scarce. Beans are a strongly advised survival. Just wondering if dried corn can be turned into a type of hominy?
I did see some chickens with lead poisoning after they had had access to the ash where a Victorian greenhouse had been burned. Lead paint was used in VIctorian times. It took over 6 months for the lead content of the eggs to drop to safe levels. This was in Suffolk, England.
That makes sense. They’re eating lead in that case, and likely all manner of other stuff in a burned down house. Thanks for sharing, I hadn’t thought of anything but fireplace ash, but ash from a burned building could really be an issue.
I really enjoyed reading your article. There is lots of information about the fireplace ash in use.
Ash is very good order absorber; and can also be use on fresh fish to reduce the fishy smell before it is prepared for cooking. Ash is a good remedy for insect bites i.e. bees, hornets, ants,..,etc. and the bugs on hair and scalp. I learn to use from my mother and grandmother.
Thanks so much for sharing. So glad you enjoyed the article.
If you’re building or have a coal-fueled blacksmithing forge, using wood ashes to form the bowl between the insulated bricks and the coals themselves can help keep the heat from reaching the bricks. This can significantly increase the amount of time between repair jobs on the forge, saving quite a bit of time and money.
what an interestingly described series of thoughtful uses for a waste product. i love chicken feed and lice “deterrent” looking forward to enjoying your next research project.
thankyou for writing
ps have you an anecdote or a resource for off-grid 4-8 Kw storage and quiet wind turbine (only 500-1500 watts) information? I would appreciate hearing at your convenience if yes.. thanks again Mark
In Africa, Ashes has many many uses. We use ash for cleaning utensils, sterilizers, and purifiers. We use ash for purifying water and many more. For toilet cleaning, we spread ashes to nutralise smell.
You mentioned wood ash is similar to diatomaceous earth to help kill fleas naturally but were hesitant to use as a toothpaste ingredient because it would scratch enamel.
Most toothpastes contain diatomaceous earth as an ingredient.
Interesting, honestly I had and have no idea what’s actually in tooth paste. Good to know!
This a nice article on wood ash, now am able to formulate an organic fertilizer using this epistle thanks
I’ve recently discovered that I can appreciably extend the coverage of my mortar and stucco plaster by adding wood ashes to the mortar mix.
I live in NM along the Rio Grande River where the soil is very alkaline. (Spilling any type of acid on the ground here results in an immediate, bubbling reaction, also a white film of alkaline efflorescence forms on the ground here following a rain). I burn a good deal of firewood here each winter and the majority of wood that I can find locally is cottonwood because not many other species can tolerate this soil. This cottonwood leaves a disproportionately large volume of ashes behind after burning (much more so than does Chinese Elm, Pine or Russian Olive) and often calcified, stone like hardened clumps in the ash.
I need to take time to have my soil tested by a state conservancy agent if I can find one. Whatever minerals are in the soil and especially hard groundwater here, I believe are taken up enthusiastically by the cottonwood trees. I will not spread these ashes on my garden (atop alkali soil) but I suspect they will be beneficial and conducive to forming extra calcium silicate hydrates in my cement mortars. A few test spots I tried last year have shown good results and remain strong, without signs of cracking. I have a 6′ tall but bare adobe fence surrounding an adobe house, and therefore a great need for cementatious plaster to smear on. Portland cement and hydrated lime are not cheap – but wood ashes are.
A couple of quick recipes before I leave:
Stove Putty – to fill cracks in cast-iron stoves
-mix equal parts of powdered fire clay, sifted wood ashes and salt, with a little water to make a paste. The mix dries hard and last for a good while.
Wood Ash Cement recipe – (I’m a bit skeptical / haven’t tried it yet)
6 Liters wood ash
3 Liters liquid lime
1 Kilogram salt
* I have a little website too and would be pleased to have you check it out.
Thanks for sharing the recipe (and your website too!)
Really love how you clarified uses you were skeptical of / haven’t tried. First time encountering this site and it seems I have some reading to do haha.
What a great article and comment conversation. I’m a botanical dyer and have started experimenting with wood ash as a color modifier with plant and insect dyes. I imagine it will work similar to other ph modifiers like cream of tarter and calcium. Interesting that it is used to remove acorn tannin as tannin is used as a mordant (fixative) with wool and silk for botanical dyes.
A wealth of info. Thanks so much!
I have personally brain tanned many deer hides and have experimented with the “wood ash” method. You don’t actually use the ashes, if you do it will ruin the hide! You do however use lye water which is made from hardwood ash….. you soak the hardwood ash in water then filter the ash out as you would for making masa or lye for soap. You then soak the hide in this lye water for about a day when temperatures are above freezing and it helps the hair “slip” when you are cleaning your hide….. I have noticed that when using lye water the skin doesn’t get as soft as it does if you just let it rot until the hair starts to slip, but it still makes a pretty good end product that you can use for clothing and crafts and speeds up the process by a few days! Also if you use lye water it will save you from many blisters and much hard work…. just make sure to thoroughly rinse and squeeze out all the lye water when your hide is done being scraped!
Cattle farmers daughter here : when cattle or buck were killed, I remember that the skin (side not the hair side) were thickly coated with salt and left to cure. This made them rigid but after curing the skin was rubbed and then became beautifully soft.
I HAVE A PELLET STOVE . ARE THOSE ASHES GOOD FOR GARDENS , COMPOST ETC?.
Good question, and one I unfortunately don’t have an answer to…
Thomas R. Casten
There is nothing unusual in pellets, which are simply finely ground biomass, typically wood, run through a Pelletier. The ash will contain the same mix of trace minerals contained in ash from burning the same wood. The big difference is that this entire post lumps true ash and charcoal that makes up most of the remains of most home fires under the title of ash. Most of the benefits from amending sol with the combined remnants of a home fire come from the charcoal, which we call biochar if it is not intended for burning.
The biochar (BC) stores up to 6 times its weight of water during rains and then releases the moisture in dryer periods, increasing total biomass production of each plant. The BC is not a fertilizer, but an investment in soil health. The extensive pores and surface areas of BC provide a haven for symbiotic bioorganisms, especially mycorrhizal fungi and nitrogen-fixing bacteria, The BC also enables a chemical conversion of certain nutrients like phosphorous and Nitrogen, into a more stable form and a form the plant can use. The only known way to profitably sequester carbon and reduce global warming is application of BC to soils and materials like asphale and concrete.
I wan’t to buy wood ash soap. Can you help me please
Honestly I have no idea where you’d get it, as only hobbyists make it at this point (at least I assume?). Maybe try etsy?
Artos : what you are looking for is ‘lye’ soap. Many people make this. Just search for it online. Also have to agree with this fabulous information. Unbelievable ! Thank you !
I am so grateful to all the posts. I started throwing away ash from my fire pit. I thought to stop, thinking that there must be value there. Now I won’t ever throw it away and will burn purposeful woods.
Suzanne Van Gorder
I do not routinely use computer. Do U sell your , this information in a REAL book? If so, how may I purchase?
Hi there. I don’t have a book at this time. Maybe one day!
Has anyone used wood ashes to repel groundhogs?
Well enlightened on the various the ways I can make good use of wood ash instead of throwing it away. In rural areas in Africa it is wood ash is used in scraping off soot in aluminum utensils.
I sat in front of a huge fire outside tonight while reading this article along with comments. It is amazing! All of the information. I would love to receive any updates.
Wow! Just blown away. Thank you!
I use it in the winter to get traction on the ice. I don’t know how it works, but if you get stuck. Try putting wood ash on your tires. And on the path of where your tires are going. It works great on the sidewalk also. Just sprinkle it all around and it may keep you from a bad fall, or slip.
Great article THANK YOU!!
We use our wood ash on our fence lines to prevent weed growth.
That’s great. Thanks for sharing, Gail! I’m always on the hunt for new ways to use our wood ash.
Roman gladiators (who survived a fight) drank Oak ashes dissolved in water to help heal and strengthen their bones and muscles.
Thanks for a great and informative read.
Some four decades ago I lived in in the jungle south of the Himalayas in Chitwan National Park Nepal for a year. It was a small camp, 8 hours drive from Kathmandu. Totally isolated. A stream supplied water for washing and cooking but no plumbing. We had a deep hole covered by a makeshift seat in a hut for a toilet. Beside it was kept a bucket of ash from the camp fire. A hand full of ash was thrown into the hole after use by each of us (4 adults.) It never stank or had flys and never attracted any of the wildlife.
What an interesting story. Thank you so much for sharing.
thank you for sharing this article its very educative
You’re welcome. So glad you enjoyed it.
really enjoyed your story
So glad you enjoyed the story!
following from seku
Fantastic useful information. Further to Dan Riggs comment. Many years ago I read a book that may have been a true autobiography of a survivor from a Russian Siberian prisoner working underground in a mine. The writer said he survived to get out to write the story. Other miners died of cholera after a few years. He wrote that he would take ash from the heating stove and drink as a slurry to control the bugs and absorb the poison. Many years later I was escorting a tour group in Central Australia three days from any town or settlement. For dinner one night the cook prepared something that gave me terrible stomach pains and headache. I remembered the above story about the Siberian miner so made a slurry of last nights wood ash(Mulga, a Eucalypt) and drank about a quarter cup of it at 5 a.m. By the time the tour passengers woke up at 6 a.m. the stomach pain and headache had gone. I was able to enjoy lunch and the remaining few days of the tour. I didn’t throw up or get any constipation afterwards.
Bonnie J Bloom
We make hominy all winter and spring with 1 cup of ash to 2 cups of dent corn (we grow bloody butcher and pungo creek). Carefully layer the ash on the bottom of a stockpot. I use 6 cups ash to 12 cups corrn. Add the corn on top, carefully, so it covers all the ash. Then add water until the corn is just covered. Then mix. This prevents dust from the ash getting all over, as it is now all under water. Add maybe a bit more water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 6 or 8 hours, stirring and adding water as necessary. The corn mixture expands about 3x by the end. The pericarp should be pretty much sloughed off by the end. Then comes the washing process. I drilled many holes in the bottom of a sturdy plastic storage bin. Cool the mixture. Go outside to the driveway, dump it in the bin, and rinse and stir using the garden hose and a large spoon. Rinse well. When it starts to wash clean, add back into your stockpot and add water and stir and rinse to float and remove remaining pericarps. Do this over and over until you get tired of it. Then add water til it completely covers the corn and remove by handfuls til you get all the corn. Notice the grit remaining on the bottom f the pot? Repeat until there is no grit left on the bottom of the pot. It usually takes me about three goes. Now it’s clean! Set out on a dedicated bath towel to dry for an hour or so on a table or counter. Now you can store in the fridge in containers for up to 2 weeks. It takes a while the first time, but gets easier, and the finished product is delicious and nutritious and unavailable any other way,
Thanks so much for sharing this Bonnie.
Nice Article. Following from https://www.seku.ac.ke/
Thank you. So glad you enjoyed it.
Just came across this article on google it was the one that intrigued me to click open and i’m so glad that i did! I appreciate the hard work put in to it Ashley, thanks so much for encouraging self reliance in a world highly out of touch with the idea. Also enjoyed the comment section, such a plethora of information that I learned today and I look forward to reading more of your articles. I plan on practicing many of the listed methods especially with the chickens, soap making, gardening, tanning and hominy extraction. I might even experiment with an idea that I now have, if it is successful or unsuccessful i’ll return with an update 🤣💕
Wonderful, so glad it’s helpful to you!
Nice article. Following from /a South Eastern Kenya University.
Glad you enjoyed the article.
JUSTUS MBOYA KALOLI
Nice article. Following from a href /a South Eastern Kenya University.
Glad you enjoyed the article.
Hot ashes can be used to bake bread. Traditionally, a fire was built on the hearth When a good bed of ashes was created, a spot on the edge of the hearth was brushed off, the bread dough was put on it, and the bread was then covered with hot ashes. When the bread was done, the ashes would be brushed off. Since I don’t have a hearth, I’ve done this on camping trips using a dutch oven as my “hearth”. One thing to watch for is too many large coals in the ash will create burn spots in the bread. But this method gives the bread a wonderful smokey flavor and is great for camping trips without an oven – you could even just use a large rock that is heated in the fire before the bread dough is put on it.
That’s a great tip. Thank you for sharing that!
What about very old pile of wood ash that has been exposed to the elements for years. Are there practical uses for these old ashes? I have searched and searched the internet for some information concerning this and have found nothing. Thank you!
I found this article on wood ash that mentioned loss of potency after rainfall. https://www.purdue.edu/hla/sites/yardandgarden/wood-ash-in-the-garden/
“Keep in mind that wood ash that has been exposed to the weather, particularly rainfall, has lost a lot of its potency, including nutrients.” While it may not help add nutrients to the garden, there may be other uses mentioned in this article that don’t rely on the actual nutrients of the wood ash. You may want to try a few out and let us know how it works.
Thank you so much! I do appreciate you finding this for me and will let everyone know what I find out from the article 🙏🏾
Hi, Truly a treasure article on wood ash! Thank you! On the topic of making a barrier around vegetable garden to rebel against snails and slugs and such, I wonder if it is possible to mix ash with something natural to make a paste that doesn’t blow away or wash off easily but still retains the effect?
Sadly no…it only works until it gets wet actually, and you need to reapply after each rainstorm. If you wet it to get it to stay, it wouldn’t work. We don’t really get much wind here at all, maybe 1-2 windy days all year, so it never really occurred to me that it’d blow away.
While visiting an ashram near Bangalore in India we did all our washing up by using the ashes from the cooking fire with coconut husks to scour with. It worked fantastically. No dishsoap and I can’t remember having sore hands afterwards either.
Great article, hope you keep building on it.
Thanks for sharing that.
Awesome read could you please show how to grow the mushrooms, I can honestly say I learned a lot from this one article and comments thanks
Here is the link for the article on how to grow the mushrooms. https://practicalselfreliance.com/grow-shiitake-mushrooms/
The BBC did a really fantastic historical farm series. Edwardian farm, wartime farm, Victorian farm etc etc. i think it was in Edwardian farm they were using chimney soot rather than ash to clean their teeth. Just dip in a wet tooth brush to the dry soot so it sticks then scrub. The whole series are on YouTube and the dvds and books are still available for sale. My kind of reality tv – educational and useful.
I saw the Victorian farm series and it was incredible. I haven’t had a chance to check out any of the others yet.
Hannah J Parrish
I have so many wood ash, so I am happy to use your recipes.
Hopis also use ashes to take body hair off of babies, like on their arms and legs, which last up to adulthood. Unfortunately this was not done to me. However my mother does not have any hair on her arms or legs. My grandmother must have gotten carried away because my mother has very little hair on her eyebrows as well.
Just something I thought I would throw in for you since you mentioned Hopis. Thank you for the information on other uses. Much appreciated.
Oh my, that’s very interesting. Thank you so much for sharing. I sure wish someone had done this for me when I was a baby.
I burn a pellet stove will the things in this article work with the ash from that?
I’m not sure how that would work. It would probably depend a lot on what the pellets are made with.
Great article! We were living off grid on some jungle land in south India and the locals taught us how to use wood ash (we cooked on wood fired as they did) for washing the dishes. We used a dry coconut half as a bowl, filled it with sieved (to make it fine and not too gritty or it would be tough on your hands) ash and for a scrubber we used the hairy top of a coconut – which we would throw when worn out and replace with another from our infinite supply as we are coconuts daily. The ash was good at cleaning everything but greasy dishes (ghee/butter) so we sometimes added soapnut powder (again growing locally) which made it more effective against grease.
Wood ash and water is used to sterilise the straw or cardboard for mushroom growing. It lowers the ph of the water enough to kill most competing funguses present on the straw or cardboard. Then the ashy water is drained off and the ph rises enough to grow the chosen mushrooms.
PS great article.
Awesome, that’s good to know! I’ve never tried that method, always sterilized medium in a pressure canner, but that does sound a lot easier and less energy-intensive.
I knew wood ashes has many uses but I didn’t thought it would be this much. Glad you were able to share it. Thanks for sharing.
You’re very welcome.
Thanks for the response
You’re very welcome.
Hi I’ve read most of your story about wood ashes. the part I was interested in was the part of using wood ashes for toothpaste. I remember when I was just a little girl and I remember that my aunt used cigar ashes for the same reason. I don’t know about the taste but I do remember that her teeth were so pearly white. so thanks for your letter. I’ll have to go back to the letter and read the rest.
Charlene, my Dad told us that when he was a POW in WW2,they wood use ash to brush their teeth.. Like your aunt he always had white teeth. 😀
Would not wood 😂😂
This is an excellent article. Very well written and educative
Thank you so much. We’re so glad you enjoyed it.
Put sifted wood ash on a damp cloth and
1 your windows..
2 your glass stove top
3 outside your appliances
4 Sprinkle in Toilet brush and flush
5 soap scum on shower walls and shower doors
BEST CLEANER EVER
This is a great list. Thank you so much for sharing.
I use wood ashes for tanning and removing hair. After preparing/fleshing hide, I rub a paste of wood ashes into hair side then roll it up, hair to inside, that gets put into a 5 gallon bucket of water mixed with wood ashes and alum powder, after about 3 or 4 days I remove it from bucket and use the blunt end of a knife to scrape off hair, it comes off easy. The leather can be stretched now or used like rawhide , shoelaces could be made this way. I cut it into strips while wet and wrapped the bow on my dogsled to reinforce it. It shrinks on as it dries and becomes hard.
That’s great information. Thank you so much for sharing.
A nice article, thanks.
You’re very welcome. We’re glad you enjoyed it.
All your ideas were great except I have a pellet stove. I burn hardwood pellets. Are any or all of these ideas good for pellet ash use?
I’m not sure honestly. It depends on what kind of additives they use to form them into pellets.
for preserving eggs they would be stored in calcium water/ wood ash.
This post specifically talks about preserving eggs in the ash but this really isn’t the best method. Here is a post with lots of great egg preservation techniques. https://practicalselfreliance.com/ways-to-preserve-eggs/
We heat our home with wood during the winter, but we also burn paper…like cardboard boxes or various packaging matrials. Does having the paper ash in the fire change the usefulness of the wood ash?
I always cook hotdogs on a fire I don’t like them AT ALL unless I do and yrs ago I accidentally dropped 1 in the ashes, I was too hungry to let it go so I fished it out with my stick then cooked the ashes off(or I thought I did) in reality I was sweating the flavor in… Anyone I tell this to that tries it agrees it tastes like a natural pepper EVERYONE loved it once they try it
Ok. You all are the real deal. I’m a city girl turned lake-life girl, and poison ivy/virginia creeper messed up, itchy old lady. I’m trying the wood ash on my arms today. So far the morning application has helped. The bits of charcoal in the paste mix felt so good rubbing it on and scratching my itches!!! I’m reapplying this afternoon and this evening.
Thank you for the wood ash article and all the neat people that have added so much to my practical life skills knowledge. Smiling so far. Indiana corn country.
You’re very welcome. So glad you’re enjoying the blog. Hope your itches are better.
Excellent article. I was especially intrigued by the uses of wood ash in chicken feed. This past summer, I spent a lot of time at a cabin on a National Forest in Wyoming. Because it was National Forest, it meant cows grazed all summer. Early in the morning I’d often find the female cows standing round the fire pit, as if in an early morning conference/meeting. I soon found they were eating the left over fire coals. They’d even fight over them. I asked several locals, but they’d never heard of/witnessed it. But after reading your article, now I have an notion why!
That’s very interesting. Thank you so much for sharing.
Thank you so much for this interesting and hugely researched article. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
best wishes from Denmark.
You’re very welcome. So glad you enjoyed it.
I enjoyed reading all of these and learned so much. I need a book, as it will use all of my paper and ink for mu printer to print this. You are my favorite. Thank you so much.
Love reading your email and enjoy all the recipes. This wood ash article is the best. We burn wood, paper and card board all winter. I always thought that they were made from wood, so would be safe for most of what this article is about. We need a book will all this info to read. Thank you so much. Carolyn