Wild Edibles for Survival
You may see survivalists on television hunting wild pigs with a spear or fashion a makeshift bow to hunt deer, but in most cases, this is simply not realistic. I can go to the woods right now and come back with several pounds of wild edibles in about 20 minutes.
The key is knowledge. In this article, I cover the general rules for collecting wild edibles along with some specific options to watch for in any part of the world.
When looking at your priorities in a survival situation, technically speaking, food is pretty low on the list. If you look at your body’s ability to stay alive, you can go without food for as long as 30 days. While food is not my primary focus, it has benefits other than just keeping you alive.
You likely need to remain active to handle the projects and tasks required for survival. Even just hiking to civilization can be difficult if you have not eaten in weeks.
Also, food is vital in keeping the right survival mindset. It is easy to become frustrated or panicked when SHTF. It is even easier to experience those feelings when your body is starving for calories.
As your body goes without food, it will first start to burn any fat reserves. However, your body will quickly start burning muscle and then brain and other organ material. This causes weakness, a lack of coordination, and depression.
Even before these things happen, food is an excellent way to boost morale.
Why Wild Edibles?
When you go out looking for food to help you survive, every move you make has to be calculated. You need to consider the calories you burn and the safety risks you take.
You must take into account your likelihood of success and the type and amount of food that you will bring back. You also must factor in the frustration of potentially coming home empty handed.
This is why collecting wild edibles is so valuable. You can virtually guarantee to bring back a good amount of food if you know which plants for which to look for and those to avoid.
Hunting can bring in a huge amount of protein, but it can also be dangerous and your likelihood of success is low without proper gear. Plus, it burns thousands of calories.
Trapping allows you to focus on other tasks after you set up your traps, but it is a skill that takes decades to perfect. Fishing is a great way to collect protein, but it can be unpredictable and you risk getting wet and facing hypothermia.
Other types of food may not even be an option. During my most recent survival challenge, it rained the entire time. My only gear for this challenge was a knife, so fire was out of the question.
There were fish, bullfrogs, and rabbits in the area, but I could not safely eat any of them without cooking them first. All of these food sources contain bacteria and parasites that could have left me in the hospital.
So I took a short walk and came back with plenty of wild edibles to keep my belly full.
When you are new to wild edibles, it is important that you have a way to test a plant to ensure it is not going to make you sick. Even if you are confident that you have correctly identified the plant, you should check it before you eat it for the first time.
Once you have some experience identifying and eating wild edibles, you can likely skip this step. Here is the process for testing a new plant:
- Test the plant on your skin. Crush the plant and rub some of the juices on your wrist. Then wait 20 minutes to see if there is any reaction.
- Test the plant on your lips. Your lips are a bit more sensitive than the rest of your skin, so rub some of the same juices on your lip and wait 20 minutes for a reaction.
- Test the plant in your mouth. Chew up a small amount of the plant and then spit it out. Wait 20 minutes to check for any reaction.
- Swallow a small amount of the plant. Chew up just one or two leaves and take them with some water. Wait 20 minutes for a response.
Now you can eat a moderate amount of the plant but do not overdo it. Even edible plants can make you sick if you eat too much, especially on an empty stomach.
Once you’re done with this process with a particular plant, you should be okay eating it moving forward.
When you are going after wild edibles for survival, there are a few general rules to consider. These apply to wild foods in any part of the world.
While there are plenty of varieties of mushrooms that are edible and delicious, they are much harder to identify than other foods. If you are wrong, you could end up dead within a few hours.
I often see mushrooms on my survival challenges but I always walk past them.
Berries are NOT Created Equal
If you are uncertain about the type of berry, then consider the color. Play your odds and test them before consuming.
- Roughly 90% of black or blue colored berries are edible.
- Approximately half of the red berries you might see are edible.
- Only about 10% of the white berries in the wild are edible.
Listen to Your Senses
If a plant has a foul smell, bitter taste, a waxy coating, or any thorns or hairs, then you are best to avoid it. Even if it is non-toxic, it may upset your stomach. If you end up sick, it defeats the purpose of all of your efforts.
Not all Nuts are Edible
Many of them rot or get insects inside the shell. Besides, nuts like acorns have high levels of acid. This means they must be leached to remove the acid.
Leaching is a good idea for any plants that are bitter or possibly toxic. To conduct this process, boil the plant in water for 10 minutes and then dump the water. Repeat this process two more times. The boiling water draws acid and toxins out of the plant and discards it with the water.
Common Wild Edibles
As you start to learn about different wild edibles, it is important to know some basic staples. These are plants that can be found almost anywhere in the world and are easy to identify. Here are a few to consider:
Dandelions – Everybody knows that dandelions have bright yellow flowers and saw-toothed leaves. The entire plant is edible and healthy. It can be found just about everywhere.
Clover – This is another plant that almost everybody knows how to identify. It has the three round leaves and grows in patches with a white flower during the summer.
Wood Sorrel – This is one of my favorite wild edibles as it has a lemon flavor. The leaves are heart-shaped and it has a five-petal flower that is often yellow in color.
Plantain – This is not the banana-like starch which you may be thinking. Instead, it is a large-leafed plant that can be found in most of the world. A broadleaf plantain looks like spinach and tastes about the same.
Buckhorn plantain has a longer, narrower leaf and has a bitter flavor. It is ideal to clean out your system.
Chickweed – This is a plant with tiny leaves that grows in patches. It is often yellow and the leaves are shaped like a mouse’s ear.
Henbit – This plant grows above the surrounding plants in the springtime and has a bright purple flower. You will often see fields colored purple in April because of this plant.
Berries – The three berries I usually rely on are blackberries, blueberries, and autumn olive berries.
- Blackberries are found during the summer in thorny bushes along fence rows.
- Blueberries grow in cooler climates and higher elevations. They typically grow in bushes about knee-high.
- Autumn olive berries are ripe in the fall and grow on brush trees that are 10 to 15 feet tall. The leaves have a silver sheen and the berries are round with tiny silver dots all over them.
Root plants – The two root plants that I look for are wild carrots and wild burdock.
- Wild carrots have similar tops to domestic carrots. Just be sure that it smells like a carrot as there is a look-alike plant that is toxic.
- The burdock plant has huge, spade-shaped leaves that often get over a foot long. It looks similar to rhubarb. The root is huge and tastes like a cross between a potato and a carrot.
Feed Your Brain & Tummy
As you can see, a little knowledge can go a long way to keep your belly full. I suggest for you to get outdoors and start incorporating some of these plants into your diet. Bring some edibles home for a salad or snack on them during a hike.
You can even find about half of these plants in your back yard if you do not treat for weeds. You may want to pick up an edible plant guide to bring with you as you become more comfortable with identification.
If you take the time to learn this skill, you will always be able to find food.
Almo Gregor is a firearm enthusiast and avid hunter. Outdoors, hunting and shooting were big part of his childhood and he continues with these traditions in his personal and professional life, passing the knowledge to others.