The following article entitled “How To Eat Wild Edibles (Without Poisoning Yourself!)”. Was kindly written and submitted by Dan from
SurvivalDan.com. Thanks, Dan.
How To Eat Wild Edibles (Without Poisoning Yourself!)
Here’s the good news.
Our National Parks are booming.
Many parks are reporting their highest visitation records ever.
In just the last five years, the Parks have seen a massive 1.5 billion visits.
So, more Americans than ever before are getting out to hike and camp.
Getting fit and healthy is all well and good.
But there’s one BIG downside.
More people are heading into the wild unprepared for…
Well, the wilderness!
Why are people hitting the trails without the right gear or knowledge needed to be safe?
In one word: “accessibility”.
Today, people see a beautiful looking mountain or a canyon on Facebook or Instagram. Then they just head out.
They ignore doing any real research. Or networking with more experienced, local hikers.
In many cases, their only safety equipment is a cell phone.
But in remote areas, reception is often poor and batteries are quickly drained.
This is an all too common scenario. The combination of unfamiliar terrain and bad weather can be a recipe for disaster for the unprepared.
According to the National Park Service, there were 3,453 Search and Rescue (SAR) missions last year. Only 29% of these missions were successful, with 1,500 people being ill or injured and 182 fatalities.
What To Do If You Get Lost?
Well, it turns out you can dramatically increase your chances of survival if you follow a few simple steps.
Preparing yourself by upping your survival game is the only way you are going to last in the wilderness.
Below you will find a comprehensive guide that will not only teach you the importance of avoiding starvation and dehydration but also how to find food and water in the wild.
The first thing is to never go into panic mode. Take a few minutes to figure out where you are (you packed a map, compass, GPS, right?) and your top priorities. This is usually: water, shelter, fire, and food. But this may vary depending on the situation at hand. In freezing cold weather, when it’s rapidly getting dark, shelter may be your main concern.
But how exactly do you prioritize, when you’re quickly running out of food and water?
Learn to Follow The Rule of Threes
The rule of threes is a useful guide to prioritize in a survival situation. If you’re not familiar with the rule, it basically states you can’t live more than:
3 minutes without breathing air:
Without oxygen (e.g. asphyxiation, drowning), the brain cells start to die after just three minutes. This could lead to brain damage and even death.
3 hours without shelter in a harsh environment:
In extreme heat, the body can begin to shut down after just three hours of exposure to the elements. This can cause heat stroke, a serious condition that could lead to death. In addition to heat, the body can survive just three hours in the extreme cold. After this period of time, hypothermia often sets in causing the body to go into shock.
3 days without water:
The human body can go up to three days without water. After three days of no water, the body gets completely dehydrated and death will likely occur.
3 weeks without food:
A healthy adult can go up to three weeks without food. After three weeks without food, the body can start to go into what is referred to as total starvation resulting in death.
Whilst this rule is not set in concrete. For example, a risk of starvation will depend on many factors, like the current nutritional state of the person and the amount of energy they expend. Factors like this will extend or shorten the 3-week estimate.
The Rule is still a good baseline to go by. So you can focus on the most important issues that require immediate attention first. For instance, to protect yourself from cold weather, start by building some form of shelter. Keep warm by starting a fire. Then, find a source of drinkable water; or purify any other water you find. Lastly, start foraging for food.
Finding Water In The Wild
For most people, not having any food for even one day isn’t easy to do. Shelter isn’t an immediate priority (unless you’re freezing). But not having water for 24 hours, reduces your physical and mental abilities. You’ll find it much harder to perform the tasks needed to make it out alive. After only 3 days without water, your body will shut down. Yes, that means lights out!
Before dehydration sets in, you’ll need to find a natural water source that’s safe to drink. This may be difficult depending on your location, but not impossible. Below you will find some helpful tips that can better your odds of finding water in the wilderness.
- Grazing animals such as deer and other large game often head to water around dusk and dawn. If you follow these animals, you will likely locate a safe drinking source.
- If you’re in the desert, you may be able to find water by digging in dry creeks or river beds. Water is often just a few inches or feet from the surface.
- Another great source of water in the desert comes from cactus plants. Most of these succulent plants contain water. Simply cut them open and squeeze out the liquid.
- Dew that collects on the blades of grass or on the leaves of trees is another option.
Filtering and Purifying Water
It’s normally safe to drink rainwater from a bottle that’s been cleaned or collected from plants.
Many ponds, swamps, and streams can contain stagnant or polluted water. This is often the case too with tropical regions and urban areas, so filtering and purification are essential. It’s also good practice to purify all water sourced from the soil or plants, by boiling or treating it with chlorine/iodine.
How to Filter Water
Once you have found water, it’s not the end of the story. You may find that the water is dirty, stagnant or moldy. There are a couple of ways to clarify it;
- Leave it in a suitable container for twelve hours
- Use a filtration device
Making a filtration system:
- tie 3 branches into a pyramid-like structure
- tie filter layers (made of e.g. cloth) at 3 different heights along the branches
- line each filter layer with charcoal, sand, and grass respectively
Simply pour water from the top and collect in a container at the bottom. Leave to stand for 1 hour.
Note that the water will still need to be purified.
The Best Ways To Purify Water
Boiling The Water
To boil the water, you will need to start a fire and use some kind of container. A can (tin/aluminum) or big shell could be used as a makeshift vessel to boil the water. Before the water is boiled, you should ideally strain out big pieces of dirt using some cloth.
Plastic bottles can also work for boiling. Open the bottle and make sure you completely fill it right to the top. Place a cap on it and throw onto the glowing embers of a fire. Surprisingly, the bottle will usually not melt.
This is due to the absence of air. If you can’t fill the bottle completely, hang it with rope, just above the flames of your fire. Boil the water for 10 minutes to kill any bacteria.
An alternative method that can kill bacteria is to leave a container of water in the sun.
Purification tablets are a mandatory requirement even in basic survival kits. They usually contain chlorine or iodine. But as iodine can cause an allergic reaction for many, it’s best to check first.
It’s also wise to first filter sediment using cloth, as with boiling above. It takes at least 2 tablets to make muddy or polluted water safe. And for full effectiveness, the tablets need 30 minutes minimum to work properly.
Find another container of similar size. Pour the water from the bottle into the container, and back again. Repeat this several times. This will make the water taste better by adding oxygen.
Portable Water Filters and Purifiers
There are a ton of commercially available purifiers and filters out there. Whilst both can remove bacteria, purifiers use chemicals (iodine) to eliminate viruses too.
All devices work in a similar way. Pump water into one end. After being sent through a number of filters and treatments, it then passes out from the end.
Some are gravity operated, by e.g. a bag hung from a tree. Some work manually by hand. Others are automatic, i.e. powered by a battery.
How to Find Edible Plants in the Wild
1. Why Use Wild Edibles in a Survival Situation?
Plants are valuable sources of food because they are widely available, easily procured, and, in the proper combinations, can meet all your nutritional needs.
Absolutely identify plants before using them as food. Poison hemlock has killed people who mistook it for its relatives, wild carrots and wild parsnips.
At times you may find yourself in a situation for which you could not plan. In this instance, you may not have had the chance to learn the plant life of the region in which you must survive. In this case, you can use the Universal Edibility Test to determine which plants you can eat and those to avoid.
It is important to be able to recognize both cultivated and wild edible plants in a survival situation. Most of the information in this chapter is directed towards identifying wild plants because information relating to cultivated plants is more readily available.
2. Basic Guidelines
Remember the following when collecting wild plants for food:
- Plants growing near homes and occupied buildings or along roadsides may have been sprayed with pesticides. Wash them thoroughly. In more highly developed countries with many automobiles, avoid roadside plants, if possible, due to contamination from exhaust emissions.
- Plants growing in contaminated water or in water containing Giardia lamblia and other parasites are contaminated themselves. Boil or disinfect them.
- Some plants develop extremely dangerous fungal toxins. To lessen the chance of accidental poisoning, do not eat any fruit that is starting to spoil or showing signs of mildew or fungus.
- Plants of the same species may differ in their toxic or subtoxic compounds content because of genetic or environmental factors. One example of this is the foliage of the common chokecherry. Some chokecherry plants have high concentrations of deadly cyanide compounds while others have low concentrations or none. Horses have died from eating wilted wild cherry leaves. Avoid any weed, leaves, or seeds with an almond-like scent, a characteristic of the cyanide compounds.
- Some people are more susceptible to gastric distress (from plants) than others. If you are sensitive in this way, avoid unknown wild plants. If you are extremely sensitive to poison ivy, avoid products from this family, including any parts from sumacs, mangoes, and cashews.
- Some edible wild plants, such as acorns and water lily rhizomes, are bitter. These bitter substances, usually tannin compounds, make them unpalatable. Boiling them in several changes of water will usually remove these bitter properties.
- Many valuable wild plants have high concentrations of oxalate compounds, also known as oxalic acid. Oxalates produce a sharp burning sensation in your mouth and throat and damage the kidneys. Baking, roasting, or drying usually destroys these oxalate crystals. The corm (bulb) of the jack-in-the-pulpit is known as the “Indian turnip,” but you can eat it only after removing these crystals by slow baking or by drying.
- The critical factor in using plants for food is to avoid accidental poisoning. Eat only those plants you can positively identify and you know are safe to eat.
- Do not eat mushrooms in a survival situation! The only way to tell if a mushroom is edible is by positive identification. There is no room for experimentation. Symptoms of the most dangerous mushrooms affecting the central nervous system may show up after several days have passed when it is too late to reverse their effects.
3. Edibility Of Plants
There are many plants throughout the world. Tasting or swallowing even a small portion of some can cause severe discomfort, extreme internal disorders, and even death. Therefore, if you have the slightest doubt about a plant’s edibility, apply the Universal Edibility Test before eating any portion of it.
Before testing a plant for edibility, make sure there are enough plants to make the testing worth your time and effort. Each part of a plant (roots, leaves, flowers, and so on) requires more than 24 hours to test. Do not waste time testing a plant that is not relatively abundant in the area.
Remember, eating large portions of plant food on an empty stomach may cause diarrhea, nausea, or cramps. Two good examples of this are such familiar foods as green apples and wild onions. Even after testing plant food and finding it safe, eat it in moderation.
You can see from the steps and time involved in testing for edibility just how important it is to be able to identify edible plants.
4. The Universal Edibility Test
The Universal Edibility Test is used to determine which plants you can eat and those to avoid is the first step since there are literally thousands of plants and you can’t possibly know them all by name.
Rule One – Wash thoroughly ANY plants growing near human habitation as pesticides are a potential concern. It’s important to wash all foods even if you know they are edible. Parasites and other contaminants abound!
Rule Two – Avoid any plants that have grown next to roads as exhaust emissions contaminate the surrounding area.
Rule Three – Do not eat any fruit that is starting to spoil as fungal toxins will develop.
Rule Four – Avoid any weed, leaves, or seeds with an almond-like scent, a characteristic of the cyanide compounds.
Rule Five – Boil any bitter foods such as acorns to remove tannin compounds and make them more palatable.
Rule Six – If you eat a plant with high levels of oxalate compounds it will cause a burning sensation in your mouth and throat. Stop eating this plant until it can be baked or roasted.
Rule Seven – Test unknown plants first. Allow 24 hours to evaluate its effects if any.
- Test only one part of a potential food plant at a time.
- Do not eat anything for 8 hours prior to testing a plant.
- Do not even test a plant part unless it is common and readily available.
- Touch prepared plant for testing to your lip before eating it. If there is burning or other strong reactions do not eat. Allow 3 minutes wait time, to check for any for reactions.
- After passing the lip test, touch to the inside of your mouth and allow 15 minutes to check for adverse reactions.
- After eating a small amount, wait for 8 hours to see if there’s no adverse reaction,. You can then eat 1 handful and again wait 8 hours before concluding the food is good to go.
Keep in mind that eating large portions of a particular plant after having fasted beforehand, can induce diarrhea and nausea and lead you to the conclusion that an otherwise good food is something to avoid.
To avoid potentially poisonous plants, stay away from any wild or unknown plants that have:
- Milky or discolored sap.
- Beans, bulbs, or seeds inside pods.
- Bitter or soapy taste.
- Spines, fine hairs, or thorns.
- Dill, carrot, parsnip, or parsley-like foliage.
- “Almond” scent in woody parts and leaves.
- Grain heads with pink, purplish, or black spurs.
- Three-leaved growth pattern.
Using the above criteria as eliminators when choosing plants for the Universal Edibility Test will cause you to avoid some edible plants. More important, these criteria will often help you avoid plants that are potentially toxic to eat or touch.
One plant you should never overlook is seaweed. It is a form of marine algae found on or near ocean shores. There are also some edible freshwater varieties. Seaweed is a valuable source of iodine, other minerals, and vitamin C. Large quantities of seaweed in an unaccustomed stomach can produce a severe laxative effect.
When gathering seaweeds for food, find living plants attached to rocks or floating free. Seaweed washed ashore any length of time may be spoiled or decayed. You can dry freshly harvested seaweeds for later use.
Its preparation for eating depends on the type of seaweed. You can dry thin and tender varieties in the sun, or over a fire until crisp. Crush and add these to your soup or broth. Boil thick, leathery seaweeds for a short time to soften them. Eat them as a vegetable or with other foods. You can eat some varieties raw after testing for edibility.
6. Preparing Your Plant Food
Although some plants or plant parts are edible raw, you must cook others to be edible or palatable. Edible means that a plant or food will provide you with necessary nutrients, while palatable means that it actually is pleasing to eat. Many wild plants are edible but barely palatable. It is a good idea to learn to identify, prepare, and eat wild foods.
Methods used to improve the taste of plant food include soaking, boiling, cooking, or leaching. Leaching is done by crushing the food (for example, acorns), placing it in a strainer, and pouring boiling water through it or immersing it in running water.
Boil leaves, stems, and buds until tender, changing the water, if necessary, to remove any bitterness. Boil, bake, or roast tubers and roots. Drying helps to remove caustic oxalates from some roots like those in the Arum family.
Leach acorns in water, if necessary, to remove the bitterness. Some nuts, such as chestnuts, are good raw but taste better roasted.
You can eat many grains and seeds raw until they mature. When hard or dry, you may have to boil or grind them into meal or flour.
The sap from many trees, such as maples, birches, walnuts, and sycamores, contains sugar. You may boil these saps down to a syrup for sweetening. It takes about 35 liters of maple sap to make one liter of maple syrup!
It’s always a good idea to take a survival pack on your next big adventure. You should include a flashlight, matches, blankets (for cold nights) and whistle.
Not forgetting, some extra food and water!
Related Links & Recommended Reading
If you liked Dans article “How To Eat Wild Edibles (Without Poisoning Yourself!)”.
Please show your appreciation by voting for us.