We’ve all seen a movie or read a book about someone being lost in the woods, yearning for a juicy steak, but instead, they are surrounded by shrubbery, which may or may not be fatal when ingested. Don’t allow yourself to be caught in this dilemma. There is no way to stop the cravings of a perfectly cooked filet mignon, but you can survive on what nature has provided if you know the difference between edible and what will make the flu look like an afternoon lounging on the beach.
Not to worry. With knowledge comes great power (right Spiderman?). Whether you are lost in the wild or just snack-less on a trail, know your berries and leaves, it’s always the most enticing ones that will get ya.
Here is a general guide to what you should and should not eat in the great outdoors:
First of all, if the plant is not clearly identified, better safe than sorry, just say no. However, toxic plants have characteristics that should help you steer clear, such as:
- Bulbs, beans, or seeds inside the pod
- Parsnip, parsley, and dill-like sprouts
- Leaves or bark that has an “almond” like scent
- Three-leaf growth pattern
- Soapy or bitter taste (this one should be obvious)
- Discolored sap, such as milky or murky
- Thorns, spines, or fine hairs
- Purple, pink, or black spurs
Those were just a few of the “toxic” characteristics of plants, which will give your guts the business and put you in unimaginable pain, but probably won’t lead to death (although you’ll probably be wishing for it).
This leads us to plants that will most likely end in death if ingested:
- Wild peas
- Azaleas, smell great but are extremely poisonous
- Anything with a sticky black residue usually found growing roadside
- Mushrooms – unless you are an expert or were a teenager in the 60’s, stay clear
- Anything found near areas that may have been subjected to toxic waste dumping
- Yew seeds, ivy berries, and holly berries
- Mistletoe – sure you’ll get a kiss… the kiss of death
We’ve covered the toxic, now let’s move on to tips for finding and eating edible wild plants:
Surprisingly many edible plants are actually considered weeds. Dandelions and clovers may be a nuisance when it comes to the perfect grooming of your lawn, but in a hunger emergency, they can be the sustenance your body needs to survive. When looking for nourishment in the wild – here is what you need to know:
- Grass – easy enough, this stuff is everywhere, but guess why that is an amazing fact?… all grasses are edible. However, if possible, try to chomp on blades under six inches. They are easier to chew and digest. Just ask your dog or cat, those little critters are constantly munching on this green tree.
- Know the area – go back to your girl/boy scout roots, humid regions will have edible plants growing in sunny areas (even plants don’t like to be too hot and sweaty). Arid climates force edible foliage to migrate and grow near water
- Wet areas – here you’ll find cattail shoots, which are not bad raw, and their pollen is considered a “superfood”
- Cleared areas – this is a weeds playground. Dandelion, chickweed, raw onion, plantain, henbit, clover, violets, wood sorrel, dead-nettle, and snow thistle, which could all be the tasty-ish snack you are looking for in a time of need
- Thorny brambles – here’s the good stuff… blackberries, raspberries, and rose are the goodies you’ll find behind a wall of thorns. They may not look like the ones you purchase at a grocery store, but odds are, they will taste even better. These little morsels are the jackpot of wilderness nibbles
- Trees –boxelder, sourwood cab, linden, and sassafras leaves can all be eaten raw. Also, the young green shoots at the tips of conifer branches have a pleasant taste. The most common are pine, spruce, and fir. Many trees will also supply edible nuts in their cones from late summer to fall. Nuts are full of protein, which gives energy, and are easily digestible
If you are lucky enough to stumble upon a fruit tree growing in the wild you may be feasting on hackberries, pears, wild apples, mulberries, and other edible fruits. These are found near waterways where the sun hits the edge of the clearing (lucky you).
If your plans land you in nature, make sure you are prepared. Know your surroundings, know what you can safely ingest, and watch out for snakes (which taste like chicken if you can catch one). However, your best bet is to be prepared. If your backpack is loaded with easily portable snacks, such as freeze-dried food like protein and fruits, you won’t have to worry about eating the wrong greens or catching that pesky snake.