Food is not your first priority in a survival situation, ever! Remember that you could survive for perhaps 30-40 days without food.
- In general, have a respectful attitude towards gathering plants. You can “ask permission” to take a plant, and tell the plant how you are going to use it, and give thanks. Try not to take more than 1/3 of anything, less if possible. Leave some seeds to replant.
- Learn your plants before you are in a survival situation. Some plants are only edible at certain stages, and some you should only eat moderate amounts.
- Learn poisonous plants as well as edible plants.
- Stay away from roadsides, railroad beds, and power lines.
What Plants to Collect and When
SPRING: Collect new shoots and leaves
SUMMER: Collect flowers and leaves. These are not quite as nutritious as in Spring
LATE SUMMER: Collect fruits, nuts, seeds
FALL: More nuts and seeds, also roots
WINTER: Roots, tubers, and corms
Leaves: Carbohydrates, Vitamin A, Calcium. High moisture content and small nutritional importance.
Buds/flowers/inner bark: Similar to leaves with less moisture content.
Fruits: Carbohydrates and vitamins.
Roots/bulbs/corms: packed with carbohydrates and some protein.
Seeds & Nuts: Excellent source of fats, proteins, minerals, B-Vitamins; also store well.
4 Major Plant Food Types
Grasses have long strap-like leaves, and inconspicuous flowers. Grasses have round, jointed stems, and are hollow in the middle. Of 14,000 grasses, 4 are minorly toxic. Beware of ergot, a dark purplish fungus that grows on grass seeds, typically where it’s damp. Rare, but highly poisonous.
- Toss and winnow seeds to get chaff off. Eat or grind into flour.
- Eat young shoots raw or cooked. Older shoots are edible but tough.
- Rhizomes are edible raw or cooked like noodles.
- Dried leaves can be added to flour.
Cattails are aquatic, with long strap-like leaves, and grow in dense stands, often in swampy conditions, with sausage-like seed heads. All cattail species are edible, they are “the supermarket of the swamp”. However, beware that cattails can concentrate pollutants. Also, beware of eating cattails raw, as water they are in may contain Giardia.
SPRING: Eat young shoots, raw or cooked, older shoots are edible if peeled and eaten like corn on the cob.
SUMMER: Shake cattail pollen into a bag, and use it in stews. It is very high in protein.
FALL/WINTER: Peeled rhizomes/corms can be eaten like potatoes or ground into flour, and can be harvested all winter long.
All pines are edible and highly useful.
- Use pine needles to make Needle tea, don’t bring the water to a boil. Needle tea is high in Vitamin C
- Pine pollen is extremely high in protein
- Eat pine seeds: Collect closed pine cones and set them next to a fire to open Seeds should be broken and winnowed a bit.
- Pine inner bark is a true survival food. Cut the inner bark into long strips and cook them like noodles, or dry and mash them into flour. Don’t kill the tree – just use branches.
There are two groups of oaks. White oaks have rounded leaves, black/red oak leaves are pointy.
- Collect oak acorns when they are falling off trees. Acorns need to be leeched of their tannic acid. Do this by adding cracked acorns to boiling water. Change the water 2-3 times. Acorn nuts can also be ground into flour and then boiling water poured through it to leech of tannic acids. Acorns are highly nutritious.
There are thousands of other edible plants. Try to learn a new one every week. Incorporate the use of one edible plant to one meal a week.