Wild Edibles: Why study and learn them? Not to die of course!

Survival is all mental, it is in our heads and we need to protect our brains so we can survive. Without a doubt, being hungry is the one of the single most mentally crushing factors that we humans can experience. When we are without food, that is all we can think about, all we can dream about when we can sleep, and everything we do is centered around our next meal. Going without food has made people who were otherwise safe, sane and calm people, into murderous animals on a rampage. There is an old saying among those of us in the know, society is about a week of missed meals away from a total collapse. When people are hungry, they change.

They change because the chemical makeup of their brains is being altered by the lack of food, and our bodies are weakened by the lack of fuel intake coming in, we are literally dying so we enter a sort of fight or flight mode. Hunger pains exist as a constant reminder of your situation and you need to do something in order to toss that gnawing pain aside, and focus on other areas of your current situation.

So obviously the best way to avoid being hungry is to bring food. Now we are not talking trying to ruck out a 60 pound pack full of freeze-dried meals, but it would be a smart idea to maybe at least pack an extra days ration. You never know what can happen out there so even just having one extra meal could really make the difference. Most survival situations are resolved in the matter of a few days, so just having that one extra meal can really make a difference.

You may find yourself in a situation where that pickup you were expecting for your rescue simply cannot make it to you, or they have no clue where you are to begin with. You may be injured, lost, and you will without a doubt be tired, confused, and soon very hungry. So that one meal you saved can at least put the situation into perspective and give you some brain food to make good decisions.

In order to maintain a positive mental state while in a longer-term survival situation, you need to make use of wild edibles. Mother nature provides for us, in almost every climate and location on this big blue planet. With very few exceptions, we can find everything we need to live and survive the elements in even the most harshest of hells on earth. We just need to know what we are doing.

I cannot sit there and tell you what you need to gather and eat where you are. There are simply to many plants and fungi out there that are unsafe to eat to a point that they can literally kill you. So you need to find local experts, read books, and really spend a lot of time learning what is safe to eat, and what to be avoided. I can tell you, that you DO need to take the time, put in the effort, and study wild edibles.

I find one of the best ways for me, was to get a few good books on the subject, and I would bring them with me on a camping adventure. I would sit there for hours combing over the material at home, but it was not until I was in the field with plants and manual in hand. From there I was able to see that in my area, there is quite a bit I could dine on throughout the various seasons that would keep me very much alive, and I was able to learn what to avoid.

There is no “rule of thumb” when it comes to wild edibles. Red and white berries are not always deadly, though sometimes they are. Some deadly mushrooms that will cook your brain until you die a slow and painful death hallucinating in the woods, and some are really tasty to roast over an open fire. So avoid any guides that try and say there are cookie-cutter approaches to wild edibles. Those people writing that material can get you killed.

Now, while there is no standardized rules for what is safe, and what is not safe. There are ways to test them without having knowledge. This again is still not 100% but if you are out in the bush, lost, hungry, and scared, sometimes you have to take a chance. Everything we do in life is a calculated risk, a chance, a gamble…we just like to take very calculated risks that rely less on chance and more on skill. All skill, no luck. So if you are unsure of a plant, even with the reading material in front of you, there are a couple of things you can do that can help you determine if something is safe to eat or not. First you can break open the plant and rub it on your exposed skin. Wait a few hours and see if there is any irritation of any kind, or any sort of pain. If a plant hurts your skin, it will hurt your guts.

Another step would be to taste a small bit on your tongue. Most toxic plants have a horrible taste to them and will be extremely sour, bitter, and generally disgusting to eat. The human body is amazing in helping us figure out what is safe and not safe to eat, but sometimes it can be a liar. So after a small taste on the tongue, sooner or later you are going to have to eat a little bit to tell if its going to make you sick or not.

This is the calculated risk I was talking about. Before you take that bite, understand that without knowing what you are doing, it could very well be your list. Now the idea here is to take a small sample, a little tiny bite if you will. Now here comes the hard part, you have to sit and wait 8-12 hours to see if you have a reaction of any kind. So not only are you hungry as hell, and you have gathered a ton of what you think are safe to eat berries…you have to wait. You have to sit there and wait to see if your stomach starts to hurt, or if you have some sort of other reaction. You have to determine your own symptoms, while you are hungry, tired, scared, lost, and now you are trying to find out if the food you found is going to kill you or not. So needless to say, you are not paying that close of attention to yourself and symptoms. This type of test should truly be based on a prior knowledge of wild edibles, and you really should not be running around the woods eating a tiny bit of every plant you see. That is a very fast way to die.

The bottom line I am trying to get at here is this, you cannot learn what you need to eat in the bush in order to survive from one article. There are subject matter experts that have spent their entire lives studying this subject, including scholarly study at a university level. They will all tell you the same thing, that the wild provides for us all you just need to know where to look for it, and make sure when you look you know what you are looking for! Make the right choice and you are thriving, and make the wrong choice can turn a bad situation into a critical one.

Study, Study, Study. Read everything you can on the subject, talk to experts, go out in the field and get experience. The information is fun, interesting and it makes normal, planned camping trips into learning opportunities that later could come in handy for when those abnormal and unplanned trips crop up. We all enter the wild for a host of reasons, but we all want to leave alive and in piece. So be safe out there, make some smart and calculated choices, and when it comes to wild edibles. Know, don’t guess. You only have to make the wrong choice once.

John Abshire

Born in North Carolina, raised all over the world and currently living in the Rocky Mountains above Montana. I have spent most of my life fishing, hunting, exploring and adventuring. While the adventure continues I have started to jot a few of them down and write. I Love Fly Fishing and sharing what I know with others. Fish on!

Leave a Comment