Surviving in the Wild: 19 Common Edible Plants

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So you’re
stranded in the wilderness. You consumed the last nub of your Clif
Bar two days ago, and now you’re feeling famished. Civilization
is still several days away, and you need to keep up your strength.
The greenery all around you is looking more and more appetizing.
But what to nibble on? Some plants will keep you alive and are chock
full of essential vitamins and minerals, while some could make you
violently ill….or even kill you.

Which of course
makes proper identification absolutely critical.

Below we’ve
given a primer on 19 common edible wild plants. Look them over and
commit the plants to memory. If you’d like to discover even
more edible wild plants, we suggest checking out the SAS
Survival Handbook
and the U.S.
Army Survival Manual
.

In the coming
months, we’ll be publishing articles on edible wild roots,
berries, and fungi. So stay tuned.

Plants to
Avoid

If you can’t
clearly identify a plant and you don’t know if it’s poisonous,
it’s better to be safe than sorry. Steer clear from a plant
if it has:

  • Milky or
    discolored sap
  • Spines,
    fine hairs, or thorns
  • Beans, bulbs,
    or seeds inside pods
  • Bitter or
    soapy taste
  • Dill, carrot,
    parsnip, or parsley-like foliage
  • “Almond”
    scent in the woody parts and leaves
  • Grain heads
    with pink, purplish, or black spurs
  • Three-leaved
    growth pattern

Many toxic
plants will exhibit one or more of the above characteristics. Bear
in mind that some of the plants we suggest below have some of these
attributes, yet they’re still edible. The characteristics listed
are just guidelines for when you’re not confident about what
you’re dealing with. If you want to be completely sure that
an unknown plant is edible, and you have a day or two to spare,
you can always perform the Universal
Edibility Test
.

Amaranth
(Amaranthus retroflexus and other species)

Native to the
Americas but found on most continents, amaranth is an edible weed.
You can eat all parts of the plant, but be on the look out for spines
that appear on some of the leaves. While not poisonous, amaranth
leaves do contain oxalic acid and may contain large amounts of nitrates
if grown in nitrate-rich soil. It’s recommended that you boil
the leaves to remove the oxalic acid and nitrates. Don’t drink
the water after you boil the plant. With that said, you can eat
the plant raw if worse comes to worst.

Asparagus
(Asparagus officinalis)

The vegetable
that makes your pee smell funny grows in the wild in most of Europe
and parts of North Africa, West Asia, and North America. Wild asparagus
has a much thinner stalk than the grocery-store variety. It’s
a great source of source of vitamin C, thiamine, potassium and vitamin
B6. Eat it raw or boil it like you would your asparagus at home.

Burdock
(Arctium lappa)

Medium to large-sized
plant with big leaves and purplish thistle-like flower heads. The
plant is native to the temperate areas of the Eastern Hemisphere;
however, it has been naturalized in parts of the Western Hemisphere
as well. Burdock is actually a popular food in Japan. You can eat
the leaves and the peeled stalks of the plant either raw or boiled.
The leaves have a bitter taste, so boiling them twice before eating
is recommended to remove the bitterness. The root of the plant can
also be peeled, boiled, and eaten.

Cattail
(Typha)

Known as cattails
or punks in North America and bullrush and reedmace in England,
the typha genus of plants is usually found near the edges of freshwater
wetlands. Cattails were a staple in the diet of many Native American
tribes. Most of a cattail is edible. You can boil or eat raw the
rootstock, or rhizomes, of the plant. The rootstock is usually found
underground. Make sure to wash off all the mud. The best part of
the stem is near the bottom where the plant is mainly white. Either
boil or eat the stem raw. Boil the leaves like you would spinach.
The corn dog-looking female flower spike can be broken off and eaten
like corn on the cob in the early summer when the plant is first
developing. It actually has a corn-like taste to it.

Clovers
(Trifolium)

Lucky you-clovers
are actually edible. And they’re found just about everywhere
there’s an open grassy area. You can spot them by their distinctive
trefoil leaflets. You can eat clovers raw, but they taste better
boiled.

Chicory
(Cichorium intybus)

You’ll
find chicory growing in Europe, North America, and Australia. It’s
a bushy plant with small blue, lavender, and white flowers. You
can eat the entire plant. Pluck off the young leaves and eat them
raw or boil them. The chicory’s roots will become tasty after
boiling. And you can pop the flowers in your mouth for a quick snack.

Chickweed
(Stellaria media)

You’ll
find this herb in temperate and arctic zones. The leaves are pretty
hefty, and you’ll often find small white flowers on the plant.
They usually appear between May and July. You can eat the leaves
raw or boiled. They’re high in vitamins and minerals.

Read
the rest of the article

October
7, 2010

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