Imagine you’ve gone for a hike in the woods, you’ve got a light pack with you, which holds a bottle of water, a small bag of granola and your binoculars. As the day wears on, you decide it’s time to turn back for home before the sun gets too low on the horizon. You turn around, going back in the direction from which you’ve come, but wait, is that the way back? A sinking feeling creeps upon you as you realize you’ve become turned around, and now you’re lost.
To top everything off, you realize you’re getting hungry and your granola is all but gone. Now what? If you are one of the few who are familiar with the local flora and fauna in their area, you’re probably one step ahead, since you’ll know what kinds of edibles there are locally. There are many things in the wild you can depend upon for survival.
Nuts, Berries, Free For The Picking
The most obvious foods we think of when in the woods are berries, but depending on the season, they may not be readily available. Stick with berries you recognize and are familiar with, i.e. wild blueberries, wild raspberries and blackberries. Remember the old survivalist tip, if the berries are white, they’re probably poison.
Nuts are another excellent source of food. Again, knowing your local area will help you determine what is available. Listed below are several examples of edible nuts which can help you survive in the wild in an emergency situation.
Beech Nuts: Beech trees grow in the Eastern United States and generally like a moist environment, i.e. forests. You will recognize them as large trees with prickly, husklike, elongated seed pods. Pierce the pod with your fingernail and eat the white kernels of nut meat within. Beech nuts are one of the best and most delicious of the wild nuts.
Chestnuts: The Chestnut tree is found in hardwood as well as coniferous forests. While Chestnuts are generally harvested in the fall, green chestnuts can be harvested and used for food as well. The easiest way to prepare the ripe nuts is to roast them over fire. They are well know for their wonderful taste and you can eat an abundance of them. For green nuts, remove the shells, boil the nut meats and then you can actually mash them like potatoes.
Hazelnuts: The Hazelnut tree grows over wide areas of the U.S. particularly the Eastern region. They won’t be found in the forests, but rather they like to reside in thickets or out in the open. Hazelnuts generally ripen in the fall when you can crack them open and eat the nut meats. They are quite delicious and the high oil content in the nut makes it an excellent survival food.
Oak Acorns: Oak trees are widely found across North America as well as Central America and parts of Europe and Asia. There are 2 genus of Oak tree, Red Oak and White Oak. Each tree’s fruit ripens differently. The Red Oak acorns take 2 years to ripen while the White Oak acorns take one year to ripen. Acorns contain tanic acid, which can make the meat of the nuts quite bitter. You can eat the nuts raw, but it is not recommended that you eat large quantities unless you’ve taken steps to eliminate the tannins. Simply shell the nuts and soak them for 1 or 2 days. Acorns that have been roasted until very dark can be used for a coffee substitute. Boiled acorns can be dried and ground for use as a flour for baking.
I have memories of walking in the woods with my Dad, a naturalist/wildcrafter from the previous generation and all the knowledge he possessed about simple survival. We’d walk and he’d talk about the abundance of nature, pointing out the edibles along the way. He’d shell acorns, sharing with me as we walked. Not until recently did I realize how much he imparted to me without my realizing it. Thanks Dad.
Eat Your Greens
Do you remember your Mom telling you to eat your vegetables so you’d grow up big and strong. Well, Mom did know best. Now, whle you’re out in the wilderness and searching for wild edibles, you can hear your Moms voice…Eat your greens. Here then are some wild greens and other plant edibles that will help keep you healthy while finding your way back to civilization.
Burdock: Can be found worldwide in the Northern Temperate zones. Find it in waste areas, open fields, etc. during spring and summer. The Burdock has large arrow shaped, wavy edged leaves and can be confused with Rhubarb. So be cautious as Rhubarb leaves are toxic. If you peel the leaf stalks you can eat them raw or you can cook them up like other greens. Burdock roots are also edible once baked or boiled.
Cattails: Found in marshy areas, on the shores of ponds, creeks, canals, and lakes they are sun lovers and grow throughout the world. The young tender shoots can be eaten raw. The rhizome is generally tough, but is an excellent source of starch. Pound the rhizome to use as a flour. Also when the cattail is still young you can boil the “female” portion (the portion that we all recognize as the brown top of the stalk), and eat it like corn on the cob. Additionally, mature cattails make excellent tinder for building a fire, can be shredded for soft bedding or pillow stuffing and when burned on a fire, can act as an insect repellent.
Nettles: Also known as Stinging Nettle, this highly nutritious weed grows throughout the country and indeed, can be found in many regions of the planet. Nettles grow several feet tall and have small hairs over the stems, and both the tops and undersides of the foliage. These bristles will cause a stinging sensations when they come in contact with the skin. Younger shoots and leaves are an excellent source of nutrients, simply boil the greens for 10 to 15 minutes to remove the stinging aspect.
Juniper: Juniper or “Cedars” as they’re sometimes called are usually found in sunny, dry and wide open areas of North America and Northern Europe.
The leaves are smallish and almost scale like and the fruit is a blueish color with what looks like a waxy covering. The small twigs, leaves and fruits are edible. You can use the twigs and small leaves to make a tea, roast the berries or eat them raw, roasted and dried berries can be used as a meat flavoring. High in vitamin C and nutritious.
Not For The Faint Of Heart
For those who are not squemish, or have considered becoming a contestant for “Survivor”, there are many insects that are full of protein and food value and can be eaten raw. Ok, so bugs aren’t exactly appealing to you, however remember in some areas of the world, insects are considered a delicacy. Insects can be found under old logs, underneath the bark of trees, and usually in moist, shady areas of the woods. Some insects that are completely edible are termites, grasshoppers, locusts, and crickets. While raw is ok, they’re better if boiled or roasted on a fire, and oh yes, don’t forget to pull the wings off before eating. Here’s another important survival tidbit for you, avoid fuzzy bugs, generally they’re poisonous.
Bird eggs are another excellent source of nourishment, however, they may be a bit more difficult to find, since many species of birds nest in trees. If you find yourself face to face with an inhabited bird nest, by all means avail yourself of the eggs within. Boil them or eat them raw…they’re an excellent source of protein.
If you’re near a lake, stream or river, you might try your hand at fishing…even with the most rudimentary of tools and a little luck, it is possible to snag a fish.
You’ll need a boot or shoe string, something for a hook and something for bait. Some of us will have a handy dandy multi tool in which there may even be something you can use for a hook. Or, you may have a safety pin in your pack, if neither of those items is available, look around the area on the ground…man has left his mark on nearly every corner of the earth, there may be something like a small piece of wire or something sharp you can utilize for a hook.
So now that you’ve got your line (boot string) fashioned a hook, (safety pin or other sharp item) you need bait, those same insects you just couldn’t seem to get the nerve to eat, will make a tantalizing meal for a hungry fish. Under or in old rotten logs you can generally find grubs…fish love em’ and for you, that’s a good thing. Once you’ve got your bait, (grub, grasshopper, etc.), bait your hook, and toss in your line. One word of caution, make sure you’ve tied your hook securely to your line and I’d suggest tying the other end of the linr (the end you’re holding) around a stick that is stout and strong so that you can wind your line around it once you’ve caught a fish. With a little patience, you may just have yourself fresh fish for dinner.
Food For Thought
Long before there were fast food chains and processed pre-packaged foods, there was the abundance of our Mother Earth. My Dad like so many of his generation knew how to live off the land. Born in the early 1900’s, survival was based on one’s ability to forage, hunt, fish and provide nourishment off the bounty of nature. These days, if we can’t find something to eat in the fridge, we open a can, a package or call for take out. We have forgotten the bounty that can be found in nature. We have become a society of overweight, undernourished people. Nutrients that were abundant in our foods naturally have been eradicated by pesticides, herbacides, and the depletion of minerals in the very soil we grow our crops in. What we are lacking in nutritional value and vitamins has been replaced with chemical additives, artificial sweeteners and colors, preservatives and more. The old addage, “you are what you eat” comes home to haunt us as a people plagued by heart disease, obesity, eating disorders and a plethora of other life threatening maladies. I think it’s time we got bavck to our roots, to the basics of good nutrition, of eating naturally and more healthily. It may mean that we haven’t as much convenience but we just may be rewarded by improved health, less depression, and a quality of life that previous generations enjoyed and that this generation has only dreamt of.