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Briar Patch Outdoors

Wild Plants for Survival

by George Hedgepeth

Foraging is a fantastic hobby.† Nothing makes one more appreciative of the immediate environment than providing a delicious meal from the woods, fields, and creeks.† Being outside and close to the earth, finding free healthy food, and the opportunity to learn from the unending complexity of the environment are wonderful things, and there are even opportunities to pass hugs out to cuddly trees and fuzzy critters.

If one examines the realities of foraging as a way to keep alive, it is a less cheerful scene.† It is HARD to stay alive for a long time when disconnected from society's pipeline of resources.† It always has been.

I have seen survival texts that poo-poo the value of food in "survival situations".† I would hazard to guess that many of the authors of these statements have not missed many meals.† Although it is true that a person can live weeks without food (much longer than without water or adequate protection from the elements) lack of food can compound other difficulties that will lead to death due to other issues.†

For example, it is hard enough to keep an adequate supply of firewood for cold-weather conditions when one is healthy, but it is much tougher when blood sugar has bottomed out.† The metabolic heat provided by digestion, especially of fats, is significant -- one will suffer more from the cold with an empty stomach.† The psychological aspect of food is huge, and the hope provided from the prospect of a future meal is not to be taken lightly.† Not all meals are equal though.

Vegetarianism a poor choice for someone living off the land for very long in areas outside of the tropics.† It is perfectly possible to starve to death with a belly full of greens.† While leading adult groups on survival trainings sessions, I have seen how severely lack of calories effects some studentís energy, awareness, and motivation. It becomes a simple equation of energy in over energy out, and green plants just do not have the fuel to keep the human machine going.† There is a reason herbivores are built differently than we are.††

That is not an attack on vegetarianism as a life choice for people in todayís society.† However, outside of the tropics, it is a choice that does require access to a world-wide, four season agricultural system.† Animal protein and fat are vitally important resources in cool and cold environments... but plants do have an important place for the survivor. There are several general classes of plant resources available, and each has something to offer.† They each have their specific challenges as well. The information below may be helpful in developing an efficient foraging strategy.

GREENS - By this, I mean the leaves and stems of plants.† Commonly referenced wild foods such as dandelion greens, nettle tops, and thistle stems are all in this class. They contain negligible calories (45 calories per 100 grams chopped dandelion greens), but are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.† These are long-term foods.††

FRUIT - This is a more varied group -- it covers things like blueberries and black berries (57 and 43 calories per 100g respectively), but also higher calorie options like wild persimmons (127 Calories per 100g).† Most of their calories are supplied by simple carbohydrates, but also provide good vitamin content.† If the water is removed, of course the calories go up per unit, but the water may also be a valuable resource.† Fruits are generally highly seasonal, so successful foraging is very much a case of being at the right place at the right time.

SEEDS - Both grasses and herbaceous plant seeds can be good food, and they are generally pretty high in calories.† This calorie efficiency and their ease of storage allowed them to build our modern society.† An example is Quinoa -- related to our wild Chenopodiums like goosefoot.† It boasts a whopping 368 calories per 100g.† In general, seeds that are not oily are reservoirs of carbohydrates with some vitamins and minerals.† Oily seeds are harder to store, but even richer in calories.† Sunflower seeds pack an amazing 619 calories per 100g, and these are from both fats and carbohydrates, with significant protein content.† Seeds are very seasonal, and in general take some effort to process, but are REAL energy foods.

NUTS - They are very much like oily seeds, which in fact they are.† In fact, raw pecans have the same calorie content as sunflower seeds.† One difference is that they are much larger, and may be an easier processing option for the survivor.† Nuts contain fats, carbs, and proteins, and the ratios change between species.† For example, black walnuts have about the same calories as pecans, but more protein (24g/100 compared to 9g/100).† These can be real life savers.

ROOTS - Plants often store nutrition in their roots.† Humans can access this stored resource, and it can be significant.† The burdock is a good source of a root crop, and can be accessed from late summer thru to early spring.† It has 88 calories /100g, mostly supplied by carbohydrates.† This beats potatoes bys a fair bit (75 calories /100g). Burdock roots can reach substantial size, 1000 grams not being uncommon. They also contain minerals.† Some roots, such as Groundnuts (Apios sp.) are even good sources of proteins (25 g/100).


It takes a lot of natural foods to keep a person running.† If a modest goal of 3000 calories per day is to be approached, seeds, roots, and nuts are the solution, along with dried fruit when possible.† Most of these foods take a bit of effort to gather and process, so one should not forget that effort in the equation.† Can one use wild plant foods to live off the land?† Certainly, if conditions and season allow, and it is NOT easy.† The strategies to make this work will follow in another article.

Also see related article: A Forager's Bibliography

- Woodsrunner Tips -

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Send an email to georgehedgepeth(at)hotmail(dot)com

Briar Patch Outdoors
219 Holmes Street
Durand MI 48429
(989) 288-0168

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