Nourishing with Plants, Fruits, and Bugs for Wilderness Safety

Water is more important than food. You need water to survive. While you need food also, you can go without food for potentially weeks. You cannot survive without water for more than a few days. That said, if you have access to plenty of water, you can then worry about making sure you have food and nourishment.

The Types of Food to Pack

An ideal diet consists of food from five basic groups. These groups are listed below.

  1. Carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are easy to digest and provide energy. Carbs are found in whole grains, vegetables and fruits.
  1. Protein. Protein is found in blood, poultry, meat, and fish.
  1. Fats. Fats provide lasting energy once the energy given from carbohydrates is gone. It can be found in eggs, nus, cheese, butter, oils, and animal fats.
  1. Vitamins. Vitamins are found in most food. If you do not maintain a well-balanced diet, the vitamins in your body can become depleted.
  1. Minerals. Minerals are present in water.

An ideal diet consists of 50 to 70% carbohydrates, 20 to 30% proteins, and 20 to 30% fats.

When packing food, you first need to decide if weight will be an issue. If you are backpacking, most likely it will be. In that case, you can take dry foods. Pasta, rice, wheat, cereal, and oatmeal are good choices. You can also bring freeze-dried meals. You can also pack MRE's - or meal ready to eat.

Pack enough food to last throughout your trip. If something should go wrong, and you are in the wilderness longer than originally planned, you can find food all around you in nature.

Eating Plants Found in the Wilderness

Plants can provide a major source of nourishment. However, be careful of what plants you eat, because not all are edible. It is helpful if someone on your group knows the edible plants of the region you are visiting. If not, you will need a plant reference handbook to help you know what is safe to eat or not. That said, if you do not have access to a reference book and are in a survival situation, you can perform an edibility test on plants before you eat them. Just keep in mind that this test is not always an accurate determination. What is more, there are always exceptions.

Edibility Test

The first rule of performing an edibility test is to make sure there is a plentiful supply of the plant. You should always use fresh vegetation, and clean the plant with treated water. The test should only be performed on one plant, as well as one part of the plant, at a time. It is important not to eat for eight hours before the test.

Do not test or eat plants with the following characteristics:

1.   Shiny leaves or fine hairs

2.   Carrot-like leaves, roots, or tubers

3.   Those that look bean or pea-like

4.   Those with sap that is milky or dark when exposed to air.

5.   Mushrooms or those with a mushroom-like appearance (unless you are sure they are safe to eat).

6.   Those with umbrella-shaped flower clusters.

Once you have prepared the plant to eat, place it on the inside of your wrist for fifteen minutes. Watch to see if your body has a negative reaction to the plant, such as burning, stinging, or any kind of skin irritation. If any of these things occur, pick another component or plant and start the test over. If everything is okay, put a teaspoon-sized sample of the plant to your lips. Hold it there for another five minutes. Watch for irritation or reaction. 

If none occurs, put the plant on your tongue for fifteen minutes. Just be careful not to swallow any juices. Again, this should just be a teaspoon-sized portion. At the end of the fifteen minutes, if no irritation or reaction occurs, chew the plant for fifteen minutes. Do not swallow any of the plant or its juices until the end of the fifteen minutes and only if no reaction or irritation occurred. After you swallow the first teaspoon-sized portion of the plant, wait eight hours.

Symptoms of adverse reactions to the plant include:

1.   Cramping

2.   Other abdominal irritations

3.   Diarrhea

4.   Vomiting

5.   Nausea

If any of these symptoms occur, induce vomiting and drink a lot of water. If none of the symptoms occur, prepare a half cup of the plant in the way way that you prepared the teaspoon-sized portion. Wait eight hours after you eat it. If no adverse reactions occur, you can assume the plant is edible.

To make sure you continue to eat the edible part of the plant:

1.   Only eat the component that you tested. The leaves may be edible, but the stem may not (and vice versa).

2.   Continue to prepare the plant in the same way that you prepared it for testing.

3.   If you boiled it for testing, boil it every time you eat it. Only eat the plant in moderation.

4.   Even though it is edible, large quantities of it may cause diarrhea or other problems.

The Components of a Plant

As stated in the last section, you should perform an ediblity test on one component of a plant. If the component passes the test, only eat that component. If you want to try to eat other components, you must perform another ediblity test first.

You can get different types of nourishment from different components of plants. In addition, some components are better when prepared a certain way.

Edible Underground Components

The underground components of a plant include ubers, roostalks, bulbs, and roots. Underground components contain high levels of starch. They are best when baked or boiled.

Below are some examples of edible underground components:

1.     Potato = tuber 

2.     Cattail = root and roostalk 

3.     Wild onion = bulb

Edible Stems and Leaves

Stems and leaves include shoots, stems, leaves, cambium, and pith. They are high in vitamins. These components are best when boiled for five minutes, drained, then boiled again until they are ready to eat. You can eat leaves raw or cooked, but the highest nutritional value comes from raw leaves.

Below are some examples of edible stems and leaves:

1.     Bracken fern, young bamboo, and cattail = shoots 

2.     Dock, plantain, sorrel, amaranth = leaves 

3.     Sago, rattan, sugar, coconut = pith

Edible Flowers

Flowers include the actual flowers, as well as buds and pollens. They are usually best eaten raw - or as part of a salad.

Below are some examples of flowers:

1.     Hibiscus = flower 

2.     Rosehips = buds 

3.     Cattail = pollen

Edible Fruits

The seed-bearing part of a plant is called the fruit. Fruits are typically best when eaten raw. However, you can cook them if you want. That said, fruits can be broken down into two categories: sweet and nonsweet. Examples of sweet and nonsweet fruits are listed below.

1.     Sweet fruits: wild strawberries, prickly pears, huckleberries, and apples. 

2.     Nonsweet fruits: Plantains, cucumbers, tomatoes, and horseradish.

Edible Seeds and Grains

Seeds and grains can also be edible and a source of nutrition. Some seeds and grains are best when ground into flour. Others may be best served after being roasted. Do not eat purple or black grass seeds. They can make you sick.

Edible Nuts

Nuts are an excellent source of nourishment, because they are high in protein and fat. You can eat most types of nuts raw, but there are some that require leaching to remove the tannic acid. Acorns are an example of such a type of nut.

Edible Resins and Gums

Sap that you find on the outside of trees and plants are examples of resins and gums. You can find this sap on pine trees, as well as maple trees.

About Berries

For the most part, you can determine if a berry is edible or poisonous by its color. That said, you should always do an edibility test on all berries unless you are absolutely sure they are not poisonous. Green, white, and yellow berries are 10% edible while red berries are 50% edible. Aggregate berries are 99% edible. These include thimbleberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Blue, black, and purple berries are 90% edible.

A List of Edible Plants and Flowers

Below is a table that contains a list of the different types of edible plants. Following it are lists containing edible flowers, as well as edible types of fungi. These lists are not comprehensive, and you should always be sure of the type of plant before you assume it is edible. Perform an edibility test on any plant for which you are unsure.

NOTE: Always be careful when eating fungi. If you are not sure of the type of fungi, it is best not to eat it.

Eating Bugs Found in the Wilderness

Bugs can be excellent sources of calcium, iron, carbohydrates, fats, and protein. While the thought of eating bugs may not be appealing to you at the moment, they can provide the nourishment you need to maintain your health and energy in a survival situation.

That said, bugs can be eaten raw. They can also be baked, boiled, or roasted. You can eat them by themselves or mix them with fruit and nuts to make a salad. Once you get past the stigma and fear associated with eating bugs, you are likely to find they are not as repulsive as you may imagine.

Below is a list of some of the kinds of edible bugs that are excellent known sources of carbohydrates, iron, calcium, fats, and protein. This is not a comprehensive list. However, it contains some of the better-known varieties of bugs that are edible - and even popular to eat in some regions of the world.

Do not eat poisonous bugs or those that have eight or more legs, fine hairs, or bright colors. You also should not eat spiders.