Finding Food in the Wilderness
Updated: Apr 5
While the human body is capable of performing amazing feats, it needs energy to function, and that means food, particularly in an emergency. While it’s easy enough to find food in a city teeming with shops and grocery stores, the same can’t be said of the wilderness. Especially if you’re a rookie. And taking a chance on some innocent-looking roots and berries could very well mean the end of you. Hopefully, this article can teach you the basics of finding enough food to keep you going until you make it back to civilization.
Safety: What you Need to Know
There are levels to foraging and scavenging for food. For the sake of this post, we’ll work with three tiers. Basic, intermediate, and advanced. Stick with the level you’re most comfortable with and work your way up from there. Remember, this is only a basic guide, and you should further your education whenever you get the opportunity. Read more articles, books, and guides on the subject. Watch videos. Learn how to fish and hunt. Go out with an expert, if possible. While it might seem like an impossible task at first, you’ll get the hang of it in no time. Practice makes perfect!
It’s also important to realize that at some point, you may find yourself competing with wild animals for the same food and water sources. Depending on the terrain and local wildlife, this might or might not be a serious problem. Either way, it’s worth keeping in mind.
Now. Let’s get down to business. The business of finding food.
Basic Level: Foraging for Wild Greens, Berries, Flowers, Fruits, Tubers, Roots, Shoots, and Flowers.
Generally speaking, gathering plants is the easiest way to find sustenance in the wilderness. You can obtain a lot of nutrients and fiber that way, but it does come with its own set of challenges. Firstly, be careful of insects, spiders, and snakes when you forage. Bigger animals, too. The last thing you need is to add a painful or even dangerous sting or bite to your list of problems.
Your other concern is figuring out which plants are safe to eat. Many species of fungi, mushrooms, berries, fruits, and leaves are either poisonous or not edible. If you don’t know the plants in your area, it’s best to proceed with the utmost caution.
Rule number one: If you’re in doubt, DON’T EAT IT!
While poisonous plants are usually unpalatable, bitter, and unpalatable, even small amounts can be deadly. Take your time when you forage for food, and keep the following things in mind: Anything that oozes white sap is off-limits. When it comes to berries, all bright yellow and white varieties are poisonous. Half of all red berries, too. Most dark berries are considered safe for consumption, however. A plus point. Stay away from mushrooms, especially if you are a beginner. It’s far too easy to make a mistake, and the results could be deadly.
The most common edible leafy herbs are watercress shoots, dandelion flowers (and leaves), burdock, wild onion, wild carrot, amaranth, elderberry, elderflower, ground ivy, and stinging nettles. Only choose plants that appear to be healthy, and watch out for any growing near contaminated water sources.
Some of these plants will need a form of preparation. Either cooking or preparing. Not everything can be eaten straight from the earth, and often, the results are better anyway. For example, boiled pine needles produce a pleasant tea rich in Vitamin C, while boiled willow bark (the soft bits on the inside) can relieve pain.
Intermediate Level: Nuts, Seeds, and Grains and Insects:
This is one level up from a beginner. Most seeds and nuts can be found in the Western US and some parts of the Midwest also. But take some time and work to get to the edible part if, for example, you find an acorn or pine cone that still hasn't lost its seeds. Grains are also harder to find in the wild. Common examples of this are wild rice, Indian rice grass, mesquite pods, walnuts, and hickory nuts. The upside of finding these as a resource is that a) nuts, seeds, and grains are easier to identify, and b) do not have poisonous counterparts.
Insects are more challenging because they’re creepy, and no one wants to touch them, let alone eat them. But they can be a valuable source of protein and nutrients and might mean the difference between life and death. So, set aside your squeamishness and munch on that creepy crawler. Mmm. Tastes like chicken.
All jokes aside, there are a few things to remember:
Do not eat a live insect by biting the head off.
Do not eat brightly colored insects. They’re probably poisonous.
The best way to consume an insect is how you would meat, by cooking it to perfection. Insects that are generally safe to eat are grasshoppers, ants, maggots, earwigs, termites, and beetles. Fry them up in a skittle and munch away!
Advanced Level: Hunting, Fishing, Slaughtering, and Catching Food.
This is the most difficult level but also the most rewarding. It will require some form of equipment: Hunting gear, fishing gear, a knife for dressing, or traps. But the bounty you can earn is endless, ranging from much-needed protein, fats, skins for clothing or even shelter, furs, and more.
Eggs can be found in unprotected nests during spring and can be eaten raw, though it’s not recommended. Unpasteurized eggs could contain salmonella and other nasties, so it would be better to cook them first.
Seafood is an option if you are near the beach, and coastline foraging doesn’t mean just investigating the hundreds of rockpools that line the shore for seaweed, crustaceans, and shellfish. It’s also about the wild plants that grow along the dunes and among the rocks.
Mussels, typically found on rocks at the low tide line, can be dislodged with a simple twisting motion. Oysters, which are massed in beds in muddy estuaries, must be pried loose with a tool, and clams live beneath wet beach sand. Plus, you can look for small fish and crabs trapped in tidal pools. Be careful, though, and try not to cut yourself on sharp rocks and shells.
Fish are another source of nutrients, including heart-healthy fats and quality protein. Catching them might prove tricky if you don’t have the necessary gear, but improvising with a net or a spear is worth a try. Tidal pools, mud pools, and small ponds would be ideal for that. Cleaning them is important, of course, and will require a knife or something sharp.
As with eggs, it’s always safer to cook fish and shellfish. Naturally occurring toxins are an ever-present threat, and even cooked shellfish can be dangerous if you’re careless. Never eat dead shellfish (those that remain open when handled), even after cooking them, and must be eaten fresh. To prevent grittiness, you’ll want to purge the sand from your catch by submerging them in water for a few hours.
Lizards and amphibians can be trapped, but it takes a lot of time and planning. Plus, they need to be cooked before consumption.
Birds and small game can be very hard to catch. The same goes for large game. Animals are often much smarter and cagier than one would suspect, faster too. Unless you are a proficient hunter or trapper, you might be better off preserving your precious energy reserves for less difficult tasks.
Remember, keeping your body fueled, hydrated, and warm is of the utmost importance for survival and requires a lot of effort. Thus, conserving your bodily reserves is vital. You cannot afford to expend too much energy on a task that won’t deliver a similar amount of reward. Eg: Don’t waste all day chasing a buck with a wooden spear if there is a bank of perfectly good blackberry bushes nearby. Balance is key.
In many cases, doing what you can before you end up in a survival situation can make the difference needed to survive. Researching how to forage and scavenge is a good starting point. Preparation is key to being prepared, and it can start with something as simple as learning about the different skills that can work for your survival.
A Blog Post by Baileigh Higgins