A Guide to What You Can and Cannot Eat in the Wild

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Avoid Starvation by Knowing What and What Not to Eat in the Wild

If you’re stranded in the wilderness and you’ve already blown through your supply of trail mix, it won’t be long before you start looking at all of those green plants with a burning desire for nourishment. You can avoid starving to death in the wild if you know a thing or two about which plants are edible and which ones will kill you. Yes, those mysterious brightly colored berries should probably stay where they are.

There are over a million different plant species on this fine Earth of ours, so having an intimate knowledge of all of them is highly unlikely. When in doubt, stay away from a plant if you aren’t absolutely sure that it won’t kill you. Here’s a breakdown of everything that’s safe to eat in the wild and everything that isn’t.

Insects and Animals

Anything that walks on all fours is usually a safe choice. You can set traps using some twine or go for a hunt using a firearm or a blade if you happen to have one on hand. If you have access to a river or a lake, catching some fish is always a good place to start. Refrain from eating anything that’s already dead. If you can get past their slimy features, insects are full of protein and nutrition.

Plants That You Should Avoid

Chances are that you won’t be able to pronounce or remember most of the plant names that exist in the world today. Instead of memorizing individual plant species, learn how to recognize poisonous plants in the wild using these crucial identifying features.

White or Off-Color Sap: Anything emitting a syrupy liquid with strange or unfamiliar colors should be avoided at all costs.

Three-Leaf Plants: While not all three-leafed plants are poisonous, it’s best to avoid the unfamiliar ones just to be safe. There’s always a chance that you could be biting into a patch of poison ivy.

Spiny Thorns or Bristly Hairs: Prickly plants are not usually made for human consumption. Resist the urge to bite into something that looks like it was designed to be a weapon.

Grains with Purple or Brightly Colored Heads: A stalk with a brightly colored hairdo is best left alone. Those stylish colors are usually a warning sign that nausea is headed your way.

Pods with Seeds or Bulbs: Most seeds and bulbs should be regarded as a symbol of danger in the wild. Seed-like capsules are designed for growing new plants and for making humans feel like their insides are turning into mush.

Plants That You Can Eat

Rest assured that the natural world is also full of things that won’t kill you or make you wish that you’d never been born. Here’s a brief guide to the most common edible plants in the wild.

Wild Asparagus

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Much different than the thick stalks that you’d find at your local grocery store, wild asparagus is known for having thin, grain-like stems. You’ll usually find them by an open field throughout most of North America.

Cattails

No swamp would be complete without a few hundred cattails to set the mood. You can recognize them by their thick corn-like flower spikes.

Chicory

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As beautiful as they are nutritious, chicory is known for its lavender, light blue flowers. You can eat the flower petals as they are or break off parts of the root and boil them until they are soft enough to eat.

Dandelions

Yes, everyone’s favorite flower-like weed is also a delicious snack on the go. Young or old, yellow or white, pluck one out of the ground and pop it in your mouth like a piece of jerky.

Seaweed

If you happen to be near the ocean, fishing for seaweed is a great way to find some quick nutrition. You can boil it or eat it as it is. Wash off any sand before you take a bite.

Kelp

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Go ahead, those slimy yellow tentacles won’t hurt you. Kelp is a breed of seaweed that’s found throughout North America. It’s full of nutrients including vitamin K and folate.

White Mustard

These tall stalks with their yellow flowers are the perfect outdoor snack. They’re only in bloom between February and March, so hopefully spring is the time of year when you decide to wander aimlessly through the woods.

Purslane

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This weed is known for its chubby, waxy-smooth leaves. That added thickness means that every bite has more nutrition than your average leaf. Eat them raw or boiled, depending on your preferred level of chewiness.

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