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Survival Foraging: Edible Plant Guide For Preppers

Urban, suburban, rural, and wilderness preppers should all study and master survival foraging. This basic foraging guide will get you thinking about finding survival foods in the wild.

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So let's imagine that sh*t has indeed hit the fan and it's ´game on´ for survival. Maybe you are bugging out to an undisclosed location or hunkering down in the safety of your own home. Maybe you've bailed on society altogether and are hiding out in the wilderness somewhere.

No matter what your plan is for when SHTF, you are going to need to eat to survive. You've probably got your survival meals prepped and ready to go. We hope you've got a sizable food stockpile prepared. If you are a dedicated prepper, you may even have a robust survival garden planted.

But if you want to take your prep to the next level, you will need to add survival foraging to your list of prepper skills.

What is survival foraging?  

Foraging is the practice of finding survival foods in the wild. Sometimes called wild harvesting. the basic idea is that you know how to find, safely identify, and properly harvest food in the natural environment.

Many people think that foraging is something done exclusively in wild areas. The truth is, foraging can be done everywhere, even in your backyard (which is the perfect place to start learning).

Urban, suburban, rural, and wilderness preppers should all study and master this critical survival skill. That's why we decided to put together this basic foraging guide to get you thinking about finding survival foods in the wild. 

We´re going to talk about some important basics to keep in mind as you learn about foraging, which edible plants you should learn to identify first, and which plants to avoid.

We´re also going to give you our recommendations for the best books and guides to help you get started learning about foraging from the experts.

Eating Wild Plants - A Disclaimer

Let's start the meat of this article with a very clear disclaimer: this article is not an authoritative source about foraging food for survival. Please, PLEASE, take the time to thoroughly study edible plants in your region before you put anything in your mouth.

Here's our most important piece of advice: you can certainly study foraging on your own, but you need to seek out a mentor. Learning to forage should be a hands-on experience.

The thing is, finding food in the wild was something that humans used to learn by going along with our extended family on gathering missions. Our mothers and fathers, grandparents, aunts, and uncles would teach us, hands-on, which plants were the best to harvest. 

They would have taught us the best methods to harvest, protecting the plant’s ability to reproduce so there would be something to harvest in the future.

Most importantly, they would have taught us exactly which part of the plants are edible, and how to prepare them. Nature has a sharp edge to it, and we have, unfortunately, become quite ignorant in matters that were once considered common sense. 

To put it plainly, there are plants out there that can kill you. If they don´t poison you immediately, they can slowly drain your strength until you die from starvation or weakness. This happened to a man named Chris McCandless and his story is a cautionary tale for anyone who wants to take up foraging for survival.

Dedicate time to thoroughly study reputable guides. Find a mentor to gain hands-on experience and confidence. Foraging for survival foods in the wild can save your life in a survival situation but only if you learn to do it, and learn to do it well. 

Foraging For Survival Foods - The Basics

First things first: it is going to be incredibly hard to survive exclusively off of the food you forage. Even if you will be hunting or fishing, you will most likely spend more calories than you will be able to harvest from the surrounding environment.

For this reason, in a long term survival situation, foraging should be considered a complementary strategy to enhance your diet and prolong the life of your emergency survival rations or survival garden. It is also a great way to find highly nutritious crops to put up for long term storage.

In a short-term or unexpected emergency, foraging can keep you alive for a while, but only if you know how to do it. 

Here are the things to keep in mind about wild plant foraging:

  1. Be Calorie Conscious. This means that you must always prioritize the harvesting of calorie-dense foods. You also need to be aware of how much energy you are burning to look for food. Does it make sense to hike all day just to eat some dandelion greens?  Not really.
  1. Know What is in Season. You are going to look for different kinds of food depending on what season it is. You will not find the same abundance of wild survival foods in the winter that you will in the fall, and the plants you will look for in the spring differ from those you´ll want to gather in the summer.
  1. Know Where to Look.  Different environments are home to different types of food sources. Lowlands, highlands, fields, and forests all boast distinct edible foods. This is also applicable in suburban or urban environments, but as applied to parks, natural areas, abandoned lots, and other human-designed landscaping.
  1. Be Overly Cautious. As you study foraging for survival, you risk becoming overconfident. There are many dangerous look-alike plants and mushrooms that are highly toxic. Never lose respect for nature’s capability to kill you. Use the edibility test to try new foods or those that you cannot identify with 100% certainty.

Edible Plant List (Best Plants to Eat in The Wilderness)

While this is not a complete edible plant guide, it is worth including some of the basic, and therefore the best, plants to forage for survival. These are plants that you will want to learn to identify, harvest, and process right away.

These foods make the list because they are:

  • Energy-dense
  • Widespread and common
  • Easy to identify

Acorns

Readily found worldwide throughout the northern hemisphere, acorns come from oak trees. They are abundant and easy to harvest in the fall. Most importantly, they are intensely calorie-rich and nutrient-dense, providing up to 2000 calories per pound of processed nuts and countless vitamins, minerals, and essential amino acids. 

Acorns require processing to make them palatable but provide a hearty and filling meal once they are ready to eat. They can also be dried and stockpiled for later processing. There are plenty of reasons why acorns were a staple in Native American foraging.

Here´s a great video that explains how to identify and process acorns from start to finish.

Tree Nuts

Depending on where you live, you can most likely harvest a variety of tree nuts that are less time consuming to process than acorns. Each variety requires a certain amount of work to get to the invaluable nut inside the shell, but in terms of survival, the effort pays off.

Tree nuts are high-calorie sources of protein, vitamins, amino acids, and invaluable fat that will keep you healthy and strong during a survival situation. 

In an emergency, tree nuts can be easily processed for immediate eating with a minimal expenditure of energy. Many of the nuts can be roasted in their shell and then more easily broken open.

In a long term survival situation, nuts can be readily harvested in large quantities and put up for long term storage. Do your research and discover what tree nuts grow in your area that you can forage for survival.

Some of the most common varieties are black walnuts, beechnuts, hickory nuts, butternuts, hazelnuts, and pine nuts.

Wild Amaranth

This amazing wild superfood grows everywhere around the globe. Its incredible range makes it one of the most worthwhile wild foods to learn to identify. It can be harvested pretty much year-round for its greens and in the fall you can get a substantial harvest of its seed.

In a true emergency, it can save your life. In a long term situation, it is a highly nutritious addition to your diet. 

The leaves are not exactly calorie-dense, but provide an incredible amount of vitamin C, vitamin K, and iron. The mature seeds contain up to 15g of protein per 100g along with all of the essential amino acids that your body needs. It is also an excellent source of vitamin E. 

There are over 50 varieties of amaranth in the world, so it is worth studying up on the types that are native to your region. All of them are edible (even the decorative ones) though their taste varies from one to the other.

Amaranth is also known by the common name pigweed. It is considered a noxious weed in agriculture and is surprisingly resistant to all kinds of toxic herbicides. Take care when foraging this plant from fields or roadsides to avoid consuming contaminated plants.

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Cattails

This easily identifiable plant is distributed in the temperate regions of both the northern and southern hemispheres. It grows mainly in marshy areas and is recognizable by its distinct seed head that shoots up on a central stalk.

This plant should be a mainstay in your survival foraging strategy. Cattails can be harvested year-round and were important in Native American foraging because every part of the plant can be eaten or used. Cattails can be used to make improvised shelter, firestarter, bedding, bandaging, and even medicine.

The starchy roots of the cattail plant can provide valuable carbohydrates in a desperate survival situation. and be processed into a very useful starch. The tender shoots and stalk can be cooked as a vegetable or used in salads.

One word of caution: cattails are well known for their ability to filter contaminated water. This means that they accumulate toxins in their roots. Be sure to harvest cattails from areas that you know are clean. Avoid harvesting from industrial areas, roadsides, or areas that you know to be polluted.

Check out this great series that helps you learn to identify, harvest, and prepare cattail.

Dandelion

Commonly regarded as an annoying weed, every part of the noble dandelion is edible, including the flower. This plant grows all over the world and is one of the most easily recognizable plants for the beginning survival forager. It can be harvested in spring, summer, and fall - and even in the winter if there is no snow cover.

Dandelions are not going to keep you alive if they are all you eat, but the greens are a valuable source of vitamins and minerals including iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. The dandelion root can be an important source of fiber. 

Did you know that you can also make a tasty coffee substitute from dandelions?

In an emergency, dandelions may be the first recognizable plant you find. For long term survival, dandelion can be harvested to stretch your harvest from a survival garden while the roots can be dried down and stored for later use.

Mushrooms

Most prepping websites exclude mushrooms from their lists of wild survival foods because there is a certain level of expertise required to identify edible mushrooms.

The consequences of getting it wrong can be dangerous. However, we believe that it is absolutely necessary to learn the most common edible mushrooms that are found where you live. Sign up for a course and invest in a high-quality mushroom field guide to get you started.

Last update on 2021-05-25 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Mushrooms are not exactly a high-calorie survival food, but they do contribute invaluable proteins, vitamins, and minerals to a limited survival diet.

They can be harvested in most seasons and are usually found in abundance. They are also considered to have medicinal properties. And let´s be honest here.  They taste good.

Other Plants for Survival Foraging

The plants mentioned above are just a few of an endless variety of survival foods to be found in the wild. There are so many foods we didn't cover, including fruits, berries, or the countless other wild greens and tubers that can be found in the great outdoors.

We recommend that you start by learning to identify the different survival foods in the wild, one plant species at a time. Focus on what is in your area and become a master forager in your habitat. Then branch out and learn about the different wild edible species found in other climates.

Urban and Suburban Survival Foraging

One of the greatest things about survival foraging is that you can learn to do it no matter where you live.

In fact, you may actually have an easier time of it. Many plants, shrubs, and trees that have been intentionally planted for landscaping purposes are edible or produce edible fruits. It's also a well-known fact that most common weeds are edible.

Here are the main rules to live by if you plan on foraging in an urban or suburban area:

  1. Always respect private property. This means that you need to ask permission before harvesting.
  2. Know the law. Unfortunately, in some areas, foraging from public spaces is illegal.  Do yourself a favor and check out the laws in your city before you end up in a bind legally.
  3. Know the area. Is the land maintained by regular applications of herbicides or pesticides?  Are the water sources contaminated?
  4. Harvest lightly. Many plants in urban or suburban areas are not as resilient when it comes to bouncing back from a good pruning. Take only what you need, and do not destroy the plants’ ability to reproduce.

We recommend that you read David Craft’s Urban Foraging book to dig deeper into the world of survival foraging in the city.

Last update on 2021-05-25 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Plants to Avoid When Survival Foraging

When you are out and about looking for survival foods in the wild, there are certain plants that you will want to stay on the lookout for. You need to learn to identify them not because they are tasty, but rather because they can harm you.

Some of them, such as poison oak or poison ivy, can cause terribly uncomfortable skin reactions. Other plants look like they may be edible but are poisonous look-alikes to commonly foraged survival foods.

There are a couple of general characteristics that you should look out for and avoid when foraging for survival foods in the wild.

Take extreme caution when foraging plants with:

  • Milky sap
  • A taste that is soapy or bitter
  • An almondy scent
  • Beans or seeds that come from a pod
  • Yellow or white berries

Never forget the rule of thumb, and when in doubt, don´t eat it.

And keep an eye out for these common "imposter" plants:

Poison Hemlock or Fool's Parsley

Often confused for wild carrot or Queen Anne's Lace, this is one of the most common plants misidentified when survival foraging.

Iris

The distinct flower makes it impossible to confuse with cattail when it is in full bloom.  However, in the early spring, the two look strikingly similar. To be safe, only harvest spring cattails where you see the drying cattail seed stalks from last season.

Moonseed

These plants look just like grapes and it may be tempting to pop them directly into your mouth. Take care, however, and check to see if the ¨grape¨ has a distinctive moon-shaped seed. If so, it is not edible.

Wild Onion and Garlic Look-Alikes

Many plants, like young daffodils, false garlic, and death camas (what a name!) can all be easily confused with their delicious counterparts. Be sure to check for the delicious distinct aroma of onions and garlic to make sure you have the right plant.

Best Survival Foraging Books

Before you find yourself a foraging mentor or sign up for an edible wild foods class, you will want to invest in the best edible plant guides that you can take out in the field with you as you learn to identify survival foods in the wild.

The Absolute Best Foraging Guide: Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants

This is, hands down, the authoritative guide to knowing what is safe to eat in the wild. The Absolute Best Foraging Guide helps you understand what you will find in each habitat, what it will look like during each of the four seasons, and how to prepare it for eating.

Last update on 2021-05-25 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Most importantly, it details the most common poisonous plants that you need to keep a sharp eye out for. The only issue you may have with this guide is that the identifying images are not actual photographs but rather highly detailed drawings. 

Runner Up Foraging Book:The Scouts Guide to Wild Edibles

If you want something a bit more pared down that sticks to the basics, make sure to check out The Scouts Guide to Wild Edibles. With a style and tone meant to appeal to a young audience, this guide is authoritative yet accessible.

Last update on 2021-05-25 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The author also includes valuable information on how to process and prepare the foods you find and how to tell them apart from poisonous look-alikes.

The Next Best Survival Foraging Guide: The Forager's Harvest

This guide differs from the others in that it dives deep into the cultural and historical aspects of each plant in addition to its ecology and conservation. The Forager's Harvest is not exactly a field manual, but rather a reference book that is so well written you will want to read it cover-to-cover.

Last update on 2021-05-25 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

There are fewer plant species listed in this guide than the others, but the information will help you to become a true expert on each one of them.

When to Start Foraging

As the saying goes, there is no time like the present. Get outside to start looking for the best wild survival foods now!

When your budget allows, get a field guide or two that you can reference if the internet goes down. Sign up for a wild foraging class as soon as you can.

Why in the world would you wait to start foraging for survival after SHTF? Devote the time and energy necessary to become an expert on finding survival foods in the wild before your life depends on it. It is one of the smartest preps you will make.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if a wild plant is edible?

If you find yourself in unfamiliar territory, without any guides or information to help you, it might feel like you are dangerously feeling around in the dark when it comes to finding food to eat.  Luckily, there is a thing called the Universal Edibility Test

If you are truly starving, it could be an excruciatingly slow way to decide whether to eat a certain food or not.

It takes a minimum of 24 hours to determine whether or not you should proceed with consuming a portion of a new food. That's why we recommend not waiting until your situation is critical before starting this process.

The test involves dividing each part of a plant you suspect to be edible into its different parts then testing each part separately. You will first make sure there is no adverse reaction with simple contact on the skin or mouth.

You will then ingest a very small amount and wait to see how your body reacts. Eventually, when no negative reaction happens, you are free to eat the new food.

This test works. You need to learn it.

What are the signs of a wild plant being poisonous?

There are certain signs that a food is not meant to be eaten by humans. Luckily we have our senses to help us figure these things out.

The first thing you need to notice is its smell. It should have a pleasant or earthy smell.  You will also need to be aware of how it feels, both on your skin and your lips and mouth. You will want to pay attention to any sign of itching or burning.

If you get to the point in the Universal Edibility Test that you are actually swallowing a small portion of a new wild food, watch for reactions such as skin rashes, or feelings of nausea.

Can I eat bugs if I am foraging for survival?

Yes, YES, and yes!  Bugs are probably one of the best and easily accessible sources of protein in the natural world. 

They can absolutely keep you alive in a survival situation.

Learn to hunt, prepare, and eat crickets and grasshoppers, grubs, earthworms, and maggots as part of your survival foraging prep strategy.

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Hi, I'm Russ!

I've been prepping for a long time, but 2020 convinced me that I need to take it to the next level.

This website started as a way to keep me going forward on the path to being better prepared.

Now, I’m turning it into a complete blueprint for anyone else looking to do the same!
Russell M. Morgan
Telson Survival

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