Whether you are truly in a survival situation or just having an extreme camping adventure, it can be crucial to know where food is hiding when out in the wilderness. Packing supplies is only part of being prepared, because you never know when you’re going to be on your own without that backpack and trail mix.
The trick is to know what plants are edible before you actually need to know. Get out some field guides and learn to identify these plants so you can find them later. To make the most of your foraging skills, keep a fire starter and heat-proof container with you whenever you are out in the woods.
This is the best place to start because there are dozens of edible leafy greens that are very common. Your first and best choice: the infamous dandelion. The younger leaves are edible raw. If you have a cooking pot, a little boiling will make the big older leaves tasty too. After dandelions, look for lamb’s quarters, clover and plantain. Same tips apply: go for the younger leaves if you’re eating them raw.
If you’re out at the right time of year, look for milkweed plants with immature seed pods. They’ll be very green and hard if you give them a little squeeze. You’ll have to boil them, but they’re quite tasty and can be a more filling option than leaves.
One benefit to eating berries is that they are very tasty when eaten raw. When you don’t have easy access to a fire or a cooking pot, they’ll still be an option. They also provide lots of water to help keep you hydrated if your water rations are low.
Raspberries and blackberries are very common in wild settings, and they’re easy to recognize. Wild apple trees would be a nice windfall (even those sour little crab apples can be eaten), and you can find blueberry bushes in many parts of North America. Less common are pin cherries and chokecherries. If you don’t know them, check out an edible plant guide for some pictures.
Most of these berries (and many of the greens too) are found in open, somewhat sunny areas along the edges of heavier woods. Look for fields or other disturbed spots for the most berry bushes.
Don’t Forget the Protein
Depending on the situation, plants alone may not be sufficient to keep you nourished, particularly if your time outdoors starts to extend into weeks. The best option is fish, provided you can find a body of water large enough to have fish, and you have some line and hooks with you. Frogs might be an easier choice if you’re quick enough. To cook your catch, either roast over a fire or boil.
For a less gourmet meal, you can also eat grasshoppers or even earthworms. Pick off any really sharp bits and boil them up. If you’re lucky, a bird’s nest may provide some eggs. Again, just boil and eat.
A Word about Mushrooms
Though you can find some really large edible mushrooms that will be a lot more filling than a fistful of greens, you should only go this route once you are very experienced in identifying woodland foods. There are so many potentially poisonous mushrooms that you are taking more of a risk than with easier leaves.