Gathering Food in the Wild

If you get stranded without a food supply, gathering food from your surroundings is your only option. Hunting and trapping aside, Mother Earth can be a valuable resource for survival.

While it is possible to find food in the wilderness, it’s important to know what plants to stay away from. Some plants and berries don't agree with our bodies. To help you learn what you can and can’t eat, we’ve put together this guide to gathering food in the wild.

Identify the Species

The most important thing to ensure your survival is to be able to identify the species of plant you want to eat. Eating just any plant or berry you find can be dangerous. There are poisonous plants that look very similar to edible ones.

Carry a plant guidebook or a way of identifying the plants you find. Know the characteristics of common poisonous plants and avoid them. It is better to err on the side of caution when it comes to wild plants.

Common Edible Plants

To help identify some edible plants that should be easy to remember, here is a short list of some commonly found plants that could help sustain you.

2 dandelions in the grass

1. Dandelions

Finally, there’s a purpose for these common weeds. Dandelions, both the yellow flower and the circle of white seeds that blow in the wind, are edible from top to bottom. They may not taste great, but they won’t kill you. Boiling dandelions will remove some of the bitterness from the leaves and roots, but this plant could be a lifesaver because it is so abundant.


A close up of a cattail plant

2. Cattails  

These water side hot dogs were a staple for Native Americans. Cattails are one of the best wild plants to eat because they are a good source of starch. You can eat the tips and the white stalks, but do not eat the fibers of the plant or you could have some serious stomach problems.


A close up of four wild asparagus stocks

3. Wild Asparagus

Similar to the common garden asparagus, wild asparagus grows throughout the country and are just as good to eat. If you find any dead asparagus stalks, check around them for newer,younger sprouts because those are the best ones to eat.

Asparagus has a long seed life, so you can return to the spot where you initially found the asparagus for months to come for the harvest. The asparagus grows about 3 feet high and are usually found away from lots of water because they don’t grow well in soil that is too wet.


A close up a clover patch

4. Clovers

Clovers might be the most famous plants on this list because of their association with St. Patrick's day, but everyone should know that they are also edible. Clovers are best when boiled, usually as a tea or a juice. The raw plant can cause digestive problems. If you find any four-leaf clovers, save them! Luck is always a good thing to have when trying to survive.


A close up a group of violets

5. Violets

Violets are easy to recognize and are great sources of Vitamin C. Eat the leaves and flowers on this plant and avoid the stems and roots. African violets can look similar but should be avoided. A good way to tell is by looking at the roots. True violets have deeper roots than African violets.


A close up some purslane flowers.

6. Purslane

Purslane is one of the most nutritional weeds you can find in the wild. It has a viable seed life of around 30 years, so when you find a patch that’s growing, it will be there for a long time. They are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids and have even made their way onto some restaurant menus mixed into salads and soups. You can eat the plant raw or cooked.

Finding Edible Plants

Plants and berries can be hard to find in the wild if you do not know where to look. For example, a lot of berries grow as bushes that slowly roll over the ground, meaning they will be around your feet. Typically, trees produce fruit higher up in their branches. Very few edible plants are produced at eye level.

Pay attention to the time of year. Summer and fall are the best times to harvest most species of plant life, but some plants ripen in winter months. If you are looking for food in the spring you may find it but chances are it will be very ripe and bitter still.

Consider learning to preserve plants and fruit abundant in your area to prepare for these months. Dehydrating can also preserve edible plants that you find.

Testing Plants for Edibility

Identifying plants is the best route to go, but you will not always know what the plant is. Use this test as a last resort for when you have no other way of identifying the species or eating anything else.

The following steps will you find out if a species of plant is safe for consumption. If you react negatively to a plant during any step, stop the test immediately and stop using that plant. This process can be used for berries or fruit as well.

  1. Make sure the plant is plentiful in your area. This test can cause you to get sick and isn’t worth doing if the plant is sparse.
  2. Don’t eat and only drink water for up to 8 hours to make sure your reactions are not caused by other foods.
  3. Separate the plant into the individual parts: fruit, leaves, stem, root etc. If you find bugs or infestations on any parts of the plant, discard this plant, and find a new sample.
  4. Rub each part of the plant on the skin of your arm, usually between the elbow and wrist. Continue the test if you don’t have any reactions after 8 hours. If you get a rash or allergic reaction, STOP the test.
  5. If the plant doesn’t irritate your arm, touch the plant part your lips and wait 3 to 5 minutes. If there is no swelling or reaction, put it in your mouth and chew for 15 minutes. If there is still no reaction you can continue.
  6. Swallow small portions of the plant and wait a few hours to study how your body reacts. Any nausea, sickness, vomiting, or dizziness that occurs means the plant is unsafe to eat. Gradually increase portion size allowing several hours in between intake until you feel confident that you can eat the plant without side effects.

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