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August 2013 How to Survive!

Posted in Features on July 21, 2013
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It’s that time of year—and no, we don’t mean the weather is great and you can gp four- wheeling every weekend. We mean that the weather is great and you can go four-wheeling every weekend, but you might also get stuck on the trail and realize you did something lazy or stupid, like bring no food or water with you. Now what? It’s getting dark, help isn’t on the way, you ate the one stale Dorito you could scrounge up underneath the seat, and now you’re starving. No worries—we spoke to Jolene Hanson, G2 Gallery Director (, and Christopher Nyerges (, author (including Guide to Wild Foods) and an ethnobotanist (basically meaning he studies plants), who told us, “If you’re going to eat wild foods, stick with those that are common, widespread, (relatively) easy to identify, and don’t require lots of work to prepare.”

What should you avoid? Well, in some circles they claim anything with a milky sap, because it means that plant is poisonous, but that’s not always the case. Red? Also not necessarily poisonous, because look at apples and strawberries. It’s also been suggested that bitter plants are poisonous, but Christopher noted that acorns are bitter until you boil out the tannic acid. Surely plants with thorns and spines are poisonous, right? There are exceptions there, too, but to be safe, check out this list of OK edibles.

• We just mentioned acorns—Christopher said shell them and then boil until they are no longer bitter (you’ll notice a change in the water).

• Cattails have multiple edible parts. “The white insides of the very young tender shoots are great; they taste like cucumber,” Christopher explained. Eat the flower spike when it’s green and immature, boiling it just as you would corn on the cob. “It even tastes sort of like corn on the cob,” he noted.

• Dandelion is another, according to the G2 Gallery Director, Jolene Hanson. “Young leaves can be eaten raw, and young flower buds can be boiled.” If you need a morning coffee while starving in the wild, she says the ground roots can be seeped to make just that.

• On the subject of dandelions, meet sow thistle. You’ll know it’s that because you’ll say to your buddy, “Doesn’t that look like tall dandelion?” Sow thistle. It flowers like a dandelion, but height is the key difference, while the taste is another: The leaves are tender and not as bitter.

• Jolene also pointed to black raspberry, a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry, which can be eaten raw, as can the shoots.

• Another berry you can eat is elderberry, but try not to consume mass quantities, because you could end up barfing.

• Evening primrose is another recommendation from Jolene. The young leaves and roots can be eaten raw. If you’re hoping to make nature’s salad, watercress and lamb’s quarter are good options, as are the flowers, shoots, and leaves from yucca. Christopher told us that when the lamb’s quarter plant dies and goes to seed, you can collect the black seeds, winnow them, gaining some protein in your diet. And FYI, lamb’s quarter is related to spinach.

• Palm trees—those are a source for dates. Eating them is easy—go for the ripe ones, then eat the sweet outer layer. Watch out for the seed, though.

• Eastern Redbud is another option, if you can handle the idea of eating a flower.

• Also on the topic of things red, red maple is something Jolene suggested. It’s syrup from sap, and therefore real maple syrup. Might go nicely with your bowl of flowers.

• Hedge mustard is a member of the mustard family and it’s kind of the crazy member, given that it often grows in both the wilderness and the city, and usually when there’s nothing else growing nearby. The leaves have a detectable arrowhead shape. The taste? A detectable wasabi flavor, Christopher said.

• Stranded near the ocean? Feast on seaweed, ideally on ’weed that’s not in a polluted area. Green, red, brown—all are fine to nosh, as long as not rotting on the beach. Give it a major cleaning before eating.

• Jolene also told us about wintergreen—the raw berries are edible.

• Now, snacking on an onion might not sound good, but when you’re hungry enough for one, make sure you only eat only what’s got the familiar and distinctive onion smell. No scent? Be careful, Christopher warned. Onions are part of the lily family, although there are many nonpoisonous members of said family.

• Mesquite pods look like green beans, but are yellow and grow on trees. Eat the pods, but not the seeds.

• You’ve probably heard you can get water from a cactus. True. It can also be eaten raw. Christopher recommended the prickly pear cactus, as the young cactus pads are edible once you burn or peel off the spines. The cactus fruits are good too, but handle them carefully. He holds them with tongs, then burns off the spines, peels, and consumes.

• So far, you might be less worried about not being rescued and more worried about what this vegetarian diet will do to your reputation. Eat a snake to counteract that. Christopher’s restore-your-manhood tips? Behead it, slit the skin from head to toe, then pull off the skin. He told us you should then clean out the insides, wash it, then cut it into segments.

• Meat lovers, continued: Look in rotting logs—you just might find termites. Go for the larger white larvae. Edible when raw, but tastier when cooked.

• Still shivering from all the greens and seeds? Eat bark or mud. This is a desperate measure though, seeing that the boiling process takes so long, help will surely have arrived by then.

• And one last thing: Mullein leaves make for great toilet paper.

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