Today I want to talk about a subject that always creates a lot of buzz and has generated quite a few emails; what to eat in the wild. As I have said in previous posts about the 5 principles of survival, food is way down on the list as even the skinniest of people can survive for a few weeks without food. Despite that, I want to touch on this subject and answer the questions I have received from readers. The only real way of knowing what to eat in the wild is to do a taste test.
The taste test for unknown foods
The process is actually very simple, but time consuming, and there are a few things I want to stress before I go on
1. This system DOES NOT work with mushrooms and fungi, unless you are an expert then leave them well alone. Mushrooms and fungi will kill you in some pretty horrific and painful ways if you get it wrong. How can I tell a poisonous mushroom? Truthfully, it is just too hard to tell and is simply not worth the risk vs nutritional benefit received.
2. There are exceptions to every rule; what I am teaching is a rule of thumb but it is not fool-proof.
3. It is better to understand what plants and animals are in your area before you need them in an emergency. That should hopefully allow you to live off the land. The process that follows is to be used in extremis only (see point 2.)
4. Tasting something that you are unsure of can result in death, so never eat something that you cannot positively identify as edible or if you are in a true life or death situation. If you are truly starving then use the following taste test.
What exactly is the process then?
- Take a very small piece of the food and rub it on your skin – Wait 24 hours
- Take a very small piece and rub it on a small part of your lip – Wait 24 hours
- Take a very small piece and rub it on your tongue – Wait 24 hours
- Take a very small piece, chew it and spit it out – Wait 24 hours
- Take a very small piece and eat it – Wait 24 hours
- Take a larger piece and eat it – wait 24 hours
- Gradually increase the size waiting 24 hours each time until you are content its not having an adverse effect on you.
You are probably thinking, ‘I will have starved by the time I get to eat anything’ and you are not far wrong. Unfortunately the wait is the most important part of the test, you are waiting to see if you suffer ANY abnormal reaction. If you do, then under NO circumstances eat what you are testing. That is why education and practice are your best bet; positively identifying something as edible will mean you don’t have to do any tests.
But all is not lost there is a way to speed the process up slightly; however, see rule 3.
What to eat in the wild if you really have to.
Plants – If it is hairy, has a milky sap, strong smell or has brightly coloured berries then avoid.
Animals – Mammals and reptiles are generally a safe bet as are most fish. Avoid the livers of uncommon animals such as seals or Polar Bears which have toxic levels of Vitamin A
Insects – Okay, I know what you are thinking and trust me I feel the same… However, some of the most nutritious and easily accessible foods available are insects. Avoid if they are hairy, have spines, brightly coloured or are known to be venomous. It is also good practice to avoid insects that you would associate with your house as they will likely be diseased i.e. Cockroaches. And, honestly they don’t taste that bad, I have tried quite a few over the years.
Funny story – When doing the Desert Survival Instructor course in the Nevada Desert we were being given a lesson on finding food. Our instructor (Chalky, you bastard!) told us that a delicacy in the founding years of the USA was
an insect called the perfume beetle. It is a small black beetle,
than when threatened, would do a little handstand and secrete a fluid from its butt.
So there we were as trainee Desert Survival Instructors all looking to impress and do well. When Chalky challenged us to eat the sweet tasting ‘Perfume Beetle’ we all jumped at the chance! So half a dozen of us at the same time took one of these live beetles, put it in our mouths and started chewing as quickly as we could to get it over and done with.
To say that the ‘Perfume Beetle’ tasted foul was an understatement, it is without doubt the most horrible thing I have ever had in my mouth. The moral of the story, never trust a survival instructor when he tells you insects taste nice; especially when its real name is the Stink Bug because of how bad they smell…. And taste!
Fungi – Just to be clear, I am talking about all fungi, mushrooms and toadstools. They are very difficult to identify and can kill you very quickly. Simply put, do NOT eat them unless you are an expert!
All of the above food sources will still need to have the taste test completed if you are not 100% sure you have identified them as edible.
Time doing homework is never wasted
There you have it folks , should you find yourself in a dire situation and you cannot identify local foods then you may be able to work around the problem. The method described is not foolproof but it will help you should you be starving and in danger of eating anything you come across out of desperation.
Your best chance of eating the right thing is to get out into the wild with a couple of pocket books and identify your local plants and animals before disaster strikes. Better still, find out who the local foraging guru is and see what classes they run; it could just save your life.
I hope you enjoyed this article and it has generated some food for thought (pun 100% intended) and encourages you to get out and see what exists in your local area. Please dont disappear straight away, have a look at my other articles especially this one about eating food in a survival situation. Of interest will be this post on harnessing your survival instinct.