“Man, I’m starving to death!” Ever make that claim? Of course and so have 99% of Americans, me included. We know we’re really not starving to death, for the most part we only have a craving, boy a Whopper sounds good, or our mind tells us we’re hungry because you just noticed the clock and its an hour past normal chow time.
To paraphrase a few signs and symptoms of starvation from Wikipedia:
Early symptoms include being impulsive, irritable or hyperactive emotions. Atrophy of the stomach actually weakens the perception of hunger;
The person will lose muscle mass as the body begins eating itself in order to feed vital organs;
The person will become too weak to move or even eat;
They become so weak they don’t sense thirst and become dehydrated;
All movements become painful due to muscle atrophy. Vitamin deficiency leads to anemia, beriberi, pellagra, scurvy, diarrhea, edema and heart failure.
You may not have realized how slow and painful starving to death was, which explains why its used to torture people to death as well as send a clear horrifying message to adversaries. There are incidents of starvation in America, but they are either scarce or considered non-news worthy. From time to time we’ll read about a camper or hiker becoming lost and dying before being discovered, but their cause of death is usually listed as death from dehydration or hypothermia. However, other than medical professionals, does one realize these causes of death could be related directly to the beginning stages of starvation. The loss of thirst urge, dehydration, or too lethargic to locate shelter due to delirium caused by lack of food, could very well be the root cause.
In any event being lost without food for days or “who knows how long” is a terrifying thought. We all have our foods we will not eat, either because of taste, texture, smell or it just sounds bad. For the most part we in America have that luxury of culling foods that don’t suit our tastes. But in a survival situation … you either eat it or die scenario, the palette will accommodate nearly anything that is eatable. Unfortunately, eatable doesn’t always mean safe to eat.
Let’s prepare ourselves for a crisis survival situation that we pray we’ll never experience, but if faced with it, we’ll improve our chances of surviving it until rescued by knowing which vegetation is safely edible.
Cattail: aka cattails, punks, in America or bull-rush or reed- mace in England, they grow near the edges of freshwater wetlands. White men never considered the cattail for a staple in their diet, but many Native Americans ate it all the time, as nearly all of the plant is edible. Pull the plant out of the water by its roots, aka rhizomes, wash the mud off the white part and either eat it raw or boil it. The leaves can be boiled and eaten like spinach and the top flower-like spike (fried corn-dog looking), can be broken off and eaten like a cob of corn.
Prickly Pear Cactus: This cactus is found growing in the deserts of North America and is a very nutritional plant that also happens to taste good. The fruit is red or purplish colored and resembles the shape of a pear, thus the name. Carefully pick the fruit, cactus can offer severe pain for clumsiness, gently peal the outer layer of the pear in order to remove the small spines which covers it. You’ll immediately know if you forgot this step because swallowing the fruit will feel like you swallowed a porcupine. If the plant is young, the stem of the cactus can be eaten after boiling, if old don’t waste your time as it will be too tough and stringy to eat.
Clover: Leprechauns know that clover is more than just an aggravating weed that spoils the look of your perfectly manicured lawn and now you do too. The trefoil leaflets grow just about anywhere open grass grows. If the clover is young you can eat the leaf, but as it ages the leaf becomes bitter and will have to be boiled. Boiling the entire plant, root and all, will offer something to eat and you can drink the boiled water like a tea.
Asparagus: Wild asparagus grows throughout North America, and although the stalk is much thinner than store bought asparagus, it’s a great source of Vitamins C, B6, thiamine and potassium. You can eat it raw or boiled.
Chickweed: This plant, which is normally used as a herb, is high in vitamins and minerals and is found growing between May and July in temperate and arctic zones. The leaves are thick, sometimes accompanied by small white flowers, and can be eaten raw or boiled. Boiled is recommended to soften the texture.
Fire-weed: This plant grows primarily in the Northern Hemisphere and is easily identified, after knowing what to look for, by its purple flower and circular leaf veins. The leaves and stalks can be eaten when the plant is young, but mature plants are extremely tough and bitter tasting, even if boiled. Catch it young or else pass it by as it won’t be dangerous, but nearly impossible to eat and digest.
Chicory: Native to North America, Europe and Australia it’s identified by its bushiness and small blue, white and lavender flowers. The entire plant is edible raw or boiled, the flowers can be popped in the mouth and the roots become tasty after boiling. Again, you can drink the boiled water like a tea.
Field Penny-cress: As with most weeds, this weed can be found found growing nearly everywhere world wide and is present from early Spring to late Winter. Although the weed is safe, raw or boiled, this plant excels at absorbing minerals from the adjacent ground. You don’t want to eat this plant if found near a road, trash dump or other area which may be contaminated with undesired minerals.
Amaranth: Native to America this is another edible weed which the entire plant can be consumed. Some, if not all the leaves, may have spines on them which makes eating them raw questionable, even though you can. In addition the leaves contain high levels of oxalic acid and nitrates. It’s best to boil the plant before eating and do not drink the boiled water, dispose of it instead.
Amaranth Curled Dock
Curled Dock: It’s identified by its long bright red stalk that can reach three feet in height. Can be eaten raw but its recommended to boil the plant, changing out water several times in order to remove the bitter taste.
Dandelions: If you have a yard … you know what a dandelion is. However, you may not know the entire plant is edible. The yellow flower may be removed and eaten raw. Young leaves can be eaten raw, but mature ones will require boiling to eliminate the bitter taste.
Dandelion Wild Onion
Wild Onions: There are weeds that look similar to a wild onion that are not edible, in fact may be dangerous, but that really is not a problem, if it looks like and smells like an onion .. eat it raw or boiled. No onion smell .. leave it alone.
Milk Thistle: We are accustomed to seeing this plant with its purple flower-like top growing along the highways. The leaves must have the spines removed before eating and is best when boiled with other varieties of edible plants.
Milk Thistle Cattail
Bamboo: Technically classified a grass, and very high in fiber content, protein and potassium, it grows in the Southern United States. Only young, a foot tall or shorter, shoots should be cut to eat. Bamboo can not be eaten raw! Peel the leaves from the shoot, slice them as thin as possible and boil for at least 20 minutes in order to eliminate the bitter taste. Use the bamboo shoot for kindling to make your fire.
Purslane: Its a common weed that grows close to the ground in shady areas and looks like a miniature jade plant. Gandhi said the weed was one of his favorite foods. Its very high in Omega-3 fatty acids and beta carotene. Can be eaten raw or boiled or mixed with other edible weeds.
Violets: These edible flowers are high in vitamins A and C and can be eaten raw or boiled. However, do not eat the roots or stems and avoid African Violets. For medicinal purposes, boil and make a tea from the leaves, soak a cloth with the liquid and place on the back of the neck for easing a headache.
Day-Lily: The Chinese have used this flower for medicine as well as food for hundreds of years. Young leaves can be cut off at 5 inches and stir-fried or sauteed. Be careful not to damage the stalk as you cut the flower as it will bud and blossom again.
Berries: Wild berries grow everywhere in North America, packed with Vitamin C and rich in fiber they are an excellent source of good tasting vegetation. Nearly all berries that are dark in color, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries can be safely eaten. Most white, yellow or red berries are dangerous. There are a few exceptions, but unless you are 110% positive of what you are eating … don’t. It could kill you.
Always be careful and don’t rush to eat. Never assume a plant kinda looks like an edible one so it’s safe. Some look alike plants can make you severely sick, something you don’t need to add to your misery, or worse yet … kill you. If unsure, eat a very small portion, then wait an hour to see how you react. Your body will let you know if you made a mistake.
Never eat plants located along roadways, especially close to civilization, as they may have been sprayed with pesticides.
If a plant has an almond smell … immediately get away from it. That’s the smell of cyanide and is deadly in small doses.