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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Survival Plants

Both of my grandfathers grew up during the depression and suffered through shortages during WWI and WWII (as youngins and men of course). One of them had the honor of living with his own grandfather who recalled stories about shortages and life after the civil war as well. Of course as a youngin myself some of the knowledge they possessed found it's way into my store. Some of it I didn't really want back then either, like eating squirrel brains (more on that some other time).

Anyway they would sometimes recount stories of some various plants and how they would use them during the rough periods. Chickory (pictured above) was used as a coffee substitute (I have mentioned that before), Dandelions were used for their greens and to make wine (The wine sucked BTW). Cattails could be eaten in a variety of ways and depending on which part sometimes tasted like corn or also made a potato like substitute. They also pointed out wild carrot, asparagus, mustard and plantain to me on occasion. Once my grandfather even showed me a pawpaw tree, which I have never been able to find another in the wild since. Believe me I have tried, I would love to get one growing on the Small-Hold.

Of course edible and useful plants will vary by your location. Every so often I will take a picture of one and do a post about it but today I wanted to post up the general guidelines for the universal edibility test as listed in the "U.S. Army Survival Manual".

You never know when it could be useful.

1. Test only one part of a potential food plant at a time.

2. Break the plant into basic components - leaves, stems, roots, buds, flowers etc.

3. Smell the food for strong or acidic odors. Smell alone will not indicate if a plant is edible.

4. Do not eat for 8 hours before starting the test.

5. During the 8 hour period test for contact poisoning by placing a piece of the plant inside your elbow or on your wrist. Usually 15 minutes is enough time to see if there is a reaction.

6. During the test period take nothing by mouth except purified water and plant part being tested.

7. Select a small portion of a single component and prepare it the way you plan to eat it.

8. Before putting the prepared plant part in your mouth, touch a small portion (a pinch) to the outer surface of the lib to test for burning or itching.

9. If after 3 minutes there is no reaction on your lip, place the plant part on your tongue, holding it there for 15 minutes.

10. If there is no reaction, thoroughly chew a pinch and hold it in your mouth for 15 minutes. Do Not Swallow.

11. If no burning, itching, numbing, stinging, or other irritation occurs during the 15 minutes, swallow the food.

12. Wait 8 hours if any ill effects occur during this period, induce vomiting and drink alot of water.

13. If no ill effects occur, eat 1/2 cup of the same plant part prepared the same way. Wait another 8 hours. If no ill effects occur, the plant part as prepared is safe for eating.

Of course if I used my son as a test subject he would be nice and full while I would be vomiting up everything. I swear that boy has a cast iron stomach.

While I hope I never have to use the test, it is certainly good information to have.


  1. I haven't seen a cattail since I was a little boy, maybe 30 yrs ago or so. If there are still any around North Texas, I'd be happy to hear about it and where to find them.

  2. Cattails are everywhere in the U.S. and they are the most easily identifiable food source for a hunter/gatherer. Most wild foods can be misidentified or confused with something else, but not a cattail. One really good thing about the cattail is the root is most nutricious over the winter starting in the fall. So when you are unlikely to find much else catttail roots are sitting there underground waiting for you. They are typically found in standing water and in the winter this can be frozen so they require more work then picking an apple off a tree does. But they should be number one on your list.