How do I forage for food in the wild?

Being lost in the wilderness can happen very easily. Knowing how to build shelter, find water, and locate food are all important to your survival. For most of us, foraging for food isn’t a great idea. There are too many variables to consider to learn quickly and gain the experience necessary. 

Unless you grew up learning how to forage and are in the area you learned to forage in, it can be dangerous. Many plants look similar in different growing stages and may be contaminated by mold or something else we are not used to eating. You should never eat something you picked from nature unless you are not alone and 100% sure you know what it is. 


Survival Tip: Swallowing charcoal will absorb toxins. The charcoal from your campfire will work great for this, so it’s a good idea to carry some with you. To help you swallow it, get some of the burnt wood from your fire, grind it up, and put it in some water. 

If you find yourself in a situation where you must forage, here are some steps to follow to do so as safely as possible. You should only try this test in emergencies. Even a small amount of a toxic plant or poisonous animal can cause severe reactions and death. 

  1. Wash whatever you choose to try as best you can and look for anything that doesn’t look like the rest of the plant or the other plants like; black or white spots, brown discoloration, or anything else that doesn’t look like a part of the plant. 
  2. Separate the plant into its different parts and focus on what part at a time. You may eat the roots but not the leaves or the fruit but not the leaves. 
  3. Smell it. If it has a powerful and unpleasant order, that could be a way of the plant telling you and other animals not to eat it. Most plants and animals that are dangerous to eat will try and tell you. 
  4. To see if you are allergic, rub the plant between your fingers to release the internal liquid and rub it against the inside of your wrist or elbow. If your skin starts to burn or itch, feel numb, or begin to see a rash, you are allergic to that part of the plant and should not eat it. 
  5. If you see no signs of an allergic reaction after 5 minutes, you can try the following steps waiting 15 minutes between each step to check for an allergic reaction. 
    1. Rub the plant on your lips.
    2. Take a bit and chew it, and spit it out. If it tastes soapy or bitter, it may not be ripe, and you should not eat it.
    3. Take a bit and swallow it. 
  6. Wait 8 hours to see if you feel an adverse reaction. 
  7. Repeat this step for each part of the plant. 

Insects are another source of food in the wild. Grasshoppers and crickets are widely consumed in many parts of the world as they are a good source of protein. Remove the legs and antenna, as they are choking hazards, remove the heads and you can roast them in the fire and eat them whole. Larvae and grubs are also good to eat and are safe and, like insects and plants, usually taste better when cooked. You can also buy insects to eat online to try them out.

Survival Tip: Anything that is furry or fuzzy is usually not good to eat. Plants and insects that are furry, like some caterpillars or spiders, mean they are dangerous to eat. 

When considering if you can eat any insect, consider the following.

  1. Do not eat brightly colored insects. Anything with bright and vivid colors is usually a warning that they are poisonous. 
  2. Cut off stingers, as that is where most poisonous glands are located. Bees and wasps are okay to eat if you remove their stingers.  
  3. Cooking insects over a fire or boiling them is always a good idea, and it will eliminate a lot of the harmful bacteria that can be on them. Insects like beetles can have parasites that will also be made safe to eat if you boil them. 
  4. Do not eat mushrooms. Two different types of mushrooms can be growing next to each other. They may look alike but are in various stages of growth. The risk is not worth the risk.
  5. Just because animals eat something doesn’t mean we can. 

Another useful way of learning how to forage for food is to go to a local farmers’ market. You can find produce there that is much more like what you will find in the wild. You can also talk with them about the growing seasons and how long it can take to grow what you are considering. 

In most cases, water and shelter should be your main concerns. If you get to the point where you have to eat something, even grass, leaves, bugs, roots, or anything else, it’s always smart to boil it first. It can kill anything on it and make it easier to digest. You can also boil meat if you manage to catch or kill an animal.  

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