Lately I’ve been collecting wild hickory nuts and black walnuts, then processing them into tasty morsels for snacks, breakfast cereal and cookies. It got me thinking about survival food that can sustain a hiker, backpacker or just a camper out in the woods, who chooses to “live off the land.”
Mind you, I’m not suggesting this unless you have the experience and know-how to identify wild edible foods, but you might consider harvesting healthy, nutritious, good-tasting foods that provide a difficult-to-match deeply meaningful satisfaction.
In researching this subject I found 133 foods that I would include in a survival list, some of which are not locally available (like pinon nuts, mesquite pods, cactus or bamboo shoots) but many wild foods can be found in our easily accessible wood lots and fields.
Some of these treats may be a surprise.
One of my favorites is the wild leek, followed closely by stinging nettles. When consuming leeks be sure your companion, if you have one, does the same. Leeks leave your breath in a condition that only a fellow leak-eater can tolerate. Stinging nettles, when cooked or dried, lose their stinging characteristics.
Mayapple fruit is edible, but only when it is totally ripe. At other times the fruit, and other parts of the plant, are extremely toxic, so be careful with this one. It is so poisonous, except for the ripe fruit, that if consumed can cause death.
Mushrooms are generally abundant in the woods, but be certain that you’ve correctly identified them. Most of them are poisonous, so it’s important to positively identify the good ones, which include morels, chanterelles and milk caps.
Because we’re discussing “survival foods,” I’ll include some that I’ve yet to try and that probably will never cross my palate.
This includes insects such as ants, maggots and termites, although I may be tempted to try a grasshopper or two, or even a cricket or beetle if I’m ever hungry enough. It’s recommended that the wings, legs and antenna of insects be removed before chomping.
Of course the obvious wild food is protein from the meat of animals, including porcupine, squirrel, chipmunk, mice, birds and fish. Not many people realize that porcupine meat is edible or even tasty to eat. The fact is, porcupine is one of the animals that could help you survive in the wild. And it is easy to capture.
Fish, especially wild brook trout, are not difficult to catch. I recall a backpacking trip on the West Rim Trail that included side trails to pristine rivulets. We were interested in catching some of those small native brookies that would supplement our diet.
One member of our group was an optimistic guy who did not carry a fishing pole or reel, but he did have a length of monofilament line and a fishhook.
Terry tied his line to a wispy willow branch, attached his hook to the other end of the line, dug up a few worms and proceeded to out-fish the rest of us, despite our sophisticated gear.
Other sources of protein are turtles, snakes, frogs and salamanders.
Included in our long list are flowers (chicory, wild rose, violets, honeysuckle, some lilies) and berries.
My disclaimer is “Do your research before eating any wild food.”
No need to go hungry out there.