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Survival Use of Plants - Part Two

(Adapted from the U.S. Army Survival Manual)


Amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus and other species)
Arrowroot (Sagittaria species)
Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)
Beechnut (Fagus species)
Blackberries (Rubus species)
Blueberries (Vaccinium species)
Burdock (Arctium lappa)
Cattail (Typha species)
Chestnut (Castanea species)
Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
Chufa (Cyperus esculentus)
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva)
Nettle (Urtica species)
Oaks (Quercus species)
Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
Plantain (Plantago species)
Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)
Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia species)
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
Strawberries (Fragaria species)
Thistle (Cirsium species)
Water lily and lotus (Nuphar, Nelumbo, and other species)
Wild onion and garlic (Allium species)
Wild rose (Rosa species)
Wood sorrel (Oxalis species)


Acacia (Acacia farnesiana)
Agave (Agave species)
Cactus (various species)
Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera)
Desert amaranth (Amaranths palmeri)


One plant you should never overlook is seaweed. It is a form of marine algae found on or near ocean shores. There are also some edible freshwater varieties. Seaweed is a valuable source of iodine, other minerals, and vitamin C. Large quantities of seaweed in an unaccustomed stomach can produce a severe laxative effect.

When gathering seaweeds for food, find living plants attached to rocks or floating free. Seaweed washed onshore any length of time may be spoiled or decayed. You can dry freshly harvested seaweeds for later use.

Its preparation for eating depends on the type of seaweed. You can dry thin and tender varieties in the sun or over a fire until crisp. Crush and add these to soups or broths. Boil thick, leathery seaweeds for a short time to soften them. Eat them as a vegetable or with other foods. You can eat some varieties raw after testing for edibility.


Dulse (Rhodymenia palmata)
Green seaweed (Ulva lactuca)
Irish moss (Chondrus crispus)
Kelp (Alaria esculenta)
Laver (Porphyra species)
Mojaban (Sargassum fulvellum)
Sugar wrack (Laminaria saccharina)

Preparation of Plant Food

Although some plants or plant parts are edible raw, you must cook others to be edible or palatable. Edible means that a plant or food will provide you with necessary nutrients, while palatable means that it actually is pleasing to eat. Many wild plants are edible but barely palatable. It is a good idea to learn to identify, prepare, and eat wild foods.

Methods used to improve the taste of plant food include soaking, boiling, cooking, or leaching. Leaching is done by crushing the food (for example, acorns), placing it in a strainer, and pouring boiling water through it or immersing it in running water.

Boil leaves, stems, and buds until tender, changing the water, if necessary, to remove any bitterness.

Boil, bake, or roast tubers and roots. Drying helps to remove caustic oxalates from some roots like those in the Arum family.

Leach acorns in water, if necessary, to remove the bitterness. Some nuts, such as chestnuts, are good raw, but taste better roasted.

 Steve's Notes: Acorns vary widely in their tannin content. Some are almost edible raw, while others are too bitter to eat even after boiling for hours. The larger acorns, from oaks with more rounded leaves, seem to be the most palatable.

You can eat many grains and seeds raw until they mature. When hard or dry, you may have to boil or grind them into meal or flour.

The sap from many trees, such as maples, birches, walnuts, and sycamores, contains sugar. You may boil these saps down to a syrup for sweetening. It takes about 35 liters of maple sap to make one liter of maple syrup!

 Steve's Notes: It is too much effort to make syrup in a wilderness survival situation. You can get a couple hundred calories per day, however, by just drinking maple sap. In late winter and early spring, collecting it can be as easy as snapping off the ends of twigs and putting something there to catch the dripping sap. I have collected a quart per day for several days from one cut branch.

Continued on the page: Medicine Plants.

Back to the Wilderness Survival Guide.


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