Preppers typically have a stock of shelf-stable food supply that can last for years as part of their SHTF preparations. It is, however, a good idea to be able to establish other food sources. Hunting, foraging, and fishing are excellent ways to supplement food rationing until a more stable method of production is established.
There are over 20,000 edible plant species in the world. The list below represents only a small portion of the plants that can be found in the wilds of the United States.
- Common Burdock, Burdock
- Ostrich Fern
- Cactus/Prickly Pear
- Pine Trees
- Sheep sorrel
- Wood Sorrel
- Lamb’s quarter, Goosefoot
- Edible Berries
Every prepper and survivalist should have a book or a guide with detailed illustrations of the edible and toxic plants in their area. When identifying new plants, two rules to follow are to stick to the description given in the guidebook and to not lower one’s standard to make the plant fit the description.
Common Survival Plants
This list’s cooking and preparation methods are intended for use in a survival situation. As a result, only the most basic cooking method is highlighted, with occasional examples of other uses for various plant parts. As a general rule, if you can eat a plant raw, you can cook it any way you want. Anything that can be boiled and does not need to be leached can also be grilled.
Leaves, soft stem, and seed are all edible parts.
Except in arctic regions, it can be found in all areas with plenty of sunlight.
Distribution: Throughout the United States. Because of its weedy, invasive nature, it can be found almost anywhere.
The leaves are egg-shaped, grow in an alternate pattern, and come in a variety of colors including green, green and purple, red, and solid purple. The flower head of an amaranth plant, which resembles a tassel, is perhaps the easiest way to identify it. It starts out green and can bloom into various shades of pink, purple, or red.
Method of Cooking/Special Preparation: After steaming or boiling, the soft amaranth stem, leaf sprouts, and younger leaves are harvested and eaten. It has edible seeds that fall from the flower head and can be harvested. The seeds are cooked in the same way that grains are and can be milled to make flour.
To harvest the seeds, ensure that the flower head is completely dry and ready to be harvested (seeds easily fall). To catch the seeds, cut off the flower head and shake it on top of a bucket. There will be some chaff in the collected seeds that will need to be winnowed.
The idea behind winnowing is to toss the grains into the air and let the wind blow away the lighter chaff while the heavier grain falls back down for recovery. This process is carried out using a winnowing basket that is flat, wide, shallow, and has raised edges.
Flower spike, pollen, stem core, and rhizome are all edible parts.
Wetlands are a type of habitat (marshes, swamps, bogs, fens).
Distribution: Throughout the United States.
An aquatic or semi-aquatic plant that is easily identified by its brown flower spike resembles a hotdog on a stick. Its leaves begin as a round clump at the base and grow to be swordlike and nearly vertical as they extend upwards. It generates rhizomes, which can be harvested and cooked.
The flowers appear on a long cylindrical spike at the plant’s top. It is divided into two parts: male and female. The female part, which resembles a brown hotdog, contains the seeds. When fully mature, the male part immediately at the top of the female spike produces pollen, which can be harvested and consumed.
Cooking Method/Special Preparation: Cut and grill the flower spike. To release nutrients, the male part can also be cut and chewed on. When mature, pollen from the male part can be harvested and cooked into a gruel.
This is accomplished by shaking the male part on top of a basin to collect pollen.
The stalk can be cut at the plant’s base, and peeling away the layers of leaves reveals the soft stem core, which can be eaten after boiling. The rhizomes can be peeled and boiled as well. Because of the risk of ingesting Giardia (protozoa parasite) that may live in the water, all parts below the flower spike should always be boiled before eating.
Whole organism is edible.
Coastal environment with plenty of sunlight
Distribution: Throughout the United States’ coastal areas.
Seaweed is a broad term for plant-like organisms that live in nutrient-rich seawater with plenty of sunlight. These organisms come in a variety of colours, lengths, and shapes. Seaweeds of all kinds are considered edible.
Method of Cooking/Special Preparation: Seaweed must be harvested fresh from the ocean. Anything that washes up on the beach should not be eaten. It can be eaten fresh or dried and stored for later use. When eating raw seaweed, it should be harvested fresh and thoroughly washed with clean water.
Kelp, a type of seaweed that is long, large, and broad, can be cut into manageable pieces and dried. It can then be boiled and eaten or used to make stock.
Flower, leaves, and roots are all edible parts.
Habitat: Common, particularly near lawns and roads. It can even be found in the arctic and at various elevations.
Distribution: Throughout the United States. Because of its weedy invasive nature, it can be found almost anywhere.
The common dandelion is easily identified by its distinctive yellow flower, which grows into round balls of silver tufted fruits that disperse easily in the wind. It has long, skinny leaves with irregular lobes and a pointed tip.
Cooking Method/Special Preparation: The dandelion plant is edible in its entirety. When the leaves are young, they can be eaten raw. The leaves develop a bitter taste as they mature, which can be partially reduced by boiling. Its flower, flower buds, and peeled roots are edible when boiled.
The stalk contains a milky white sap that can be very bitter. It is edible after several cycles of boiling and leaching to remove the bitter taste.
Common Burdock, Burdock
Flower stalks, young plant stalks, and roots are all edible parts.
This plant grows on river banks, disturbed habitats, roadsides, vacant lots, and fields.
Distribution: Found throughout the United States, but becomes more scarce as one travels south.
The common burdock is a plant with a distinct seed pod that contains burrs that frequently cling to clothing and animal fur. Its round seed pods are green at first but turn brown as they mature. Its flower, which appears on top of the seed pod, can range in colour from pink to red.
It has large, wavy, heart-shaped leaves that are green on the surface and have a whitish underside.
Other burdock species are native to other parts of the world but have become naturalised in North America. These species resemble common burdock, but they grow taller and produce larger seed pods.
Cooking Method/Special Preparation: The leaves of common burdock are bitter, but they can be eaten if parboiled several times. Its long flower stalk can be peeled back to reveal a soft, light-green inner core. After peeling, some fibres run along the length of the flower stalk and must be removed. Before boiling, it can be cut into smaller pieces.
The young burdock plant’s stem core is soft and can be boiled. However, as the plant matures, the stalk becomes fibrous and tough, even when repeatedly boiled. The young stalk is cut and peeled to reveal the soft plant core, which is then boiled and consumed.
When harvesting the roots, look for a medium-sized burdock plant. The deeper and wider this plant’s root grows as it grows taller. This means that digging out the roots will be too difficult, as they may break off and remain underground. Before boiling, the roots should be thoroughly washed and peeled.
Leaves, young plant stalks, and roots are all edible.
Fields, pastures, lawns, roadsides, and wooded clearings are suitable habitats.
Distribution: Found throughout the United States in areas with plenty of moisture.
The thistle plant is easily identified by its long, green, oblong leaves with spine-tipped lobes on the edges. Its leaves form a circular arrangement known as a rosette. It has a long central stem with prickles that protect the plant from herbivores. The flower comes in a variety of colours and shapes, but all have thorns on their buds.
Cooking Method/Special Preparation: To remove the spines, the leaves are plucked and trimmed. After that, it can be boiled until tender. As long as the spines are removed, the middle rib of the leaf can be eaten raw. There is also some woolly material on the surface, which can be wiped away before eating the midrib raw.
A young thistle stalk is still soft and non-fibrous. It is cut and peeled to reveal a light-green core that can be eaten raw or cooked. The roots, if peeled and boiled, are also edible.
Seeds, leaves, and stalk are all edible parts.
Distribution: Throughout the United States.
The grass family is a large family of flowering plants that includes rice and bamboos. The stems can be cylindrical or flattened, and they are mostly hollow, except for a plugged segment where the leaves are attached.
Method of Cooking/Special Preparation: The seeds can be eaten raw or boiled. Its leaves are edible and can be chewed to release nutrients. Swallowing the highly fibrous leaves and stalk is not recommended because it is difficult to digest and can cause constipation in humans.
Shoots are edible parts.
Coastal plains are the best habitat for this species.
Distribution: South-central and southeastern United States.
The bamboo is a member of the grass family. It grows vertically as a tall segmented, hollow stalk with plugged segments. Its leaves emerge from thin petioles (leaf stalks) and resemble large blades of grass.
Cooking Method/Special Preparation: The shoots emerge from the ground in the shape of cones. It is peeled after being cut at the base to reveal the softer yellowish flesh.
Many bamboo shoots contain cyanide. As a result, it should be cut into chunks and parboiled several times, with the water replaced each time. This removes the bitter taste and odour, making the shoot safe to eat.
Parts that can be eaten: Complete plant and flower
Habitat: Common in lawns, fields, roadsides, and forest clearings.
Distribution: Found throughout the United States, as long as there is soil and moisture.
There are over 300 species of flowering plants in the clover family. They are distinguished by their trifoliate (three leaflets) or quadrifoliate (four-leaf) leaves with a white pattern near the petiole (leaf stalk). The leaflets range in shape from round and blunted to oblong with a pointed tip. Its flowers are also available in a variety of shapes and colours, including white, yellow, red, and pink.
Method of Cooking/Special Preparation: The entire plant can be eaten raw.
Fiddlehead and stalk are edible parts.
Moist rich woodlands, low areas along woodland borders, swamps, and soggy thickets are suitable habitats.
It can be found anywhere from Nebraska to North Dakota, from North Dakota to the east coasts, and from Missouri to Virginia, except in Kentucky. It’s not found west of Nebraska or south of Missouri.
The Ostrich fern can reach a height of 3 feet and has two fronds (large divided leaves of ferns or palm). The fiddlehead erupts from the centre, which is large and green. The brown outer frond is smaller in size.
Early in its life cycle, the middle frond produces a curled stem known as the fiddlehead. This frond also has a deep middle groove that other inedible ferns lack. The Ostrich fern edible fiddlehead is covered in papery, brown scales that are very loose. In comparison to other inedible fern species with a woolly covering on their fiddlehead.
Cooking Method/Special Preparation: Before harvesting, the fiddlehead should be correctly identified. The tip of the fiddlehead and 12 inches of stalk are removed, measured from the tip of the fiddlehead to the plant’s base. Before cooking, brush off the thin, papery scales. The harvested parts can then be chopped and boiled or steamed.
Pads and fruits with seeds are edible.
Desert and drought-prone areas are ideal habitats.
The range extends from New Mexico and Montana eastward to Florida and Massachusetts.
This cactus has large, segmented, flattened pads with large spines all over its surface. On top of each pad, which is also covered in extremely short spines, it produces yellow or reddish fruits. It does not grow tall, but rather spreads out to cover a large area.
Cooking Method/Special Preparation: The plant’s pads are cut off and the spines are removed. The soft inner flesh can then be eaten raw or cooked after it has been peeled. Its fruit can be peeled or cut in half to expose the soft flesh riddled with seeds.
Young leaves, young stalk, flower buds, and tuber are all edible parts.
Shallow wetlands are the ideal habitat for this species (marshes, swamps, bogs, fens).
Distribution: Found throughout the United States in temperate climate zones. It is not present in the n
The Wapato aka Arrowhead (not to be confused with the arrowhead philodendron, Syngonium podophyllum) is an obligate wetland plant distinguished by slender, trilobed leaves resembling a stone arrowhead. It produces long, white, and thin tubers. Its tubers are frequently buried 1 to 2 feet underground.
When identifying this plant, be cautious because it can resemble the toxic Arrow Arum (Peltandra virginica). The edible Wapato plant’s trilobed leaves are nearly the same length, whereas the Arrow Arum’s trilobed leaf design is irregular, with a large single lobe and two shorter lobes on the opposite side. The Arrow Arum’s leaves are also veinless.
Cooking Method/Special Preparation: Young Wapato stalks and leaves can be harvested and boiled early in the season. To avoid Giardia infection, it should be washed and cooked properly, just like any other edible plant that grows in fresh water.
When looking for tubers, look for dying Wapato plants or the larger ones. Its tubers are buried 1 to 2 feet beneath the plant. To prepare, wash and peel the tubers before boiling them until tender.
Parts that can be eaten: Complete plant and flower
Wetlands, springs, streams, and waterways with slow-moving water are ideal habitats.
Distribution: Found throughout the United States, particularly in areas where the soil is wet all year.
This plant can be found floating on water or growing on top of mud. It has oval to egg-shaped leaves that form a clump of 3-7 leaflets. It has small white flowers with four long stamens attached near the base of the plant.
Watercress can be found even in the dead of winter and is an excellent survival plant because all of its parts can be eaten.
Cooking Method/Special Preparation: You can eat this plant raw or boiled. All parts are edible, except the roots, which can be bitter and should be avoided. Watercress, like any edible plant harvested from wetlands, should be thoroughly washed before eating raw.
Pine nuts, pine pollen, and inner bark are all edible parts.
Habitat: Found from the desert to the arctic mountains.
Distribution: Throughout the United States
Various species of trees resemble pine trees but are poisonous. The majority of true pine trees, on the other hand, are edible. A true pine tree’s leaves are clumped into 2-5 needles that are held together at the base by a thin sheath. The Ponderosa pine is the only pine tree with inedible parts.
It is distinguished by three clumps of pine needles per sheath. It also has a distinctive bark with an orange to brown vertical pattern.
Method of Cooking/Special Preparation: Pine needles and inner pine bark can be eaten raw or boiled until soft. The edible whitish inner bark is revealed by peeling off the outer bark. Placing the pinecone near an open flame or on a pot over a fire will crack it open, allowing the pine nuts to fall out. The seeds can be eaten both raw and roasted.
Edible parts: Nut Habitat: Hardwood forest Distribution: Throughout the United States
The acorn is the nut of oaks and their close relatives (Lithocarpus). It’s a seed encased in a tough, leathery shell and carried in a cupule (top part that connects to the branch). The cupule is typically yellow-green in colour and remains lighter in colour than the nut. As it matures, the nut turns from green to brown and becomes darker in colour than the cupule.
Cooking Method/Special Preparation: All acorns contain tannin, which gives them a bitter taste, ruins your teeth, and causes stomach aches and constipation. As a result, tanning from acorns should be leached before consumption.
The first step is to collect whole acorns. Any acorns with holes should be discarded. It is evidence of an acorn weevil burrowing into the nut. The acorns are then shelled by placing them on their broadside where the cupule is and hitting them with a hammer until they crack open.
Fresh acorns are more difficult to shell than dried acorns. It is also possible to peel off the shell and remove the nut with a knife. The tannin is then leached out in the third step by boiling. It is accomplished by placing the shelled nuts in a pot of cold water and heating it until it reaches a boil.
Because of the tannins released, the water will darken as it boils. The water should be discarded and replaced at this point. The procedure can be repeated up to five times. The acorn will then be soft and taste similar to chestnuts.
Leaves are edible.
Habitat: Dry sunny woodland, old fields, sandy soil, roadsides, gravel.
Because of its invasive nature, it has a wide distribution across the United States.
The sheep sorrel has arrowhead-shaped green leaves with pointed lobes near the petioles (leaf stalk that connects to the stem). It has a red stem with deep ridges. The flower grows from a tall, upright stem that bears red fruits.
Method of Cooking/Special Preparation: The leaves are edible and can be eaten raw. It does, however, contain oxalic acid, which gives it a sour taste. When consumed in large quantities, it can be toxic to the body.
The entire plant, including the flowers, is edible.
Habitat: Damp, shaded areas in woodlands and hedgerows.
Distribution: Throughout the United States.
The leaves are trilobed, with each lobe resembling a heart, similar to clover, but without the distinctive white pattern at the leaf base that clover leaves have. It has a small flower with 5 purple-veined petals.
Method of Cooking/Special Preparation: The entire plant is edible and can be eaten raw. This plant, like sheep sorrel, contains oxalic acid, which gives it a sour taste. It is safe to consume in small, moderate quantities as part of a varied diet.
Lamb’s quarter, Goosefoot
The entire plant, including the leaves, is edible.
Urban lots, roadsides, yards, gardens, weeds in agricultural fields, river bottoms, desert or semi-arid regions
Because of its invasive nature, it has a wide distribution across the United States.
The leaves are light-green, narrow, with almost parallel sides, and diamond-shaped, with a white powder coating on the underside. The flowers are tiny and green, with no petals. After flowering, this plant droops and grows upright again.
Method of Cooking/Special Preparation: The young plant can be uprooted whole and eaten raw, or it can be used as an ingredient in other recipes. Only the top part is harvested as it matures because it remains tender and non-fibrous. The mature plant’s leaves should be consumed in moderation because they contain saponins (a soap-like substance) and oxalic acid.
Its seeds can be harvested, dried, and milled into the grain. Milling the dry seeds involves rubbing the grains together and then winnowing the product to remove the chaff.
The best way to identify edible wild berries is to memorize their appearance or bring an atlas with images of the various edible wild berries.
Most yellow and white berries are poisonous, whereas blue and blackberries are usually safe to eat. To elaborate on this rule:
10% of the white and yellow berries are edible.
Red berries are edible in 50% of cases.
90% of blue, black, and purple berries are edible.
The aggregated berries (raspberry, blackberry, thimbleberry, and salmonberry) are edible in 99 percent of cases.
The Universal Edibility Test
As a beginner forager, you must accept that you are not yet an expert, and ingesting the wrong type of foraged plant can result in disability or death. As a result, if a person is unsure about the type of plant they have foraged, it should never be prepared and eaten.
However, in desperate times, when death by starvation is imminent, the universal edibility test can be used to determine whether an unknown plant is safe to eat. This method is best suited for plants of unknown safety that are proliferating in large numbers. The test takes some time to complete, and doing it for a plant that is in short supply is a waste of time.
Contact Cook Taste Chew Swallow Separate, Inspect, and Smell
The test necessitates disassembling the plant and testing each component over a 24-hour period. It is also necessary for the individual to have consumed nothing but water in the previous 8 hours. It is done to ensure that any unfavorable reaction experienced after eating plant parts is due to the plant itself, rather than a portion of food eaten hours before.
These tests are only applicable to plants and berries. Do not attempt this with unknown mushrooms because they are immediately toxic and the effects can last for days, leading to death.
Separate, Inspect, and Smell
The plant must be divided into five parts: roots, stem, leaves, flower, and fruit. Expect that not all plants will always have flowers or fruits. Choose a plant that is fresh and free of worms and insects.
A plant should be thoroughly inspected both before and after it is dismantled. A milky sap is frequently indicative of a toxic plant. A toxic plant that smells like almonds or has an odour is also toxic and contains cyanide.
Crush the five plant parts you want to test separately, using a different crushing stone each time to avoid cross-contamination. Using a marker or imaginary lines, divide your left and right inner forearms into three equal parts.
Rub one part of the plant through the divisions until all parts are applied. Make sure there is enough space between the crushed plants to see where the reaction originated. Repeat on your other forearm to put the remaining plant parts to the test. Cover loosely with a clean, dry cloth for 15 minutes.
Wait 8 hours without eating or drinking anything other than water. If you developed a burning sensation, redness, welts, or bumps on your skin after applying one of the plant parts, this plant part may not be edible.
Other sources will advise you to test each part of a plant separately and wait 8 hours. However, this is inefficient and necessitates an excessive amount of waiting time. The method described above is an allergy test that is typically performed in a hospital, with plant parts serving as the potential allergen.
When cooked, some toxic plants become edible. Even if a plant component fails the contact test, it should be cooked and tested. The goal is to test a plant part in the manner in which you intend to consume it.
If a plant cannot be boiled, a small portion of it can be eaten raw, but only if it passed the contact test. Before testing, anything that failed the contact test should be boiled or grilled.
Pick up a small piece after boiling, or if trying a plant raw, gently hold it against your lip for 3 minutes. Remove the piece and try again with a different part if there is any tingling, burning, or numbness.
Continue with this step only if there was no reaction when you touched the plant part with your lips, whether cooked or raw. Put a small piece of the plant you want to test in your mouth and hold it on your tongue for 15 minutes. If you have an unpleasant reaction, spit out the plant and rinse your mouth with water right away. If it tastes soapy or extremely bitter, spit it out right away.
If there is no reaction to the taste test, chew the part briefly and take note of the taste. Wait 15 minutes for a response. If it’s soapy and bitter, spit it out and rinse your mouth with water right away.
If none of the above tests produce a reaction, swallow the chewed piece and wait 8 hours. If there were no adverse effects such as stomach ache, hallucination, palpitation, or diarrhea, that part of the plant is safe. Rep with the remaining plant parts.
How to Identify, Prepare, and Cook Plants for Survival Bottom Line
Testing unknown plants should only be done as a last resort in extreme, desperate situations where there is no other source of food. This is why, as part of a survival or bug-out kit, a guide book of edible plants should be included.