The New Survivalist
Chapter 5: Page 3
Chapter 5 Food: Page 3
Edibles from the Wild
A few generations ago most people knew a lot about wild edible plants. When European settlers first arrived in the New World they found many plants which were unfamiliar to them. Discovering which ones were good for food or medicines was a matter of survival. The Native Americans who had inhabited the continent for thousands of years had acquired a lot of knowledge about the native plants, and the first European settlers were eager to learn what they could from them. When Lewis and Clark made their famous Westward expedition from St. Louis, one of their objectives was to learn as much as they could from the natives about the indigenous plants. Many plant samples were gathered throughout their journey and brought back along with notes regarding their uses.
Unfortunately the average person today has almost no knowledge of edible wild plants. We have become so dependent on the commercial food distribution system that we are not even aware of the edible plants that commonly grow in our own yards. Fortunately we do have something that Lewis and Clark did not have. There are many excellent reference books available today that can help us identify edible plants and provide instructions on how to use them. A few of these books for North America are listed in the Additional Resources section at the end of this web site and under "Recommended Reading" at the bottom of this page. I suggest that you acquire a good book for your location and begin now to learn about the plants that are growing in your area. Don't wait until you are hungry!
Most people are surprised when they discover how many edible wild plants are growing within walking distance of their homes. In the remainder of this section, I will discuss only a few, which I give as examples to illustrate just a tiny bit of the bounty that is available for those who will do a little research and gain a little knowledge about this important subject.
Two of my favorite examples are dandelion and plantain. I like to mention these because most people consider them to be the most bothersome of weeds. Americans spend millions of dollars attempting to eradicate these humble weeds, managing only to poison our streams and lakes with the runoff from their deceptively immaculate lawns. When I see a "perfect" green lawn, no doubt the pride of the homeowner, I think about the dead stream nearby, where the toxic chemicals that have drained from this "perfect" lawn, and others like it, have killed off the fish and amphibians. This toxic stream then flows into a toxic river which then flows into a toxic ocean. As a result of the chemical fertilizers and herbicides that have been poured upon our lawns and fields there is now a huge "dead zone" extending for miles out into the Gulf of Mexico from where the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf. What a price to pay for our immaculate lawns! I greatly admire a lawn that supports a variety of plant speciesthe way Nature intended!
What is a weed?
The definition I like best is "an
herb whose virtues remain unappreciated."
There are nineteen kinds of plantain found in the U.S. Narrow-leaved or English plantain (Plantago lanceolato), also known as ribgrass, is shown above and common plantain (P. major) is shown below. Another plantain not illustrated here is seaside plantain (P. juncoides or P. maritima) also known as goosetongue. Plantains are found all over the world and all are edible. They are also an important food for wild animals and birds.
Narrow-leaved or English plantain came to the New World with the settlers from Europe. The Anglo-Saxons referred to it as the "mother of herbs." Like dandelion, the leaves should be collected when they are very young, otherwise they will be too stringy. They can be eaten raw, used in a salad, or cooked like greens. (Be careful not to overcook your wild greens.) Herbalists value plantain for its astringent ability, resulting from its high tannin content. Astringents help draw tissues together and stop bleeding. Plantain has been used for cuts, burns, sores and for inflammation. It has also been used to treat snake and insect bites. Plantains, as well as dandelions, are also a favorite food of rabbits. If you decide to keep rabbits, be sure to fatten them up on this abundant and free rabbit chow from nature. (There is a type of green cooking banana that is also commonly called plantain. It is not a true plantain and should not be confused with the herbs mentioned above.)
Cattails are clearly king with it comes to survival food.
They are abundant, easy to identify, highly nutritious, found just about
everywhere, and some part of the plant is available and edible year round,
no matter the season. In the Spring the pollen can be collected by placing
a plastic bag over the flower heads. This can be added to flour, using
as much as 50% cattail pollen, and baked into bread. The Spring is also
the time to collect the green flower heads which can be cooked as a vegetable.
These must be collected before they start turning brown. In the early
Spring, the new shoots can be collected as they emerge from the soil and
cooked like asparagus. During any time of the year the roots can be dug
up and eaten as a vegetable. They can be sliced and boiled or steamed
as you would cook a potato or any other tuber. Cattails are not only highly
nutritious but delicious as well.
In this section, in an effort to whet your appetite, I have mentioned only a few of the wild edible plants that are likely to be in your area. Many other useful wild plants are described in the chapter on health care. It is important for you to follow up on this information by acquiring a field guide to the edible wild plants in your area. I have listed my favorite ones in the Additional Resources section at the end of this web site and under "Recommended Reading" at the bottom of this page. This is required reading for all survivalists! Don't just buy the book and put it on your shelf. Use it as your bible to the great outdoors. Become proficient at identifying plants and get familiar with the wild edible plants in your area. Collect some edibles and try them! In the process you will be developing one of the most important survival skills that you will ever acquire. Survivalism consists of much more than just storing provisions for an emergency. Survivalism is a life skill. Your food and water may be taken from you, but no one can rob you of the knowledge and skills that you have stored in your head.
Many types of wild game, both large and small, are readily
available for survivalists. If you are a hunter or angler you are
well ahead of the game. (Pardon the pun.) You will already know how to
clean and butcher an animal. Even if you live in the city you will find
wild animals available for food. Rabbits, squirrels and pigeons are convenient
because they are small animals that will provide one family one meal with
few leftovers that need to be refrigerated or preserved. Deer are common,
even in the suburbs (where they can be surreptitiously harvested using
a bow or crossbow), but the problem with a large animal is that they will
provide a lot of meat, so unless you are feeding an army, there will be
a lot that will need to be preserved. During times of emergency there
may be no electricity to run your freezer. Meat can be preserved quite
well by pressure canning it in mason jars. It is also very easy to dry
and smoke it making jerky. We will discuss food preservation techniques
in a later section.
In a survival situation it is important that you do not put more effort and energy into an activity than you get out of it. Survivalists writer, Ragnar Benson, refers to this as the "Rule of Survival Thermodynamics." Hunting and fishing are two activities that take a lot of time and effort, and unless you are assured of finding game in a short period of time, they are usually not practical in an emergency situation. There is simply too much to do, and you must not waste your time and energy in activities that provide little hope of a sufficient return. For that reason, trapping animals and setting out unattended fishing lines are far more practical. Rather than wasting an entire day hunting or fishing, you can simple set out your traps or fishing lines and go about your daily activities checking on your traps and lines from time to time.
Trapping Small Game
Commercially-made traps are available, but one of the
best ways to trap small game is with homemade snares made from thin wire
or fishing line. If you have seen the French movie, Manon des
Source (Manon of the Spring), you have seen wire snares at
work. Manon, the stunningly beautiful sauvage, uses homemade wire
snares to trap birds using dead insects for bait. Slightly larger snares
will work for trapping squirrels and rabbits. (More on suburban trapping
and snares can be found at http://www.survival.com/suburban.htm.)
The simplest snare is made by creating a loop of wire with a slip knot which allows the loop to tighten around the ensnared animal's neck, strangling it as it tries to escape. The end of the snare is anchored to the ground or a stationary object such as a tree or bush. Snares should be set out where animals run, situated where the animal is likely to run through the loop, which should be large enough for the animal's head to pass through but too small for the body.
Snares and traps can be dangerous because they do not discriminate. Pets and even small children can become entrapped. If you use a snare, or any other type of trap, be sure to adhere to the following important "trapper's rules:"
The small animal trap pictured above is available in different sizes. This smaller version is excellent for catching squirrels and rabbits. The doors on both ends fall simultaneously when the animal hits the lever in the middle where the bait is placed. The animal is captured alive and unharmed, which is great if you want to fatten them up or start a rabbitry. Domestic rabbits, such as the previously mentioned Florida Whites, are much better for eating than their wild cousins, but any rabbits will do in an emergency.
Quite often the best place to find food is where there is water. Fish, frogs, crayfish, turtles and water foul may be found there, and they will probably be easier to catch than roaming land animals. Your survival kit should including some basic fishing gear, including hooks, line and bait. It is far better to set out your fishing lines and traps, checking on them from time to time, than to waste your precious time waiting for them to bite.
Skinning, cleaning and butchering animals is a skill that all survivalists should know. There are good instructional videos available at hunting and outdoor stores. I will briefly explain the procedure using a rabbit as an example. It is the same procedure for a squirrel, or a rat, and essentially the same procedure for larger animals.
I will assume you have trapped a rabbit in your snare and that it is
not yet dead. To kill the rabbit, hold it up by the hind legs with your
left hand, take the head in your right hand (reverse if you are left-handed)
and forcefully snap the head sharply back and slightly downward to break
its neck. Alternatively, you can give the animal a sharp blow to the back
of the head with a hard object, such as a hammer. (I prefer the latter
method.) Then use a sharp knife to cut the head off just below the skull.
Make small incisions between the Achilles tendons and the bones on both
hind legs and hang the animal upside down on hooks or nails through the
incisions to allow the blood to drain. Immediately make a cut on both
legs, all the way around the leg, between the ankle joint and Achilles
tendon being careful that you do not sever the tendons that you are using
to suspend the animal. Now make incisions, cutting through the fur and
skin but not into the muscles, from the first incision down the inside
of the legs to the genital area. Cut off the tail and join both incisions.
Pull the skin away from the muscles of the legs. Then slowly pull the
skin down and off the entire animal, turning it inside out as you go,
just as you would pull off a pullover sweater turning it inside out in
the process. When you get to the front legs cut off both front paws at
the first joint. Put the pelt aside if you plan on keeping it for tanning.
Now make an incision down the belly of the animal from the anus to the
ribcage being careful not to cut through any of the internal organs. Slip
the two first fingers of your left hand underneath the skin, carefully
cutting between your fingers, to keep from cutting through the intestines.
At this point the guts should practically fall out of the animal. Cut
away anything that is attached to remove the entire inner organs in one
mass. Save the kidneys and liver (carefully remove the gall bladder from
the liver), and clean out the rest of the animal. You can also save the
heart and the brains if you want. Clean the animal well, inside and out,
using cold water. If you have ice, cool the entire carcass down by submerging
it in ice water for a few minutes before butchering it. Cut the animal
up any way you like for cooking or preserving.
Save the fat! It could come in handy during a prolonged emergency. You can use if for fuel, for waterproofing fabrics, for candle making, soap making, and of course you can use it for cooking. Fat goes rancid very quickly so it must immediately be rendered. (Rendered fat is known as tallow, except rendered pork fat which is known as lard.) To render fat, chop it up or grind it and heat it in a double boiler until it is a liquid. Then pour it through fabric, or cheese cloth, until the liquid comes out clean. You can pressure can the tallow or freeze it.
Action Step 11: Food Check Lists - Foods from the Wild
Turn to the page in you Action Planner where you have begun your "Get" and "Do" lists for Food. Add to your lists the items that you want to acquire and the things that you want to accomplish to help you prepare for gathering food from the wild. For example, you might want to purchase a good field guide to the edible plants that grow in your area. As you progress through the remainder of this web site you will think of other things to add to your lists. When you acquire an item or accomplish a task check it off your list.