Being lost in the woods with no food is a nightmare scenario that brings up a smorgasbord of negative emotions. If you know where to look and what to look for the feeling of doom fades away into a challenge to survive off the land.
A large part of enjoying the outdoors is the confidence in knowing how to find food in the wild. Surviving off the land is a lost art in the modern world. Many of us wouldn’t be able to last a few days without food or water, it’s not our fault, it’s simply a symptom of modern life.
When we do need food it’s a short drive to the market or restaurant to grab a bite to eat. That’s the system we all know and the only system that most of us know.
Having the knowledge to forage for food in the wilderness is an invaluable skill. You don’t have to take a class or strand yourself in the woods with no food to figure it out. A little bit of knowledge and experience goes a long way.
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Types of edible food in the wild
In the wild, there is edible food all around you if you know where to look. Every ecosystem has some edible vegetation and or wildlife in the area. Knowing it exists is the easy part, knowing where to look and what to look for is the hard part.
Plants are all around us and many of them are edible. If you have ever read the John Krakauer book Into the Wild or seen the movie you understand the dangers of eating plants in the wild that you are not 100% familiar with. The worst case scenario is death and the best case scenario is gastrointestinal issues the may potentially last for days.
An important rule of thumb is to never eat a plant that you cannot identify with 100% accuracy. The best way to know what plants you can and can’t eat is to have a book with pictures of the local vegetation to reference.
Become familiar with the edible plants in the area that you plan on going beforehand to avoid any gut-wrenching mishaps.
Let’s go over what exactly an insect is. They are considered Arthropods and have exoskeletons with at least 3 pairs of legs and segmented bodies (source). Insects are different from Arachnids (spiders) and Myriapoda (millipedes), both of which should never be eaten.
According to Keri Gans, R.D.“It sounds weird, but insects can definitely be good for you because they’re a good source of protein and they’re low in calories.”
Despite their less than appealing appearance, insects are a good source of protein and abundant in the wild. A good place to find them is in moist areas, inside fallen logs, on the ground, and near the roots of trees.
An archaeologist named Sue O’Conner uncovered the world’s oldest evidence that our oldest ancestors have been deep sea fishing up to 42,000 years ago (source). Needless to say, fishing is in our DNA and has a proven track record as a source of food and nourishment.
If you are fortunate enough to be around a river, stream, or body of water, there is a good chance that fish are available. The trick is catching the fish, there’s a reason they call it fishing and not catching. Try your luck in the shallows at first and work your way out.
Depending on your location, you can also look for crustaceans to feast on. Things like shellfish, oysters, crabs, and certain fishes can be found on or near the ocean floor. Low tide increases your chances for finding these bottom dwellers, and they can all be eaten cooked or raw, players choice.
4. Wild animals
Wild game has been a staple of humans and our ancestors for nearly 2 million years. There is evidence of animal bones and stone tools that show that our earliest ancestors were hunting and harvesting meat long before us (source).
The best source of large amounts of protein is the most difficult to obtain. If you don’t have any hunting experience it is going to be a difficult task that takes energy, experience, and patience.
An alternative to actively hunting wild animals is trapping them. Again, this takes skill and knowledge, however, it is the least energy-intensive method of obtaining meat. Taking some time and learning how to trap animals will increase your chances tenfold.
Contrary to popular belief, both egg whites and egg yolks are rich in nutrients. Eggs are a great source of high-quality protein, vitamin B, zinc, iron, and copper (source).
This is not new information, but the best place to find eggs is in the bird’s nest which are usually high in trees. Occasionally, you will find ground-nesting birds with a few eggs in them. Either way, if you are lucky enough to find bird eggs take advantage of the opportunity.
Worms are another excellent source of protein. The biggest hurdle is getting them down, the texture and sliminess are not for the faint of heart. Dig deep into loose soil or find them on the surface after a heavy rain.
Tips for finding food in the wild
Now that you have a good idea of what types of food that you will find in the wild and where to find them, here a few tips on foraging meals.
Avoid bright colors
If you find anything with bright colors, whether they’re plants or animals stay as far them as possible. In nature, if it is adorned with bright colors it’s natures way of giving you a loud warning to stay the hell away from it. Fun fact, Monarch butterflies are poisonous when consumed.
Do your research
The single most important thing you can do to prepare yourself for a situation where have to find a food source is to understand the process. Preparation is the key to success in all aspects of life and in the wild, it may be the difference between life and death. Before you head out for your next adventure, take some time and study, a little bit of knowledge goes a long way.
Carry a plant book
The tricky thing with plants is that they often look-alikek alike that is extremely dangerous and cannot be eaten. The only realistic way to know what plants you can and can’t eat is to live in the wilderness and that’s simply not a realistic option for everyone. Make a habit of carrying a list of edible plants for the area that you plan on exploring.
Cook your food
Cooking your food not only makes it more palatable, often times, it makes it safer to consume. If you have come across fresh meat in your adventures cooking your food is a required step in the process. It will remove worms and parasites from most meat.
Learn the basics of how to hunt and fish
Knowing what you can eat is only half the work. If you don’t have working knowledge on how to survive in the wild all the book knowledge in the world won’t save you. The best way to learn is to get out there and get your hands dirty while learning from experience. Take a survival class from an experienced trainer who truly understands the environment.
If you ever end up in a situation where you are forced to hunt and forage for your next meal, having a general understanding of what you need to do will go a long way in calming the initial fear. The worst thing you can do is to go into full blown panic mode and start freaking out. The best way to react is to stay calm and present and understand what it is going to take to survive.
In the modern world we are trained to have ready made meals on demand at our fingertips and the thought of foraging, catching, and preparing food can bring about feelings of panic. The more you forage and search for food in non-emergency situations, the more comfortable you will be if that time ever arises. Try to learn as much as you can as you go and chances are, everything will be just fine.
With these practical tips and a little due diligence on your end, you’ll be able to manage the fears with a calm mind and body and find a way. Keep calm and hike on.