Foraging wild food for survival
Foraging for food is something humans have had to master since the very dawn of our species evolution. Early forms of agriculture ten thousand years ago saw the beginning of a new age of farming. Humans cleared much of the wild landscape to scale up this process. This has helped to feed an ever growing human population until the present day. Today apart from a number of rare tribes hunter gathering or foraging wild food for survival is incredibly rare.
The question is as a modern survivalist could you survive from foraging alone. In this article I will assume the question spans our current situation and a collapse of human civilisation. Both I may point out are quite likely scenarios within the next fifty years. I will also assume the foraging subject will encompass everything they can find including meat.
Can you survive by foraging from the landscape?
Most people assume that foraging for food even in western sub urban landscapes would lead to starvation. I would personally reject this idea and instead theorise that it would be a lack of knowledge and knowhow which would lead to starvation. Modern humans have lost much knowledge which would allow tribal man to survive in these situations.
Let’s take for example native North American tribes of the 17th century. If the white man had not invaded their lands would they still be there surviving today? Of course they would! The difference is modern civilisation has manipulated and overpopulated the country. Could most Europeans and Americans survive in their contempory landscapes? Most could not but people with ample knowledge and tenacity could do.
Many will argue that modern agriculture has transformed the landscape far beyond hunter gatherer times. The truth is there is more edible biomass at our current point in history per square mile than four hundred years ago. Now to be fair this kept possible by modern farming methods and feeds fed by a modern economy.
Survival of the fittest
The truth is someone living on the fringes of society could make a living from the land if they knew how to. They would need to remain hidden, trap animals, eat insects, steel from the edge of fields and move with the seasons. The question is why would you do this when you can work at the supermarket? Earn a wage, watch TV and eat burgers for dinner? Just because nobody does it does not mean it is not possible.
Most people living in developed countries live in temperate climates. This means they have higher energy requirements to survive cold winters. Extra fire wood means more land and extra calories means a greater likely hood of eating more fatty animal products. It has been recognised that the human species is more adapted to warm climates. Our lack of fur and extra long limbs mean cold conditions are more energy consuming for us.
Needless to say if we created tribal, hunter gather villages across America and Europe we would soon be evicted. The capitalist monster which drives our enslavement to consumerism to make the rich richer takes no prisoners. If we do not work their system we are destroyed just ask any native tribesman within the past 300 years.
For a moment though let’s consider oil ran out and the modern economies of the world collapsed. As I said before these two scenarios are actually inevitable. We are given the impression that somehow renewable technologies can support modern civilisation. This is not actually the case and without oil there would be no synthetic fertiliser which means no food. Could modern man survive from foraging wild food for survival in a post oil world apocalypse?
A modern apocalypse foraging through a mixed landscape
First of all we will have to set the scene of twenty years after collapse. This would give access to a world going through a process of re-wilding. At the same time the original biodiversity of tribal landscapes would be minimal to create a level playing field. So cutting to the chase 99.9% of people would have died from starvation, disease, dehydration and fellow human predation. It would be reasonable to assume those living on remote self sufficient homesteads would be ok. The remainder would have formed hunter gathering groups with some basic farming.
Foraging through such an environment would not be as imposable as some think. Humans would have to regain extreme physical fitness which would be forced upon them. Working together to run down and ambush animals would be a daily exercise. Like modern day tribes we would become lean and strong. Our bodies would carry no excess fat or muscle than it needed keeping our need for calories low. The strong would live and the weak would die we would be back to rules of nature once again.
The landscape would be largely infertile due to years of commercial agriculture. This however would have made no difference to pioneering scrub and trees species which would be colonising the landscape. The landscape would be full of wild species such as deer, boars and small mammals. Escaped farm animals such as cows, horses, goats, pigs and poultry would live in feral groups everywhere. A patch work of forest, scrub, wetlands, and meadows would create an ecological, diverse environment full of potential food.
A tribal Future?
A low population of genetically robust humans with the correct survival knowledge could easily survive and thrive in such a landscape. Humans would have to obtain water and the ability to hunt, forage and make fire. Some plants and vegetables would eventually manage to naturalise within the landscape. On the whole the landscape would return to forest going back to how it was centuries before the industrial revolution.
Most humans would not survive but the ones who did would make use of a variety of wild environments much like our tribal ancestors. These would not be so different from current wild spaces we live around today. I don’t believe there is any reason you could not survive foraging wild food for survival in modern landscapes. You would need peak physical fitness, resourcefulness, survival knowledge and cunning.
Whether within a post apocalyptic environment or modern day wilderness surviving by foraging would not be easy! Many faced with this challenge would simply perish however some would survive! Solely based on the wild tribes which came before us it would be able to survive on foraging wild food for survival.
Forests are one of the most productive landscapes on planet earth; they support the most species and provide the most food. With the exception of deserts and the poles without human intervention most land would revert back to woodland within a few years. Woodland is natures low energy high biodiversity solution to reaching ecological balance. Natural forests capture the suns energy on varying levels and canopies. This causes a stacking effect of different plants and trees providing fruits, nuts, foliage and tubers on which animals feed.
Many modern forests in Europe and America for the exception of wilderness areas are not actually very bio diverse. Forests which have be cut for timber or planted for forestry lack enough variety for there to be much food crops. Northern pine forests of these regions can support large mammals such as bears and wolves. Humans find these areas difficult to forage in due to cold climatic conditions. Humans generally have to be good hunters to survive in the northern pine forests of the world.
None the less there are countless opportunities to forage woodland plants and animals for food if you know how. Birds and small mammals can be trapped and snared with some understanding of their movements in woodland. Plants, insects and fungi can be had if you have a good knowledge of local species. Larger mammals such as deer and wild pig can be trapped and speared with expert skill.
In manmade environments meadows are utilised to grow animal fodder for the winter. Hay is usually cut twice a year once in spring and again in late summer. It is this constant cutting which prevents the development of scrub eventually leading to forest. In natural meadows this process is carried out by grazing animals like wild goats and horses. With constant sunlight the grasses and wild plants create a bio diverse matrix full of small mammals and large game animals. Humans would have an extremely difficult time feeding themselves from plants alone in these types of landscapes.
However a skilled hunter could thrive in such an environment if he was organised and experienced. Meadows are home to multiple small mammals, birds and grazers all great food buy difficult to catch. Examples of humans living in this way include the tribes of the African Savannah.
Wetlands can provide great food, water and shelter for many birds, mammals and aquatic life. They can also be great for foraging wild food for survival if you know how. Wetlands give foraging people the ability to collect slow moving targets like shrimp and frogs for food. A good swimmer or raft builder has the opportunity to collect eggs or young creatures nesting in dense banks.
Fishing with spears and hand woven baskets is also passable within wetland environments. A combination of plentiful water and ample sunlight means wetlands host a variety of edible plants. Some of these store energy in the form of starch in their roots. Below we have put some examples which are perfect foraging wild food for survival.
Reed grass (Phragmites communis).
This plant has edible roots, shoots and seeds which is readily available in many wetlands and in great number.
Spadderdock (Nuphar lutea).
This wild water lily has edible seeds and roots just note the roots are quite bitter.
Arrowhead or Wapato (Sagittaria latifolia)
This marginal plant has an edible, starchy root which can be cooked like potato.
Cattail (Typha latifolia or T. angustifolia).
All parts of this plant are edible. The roots are high in Carbohydrate and can be used to thicken stews and soups. Stems can also be peeled and eaten. The mature cotton like seeds are very good for catching a spark for fire making. A very useful plant!
Always be one hundred percent sure of a plants identity before ingesting.
Coastal environments can be fantastic places to forage for food. Rocky shallows and seaside marshes can be easy pickings for a variety of shellfish and crab. Wild shoreline plants such as sea kale and sea weed can also be collected. If you have access to hooks and basket making material fish can be caught with a little time and effort. Coastal environments are very rich and perfect for foraging wild food for survival.
Fish are a rich source of protein and essential fatty acids. In order to catch fish however you will need skill, patience and even allot of luck. Whether you are going after fresh or salt water fish your best chances of catching them are a hook and line. Spear fishing and river basket fishing can work but takes much experience to get right.
Large mammals are the ultimate price when trying to forage wild food for survival. In a survival situation the meat from animals such as deer and bison can stretch a very long way. Large mammals however are no push over and extremely dangerous when angry or injured. Tribal people aim to either sear or bow hunt these animals at long range.
If an animal is not dispatched on target it can be tracked until it is found.
Some tribes in Africa are so physically fit they can run down large prey to exhaustion. Some even steal fresh kills off of lions by charging them with spears. Obviously this is a very dangerous strategy and requires experience in addition to peak, physical condition.
Small mammals such as rabbits, squirrels and stoats are not huge meals but you survive on them. These animals have excellent senses and are fast. Unless you have access to and air rifle and lots of time you will probably go very hungry. The best strategy for collecting these animals is snaring and trapping. These activities are generally illegal but in an apocalypse could be the difference between life and death.
Birds are pioneers of the skies and have an ability to travel far and wide to search for food. In rural countries across the world birds like pigeons are priced for food. These birds can scour the surrounding landscape fattening themselves on food humans cannot survive on. It is no surprise therefore that birds are a self sufficient way to harvest meat.
The only problem is they are hard to catch!
Aboriginal tribes would wait outside caves at dusk to knock bats out of the sky with stones. With swarms of emerging bats they could often catch many dozens for food. To forage birds from the landscape you will have to use the element of surprise and ambush. Birds regularly go back to favourite nesting trees, water courses and feeding sources. These are the best places to try and hunt birds for food.
Amphibians in the right habitat are numerous in number making an easy meal when foraging wild food for survival. Creatures like the common frog can be cooked on an open fire and taste very much like chicken. Amphibians can be easy to collect by foraging around moist stones and rotting logs. When foraging for amphibians you must know what you are doing some are extremely poisonous if eaten.
Reptiles can be very secretive and are not everyone’s cup of tea but many are edible. During a serious survival situation these can be easy to catch early in the morning or late at night. The draw back with reptiles especially snakes is many are venomous. Even if you can eat the body away from venom glands you may get bitten. If you can find other meat to forage I would leave snakes alone.
Insects are an extremely underrated form of food in western society. In south East Asia these foods are extremely popular especially when deep fried. Insects collectively account for a more plentiful protein source per hectare than any other animal category.
The Idea of eating slimy earthworms to many people is nothing short of disgusting! The truth is all tribal cultures across the world eat either worms or grubs of some sort. These invertebrates are high in protein and reasonably easy to catch. How good for you the worms actually are will depend on the health of their environment.
Snails although seemingly no more than irritating lumps of slimy gristle are a delicacy in many cultures. Many people once they get over the idea of eating them actually enjoy them. I find them a very delightful texture and taste. These are best boiled or roasted by the fire, usually a sharp stick is used to price them out of their shells. Also with snails they can pick up toxins from the landscape so make sure you take them from unpolluted environments.
Seeds are an amazing food source very high in fats, carbohydrates and proteins. In the wild however it can take some work and preparation to enable them to be digested. Most seeds have evolved to pass straight through the guts of animals. This is so they can germinate in nutrient rich animal dung for a strong start in life.
Seeds and grains will have to be pulverised to a fine powder to make the calories digestible. This is usually done by mixing the powder with water to create a dough like paste. This can be baked by fire creating a dense, course biscuit or bread. This method of seed preparation is common in tribal culture around the world. In Europe and America seeds from the family of Plantain and Rumex can be used in this way.
Nuts are an extremely self sufficient for of storable energy within the landscape. It is said nut trees are one of the only crops to make up for a loss in carbohydrate if oil runs out. One nut trees are established they can keep producing for centuries. Nuts are also a fantastic source of Omega 3 fatty acids which are lacking in modern diets.
A good level of tree identification can lead you to abundant harvests in the fall. This seasonal knowledge is an essential part of foraging wild food for survival. Nut trees can also lead you to parts of the forest rich in animal life. These places are great for hunting and traps in a survival situation.
Fungi are a delicacy if you know what you are looking for. Typically fungi can be found in woodland around spring and autumn time. They prefer moist woodland environments and come in a rage of shapes, sizes and colours. Fungi although seasonal can come in very useful when foraging wild food for survival. Many are poisonous so never attempt to pick mushrooms unless you know exactly what you are looking for. Some poisonous fungi mimic edible varieties so only exerts should attempt to harvest these when foraging.
Tubers are swollen roots of plants which have the capacity to store energy in the form of starches and sugars. One classic example of tubers are potatoes, carrots and parsnips. These are extremely useful when foraging wild food for survival due to the amount of energy they contain. There are many wild edible tubers across the world with a little research you can discover ones relevant to your locality.
Wild plants are often underrated by many claiming they simply do not contain enough calories to survive on alone. Studies have shown that western diets severely lack in some very important vitamins and minerals for optimal health. Many diets are overly rich in carbohydrates and sugars opposed to nutrient dense components. Wild plants have been shown to be extremely dense in essential nutrients! Anyone who has ever restricted their calories substantially will tell you, the body adapts!
Modern man consumes far more calories that he actually needs. A diet rich in wild plants, fruits, nuts and berries is not as terrible as some believe. Wild plants also contain many health giving and medicinal qualities, there must be a good reason they are found everywhere.
Below we have put two book which’s describe common wild plants which are ideal for foraging wild food and their health benefits.
It is important to recognise that there are a number of very toxic wild plants even in temperate climates. Some of these look extremely similar to edible plants so you must proceed with caution. Do your research and never eat anything unless you are completely sure it is safe.
If you are ever in a desperate survival situation and are not sure what is safe to eat there are some tests you can do. I must stress this is only a last resort and if you are starving to death.
I you find a plant you think may be edible these are the steps to test it:
Bruise the plant slightly and rub some of its sap onto a small part of your arm. After a few minutes if there is any irritation it is probably toxic.
On passing this first test then dab a small bit on a small wet part of your lips. When this causes any strange sensation, tingling or burning it is also probably toxic.
If the plant has still not caused any irritation eat a tiny piece and wait for half an hour. Any bad reaction or cramping then you know the plant is not worth eating.
If you experience no ill effects the plant is probably non toxic. Be wary though this test is not full proof and can still lead to poisoning.
This method really is a life and death last resort.
In these desperate situations it is also good to study what birds and animals are eating. This can give you some clues when foraging wild food for survival.
Humans can live between four and six weeks without food depending on fat reserves and how hydrated they are. Water on the other hand is a different issue! Water makes up at least sixty per cent of the human body and found in every cell. It is believed the maximum amount of time a human can survive without water is a week.
One of the biggest factors when foraging wild food for survival is will you have fresh water? If you do then this is the most important factor for your survival. Water sources will also be visited by other living creatures increasing even further your chance of foraging successfully.
As unlikely as it seems that modern man could survive by foraging alone it is technically possible. Whether or not a person would have the mental strength, knowledge and persistence is another matter. As discussed there are many types of environments and potential calories if exploited would lead to survival. If the time is taken to reacquire ancient knowledge and plan ahead foraging wild food for survival could be a genuine possibility. Why not check out our post on wild camping equipment to help you survive the apocalypse here?
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