Archive for the ‘Survival’ Category

Survival foods: Rodents

Posted: May 19, 2014 by Rex Trulove in Survival, survival food, wild food
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People can get a little squimish when it comes to the thought of eating certain foods. In a survival situation though, many food choices are mostly based on availability. This means that people must be willing to eat what is available. They can also be quite surprised to find that the food is tasty, though they might not have otherwise considered consuming it if the situation hadn’t be so dire.

Rodents fit into this catagory, because many people might not consider eating them and yet they can be delicious and healthful. Rodents are also found around the world. It should be considered that most rodents normally eat primarily vegetation, which is what livestock animals eat. Most are far from being ‘filthy’.

Voles, muskrats, beavers, nutria, lemmings, squirrels, porcupines and even mice are quite edible and are excellent sources of protein. They all populate quickly and survive in such varied habitats that it is hard to find an area that doesn’t have rodents, any time of the year. Some do hibernate in the winter, but others don’t.

Rabbits and hares are purposely not true rodents, though most people understand that they are edible. They are separate from rodents, in that they have double incisor teeth, one set in front of the other, instead of the single incisors of the rodents. For practical purposes, though, they can be added to the long list of rodents that can be eaten for survival.

They aren’t especially difficult to catch or clean, with the exception of porcupines, and homemade traps aren’t hard to make for this purpose. Cooking them also isn’t difficult since they can be fried, boiled, baked, barbecued, roasted or cooked almost any way that other meat can be.

Some cultures have been eating rodents for a long time as a normal part of their diet. In fact, some rodents are commonly eaten in even the United States, though people may not realize that they are eating rodents. High class restaurants routinely serve them, by using names that may not be familiar to the diners.

We will be looking further into some of the ways various rodents can be prepared to create delicious meals that will sustain a person as well as filling their bellies with great tasting food.

The picture is of a nutria, a quite edible rodent, and it was taken by , public domain,

Last in the series: Survival foods: Wild Mustard


There are many different kinds of wild mustard and the grow virtually everywhere in the world except the permanently cold north and south polar regions. These wild herbs are not only great survival foods, they are wonderful additions to the dinner table or a camping meal.

Many familiar garden vegetables belong to the mustard family, including cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, rutabaga, turnips and Brussels sprouts. Because of the number of variations in wild mustard, it is difficult to give a good description. The flowers tend to be small and are often yellow, but they can also be white, reddish, and even pink or purple. The leaves are often lobed. One of the best representatives in general is garden mustard, which is grown mainly for the leaves and the seeds.

The plant also has a big range since there are so many species; from highland to lowland, good soil, poor soil, drier locations, damp locations, gardens, waysides, waste areas and fields.

The leaves can be steamed or boiled and they are quite tasty, especially when the plant is younger. They have a characteristic peppery flavor that gets stronger and more bitter as the herb grows older. To overcome this, boil the leaves in a couple changes of lightly salted water. Note, however, that pouring the water out when changing it also means that you will be losing a lot of vitamins and minerals.

Speaking of the nutritional value, a cupful of chopped mustard greens has only 15 calories and are a good source of fiber. This herb is a good source of protein, phosphorus, niacin, vitamin B6, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and copper. It is a very good source for folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, and an excellent source for vitamin K, vitamin A and manganese.

In addition to boiling or steaming, the raw leaves can also be added to green salads. They are also pleasant when used in sandwiches in much the same way that lettuce is used.

Wild mustard is often overlooked as a survival food, but it could easily be a staple that has great value because of how available and healthful it is.

The picture is by PollyDot, public domain,

Previous survival food in the series: Arrowhead (Sagittaria genus)


This wild plant gets its name from the shape of the leaves, which are distinctly arrowhead shaped. These are water plants that grow in almost any fresh, clear, slow moving water. They grow from the lowlands all the way up to mountain forests, if there is a good water supply. Arrowheads put up a thick flowering stalk from the base of the plant, and from this, four to 10 small white flowers open up.

The base of the plant anchors itself in the mud at the bottom of the water, often growing at a shallow depth, with the leaves held erect above the water surface. Tubers grow from the main root mass and can grow two or three feet from the main plant, through the mud. The tubers float, if broken off the main plant. Both the stems and the tubers can be eaten, and since the tubers float, collection just amounts to breaking them off and then scooping them up when they come to the surface.

While there are other survival foods that are healthier, arrowheads make a good survival food. The stems can be stir-fried or boiled and the tubers can be washed, sliced and either fried, boiled or baked. The roots are edible raw, as well.

An ounce of the root has just under 30 calories, almost 80 percent of it coming from starches and sugars. This edible wild plant is also a good source of protein and it is quite low in fat. It isn’t packed with vitamins, but it is a good source of iron. Some tribes of American Indians boiled the tubers, pounded them to a pulp and then let the water evaporate. The resultant course, sweetish powder can be used like wheat flower.

The roots will also keep for a couple of weeks if kept cool, so this isn’t a food source that goes bad rapidly. They can also be dried and later boiled in water. Wrapped in a bit of foil, with a pat of butter added, arrowhead tubers are great for cooking in a campfire, much like small potatoes can be, and the cooking time is usually about 10-15 minutes, like with the spuds.

Because of the starch content, this is a good plant for a survivalist, camper or hiker to add to meals to stretch them out and make them more filling. Harvesting the tubers also encourages the plant to produce more, so there is no need to damage the entire plant.

Picture by Amédée Masclef, from Atlas des plantes de France. 1891, public domain because the copyright has expired.

The last survival plant in the series: Coltsfoot


Sometimes called coughwort, butterbur or the tash plant, coltsfoot is a valuable survival food that also has some good medicinal qualities.

The plant grows from a rhizome and can spread easily. An interesting trait of this wild herb is that the rhizomes put up leafless stalks, which bear the yellow flowers. After the flowers die back, the leaves grow out from the base of the stalk. The plant can grow up to a foot in height.

This plant isn’t native to North America, coming from England, Europe, Africa and Asia, but it has become naturalized. It grows in poor soils, so it is often found in waste places, along roadsides and in other areas that have nutritionally weak soil.

As a food, the leaves and flower stalks can be steamed or boiled. It can be added to soups, stews and cooked with meats. The flowers are occasionally used in salads and have a sweet taste, while the cooked leaves are mildly bitter. Rinsing after cooking can remove some of the bitterness. The leaves are occasionally dried and used as a substitute for salt.

NOTE: According to Japanese researchers, this plant contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids. It should not be consumed by anyone who has a pre-existing liver ailment and it should not be eaten in large quantities, since liver damage can occur.

Coltsfoot has been used for a long time for coughs, wheezing, bronchitis, sore throat, congestion, sore mouth and inflammations. For this, it is usually made into a tea or occasionally smoked. This wild plant is considered to be one of the most useful for treating coughs of any sort.

While its worth as a food plant is limited and not on the order of many other wild plants, coltsfoot is still useful for someone who is looking for foods that will help them survive disasters.

The picture is by byrev, public domain,

Previous survival food: Dead nettle


Dead nettles are a European plant that has become naturalized in America and often now grows as a wildflower. Despite the name, this plant isn’t related to stinging nettles. Dead nettle is actually part of the mint family. The plant does have value for survivalists, however.

Dead nettle is an annual plant, normally blooming in the summer. The stems show the connection to the mint family, because they are noticeably and distinctly square in shape. This is very unlike the stems of stinging nettles. Also unlike Urtica dioica, dead nettles don’t ‘sting’. You can gather them with your bare hands without worry.

The stems can grow up to about two and a half feet tall and the lower part of the stem doesn’t have leaves growing from it. The rest of the stem has a multitude of leaves, usually a couple inches in length. The leaves grow in opposite pairs on the stem, and the pair of leaves above or below each pair grow a quarter turn around the stem. The leaves bear a striking resemblance to the deep veined appearance of peppermint leaves or to those of stinging nettles, which is how the plant gets its common name, in the latter case. When the leaves are young, they have a purplish tint that is quite attractive.

The flowers are tube shaped and are white to light purple, including the various shades between the two.


These plants prefer moist soils and are found growing along canal banks, in gardens, near forests and near streams. This trait is shared with stinging nettles and most kinds of mint.

For food, the plant can be steamed or put in soups and stews. The flavor is very mild, so it is good when served with stronger tasting foods. Steaming it with diced wild chive leaves is a good combination and it goes will with cooked dandelion greens. It can be cooked as a potherb and is edible raw as well. The flowers are also edible and sweet, making them good and colorful additions to green salads. The plant is high in vitamin C, vitamin A, iron and it is very high in antioxidants.

This wild herb has some great medicinal properties, like so many wild foods. Tea made from dead nettles is good for treating inflammations and the tea has pain relieving properties. It is used to treat allergies, too. Additionally, the plant juices are anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. The plant is astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic and mildly purgative, in addition to the properties already stated.

There is some disagreement among botanists as to whether dead nettles and henbit is the same plant, but is is a rather moot point as both are edible and can be used in the same ways.

This is a good plant for people to become acquainted with. In the event of disaster, dead nettle can be a great food source for people who are trying to survive. It is also a great wild food addition for hikers and campers.

The opening picture is of common dead nettle and it is public domain, taken by Jana,
The second picture shows dead nettle with white blossoms. It was taken by ariesa66, is public domain as well,

The last survival food in the series: Stinging nettles

Stinging nettle plant (Urtica dioica)

Stinging nettle plant (Urtica dioica)

Anyone who has inadvertently brushed up against stinging nettles probably remembers the painful experience, and probably quickly learned to identify the plant. This wild plant is covered with what appear to be fine hairs. Actually, they are silicon tubes, much like tiny glass tubes, each with a tiny bulb at the end. When a person brushes up against the plant, the bulb breaks off and the tube acts like a very sharp syringe, injecting the contents: Formic acid.

It is no wonder that this burns. Formic acid is the same base that contains the venom of stinging ants and certain bee stings.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time describing the plant, since the pain has probably etched the image of stinging nettles into your mind. However, this plant is widely distributed and is found in the Americas and in Europe.

Many people might find this surprising, but stinging nettles are a tremendously valuable survival food. Cooking the plant deactivates the formic acid and breaks down the silicon tubes. The hard part is in the collection, which should be done using gloves and wearing long pants and a long sleeved shirt. Though even the mature plant is edible and contains health and nutrition benefits, after the plant is taller than about eight inches, the silicon becomes fixed and food made from it will have a gritty texture, rather as if a handful of sand has been added.

The young plant can be boiled or steamed and served as a potherb. It is excellent when it is steamed, before adding some milk and a pat of butter, to make cream of nettle soup. The soup is so delicious that some people collect stinging nettles every spring, when the plants are still young, specifically for this purpose.

Nutritionally, a cup of cooked nettles contains less than 40 calories and this is a good source of both protein and carbohydrates. It is very high in vitamin K, high in vitamin A, and is a good source of vitamin B6, ribovlavin, folate and niacin. It is also between high and extremely high in calcium, manganese, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and copper. Nettles is a very good fiber source. At the same time, it is extremely low in fat and contains no cholesterol.

Medicinally, stinging nettles is used to treat arthritis, swollen joins, sore muscles, anemia, gout, sprains, tendinitis, hay fever, enlarged prostate, high blood pressure and it has diuretic and blood thinning properties. It is sometimes used to ease itching of insect bites, too.

The plant and the root can be dried, which also negates the formic acid, for later use as a tea for the medicinal benefits and treatments.

This is one of the most valuable wild herbs for survival and arguably one of the tastiest. It is so wide spread that it is also pretty easy to find some, except in drier places. The plant often grows along river banks since the roots do like being able to take a drink.

The picture is by byrev and is public domain:

Last survival food in the series: Alfalfa


alfalfaWhen people think of survival foods, edible wild plants in particular, there is an excellent chance that they won’t often think about alfalfa. After all, alfalfa is widely grown, harvested, baled and fed to livestock. However, this is a very good food for surviving whatever holocaust might come your way.

To say that this plant is widespread would be understating it. It occurs in the wild, but its value as a high protein livestock feed has resulted in it being cultivated and grown almost everywhere except in the polar regions.

The leaves look quite a lot like those of clover, which alfalfa is related to. However, alfalfa can grow much taller than clover. With some support, the plant can easily reach above four feet in height.

The flowers are blue to purple and occur on a flower cluster that grows from one of the main stems. The clusters often have one to two dozen flowers in it. The flowers have a slight but sweet scent that is favored by bees and hummingbirds.

As a food, the young shoots and the leaves can be simply picked and eaten, they can be added to salads, they can be added to soups and stews and they can be steamed or boiled as a potherb. The flavor is sweet and mild. As a potherb, a pat of butter seems to bring out the sweetness. The stems tend to get a little tough, but they can still be cooked and eaten if they are chopped up. Since the flavor is sweet but bland, alfalfa leaves are sometimes added to potherbs that have a bitter or particularly strong taste.

The seeds are also edible when they are sprouted. Alfalfa sprouts are sometimes sold in stores for additions to sandwiches and salads, and they have a slightly nutty flavor.

This plant is quite high in vitamin K and is a very good source of vitamin C, vitamin A, niacin, riboflavin, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, magnesium, manganese and copper. The plant is also high in protein, which is of course the reason it is grown for livestock, and it also has a good amount of fiber.

Additionally, alfalfa has medicinal properties. Tea made from the fresh or dried leaves can be used to increase appetite, to stop bleeding including in women during menses and to treat digestive ulcers, it can lower cholesterol, it increases the number of white blood cells so it can help when a person is trying to overcome an infection, it is a powerful source of antioxidants and it has even been used to increase milk production for lactating mothers.

Safety note: The seeds shouldn’t be consumed by people who have ever suffered from Lupus.

Alfalfa may not be commonly consumed, but though it does have medicinal value, the nutritive value is great. The flavor is good, too. This is a plant that definitely belongs on the checklist of survival foods.

The picture is by Pollinator, creative commons share alike 3.0 attribute.

Last survival food post

Large burdock leaf

Large burdock leaf

Burdock is the bane of many gardeners and is considered a weed and a pest, but it is also a great survival food. It is native to Europe and has become naturalized throughout much of the world. The plant is biennial and is known for the seed pods that they produce and which are covered with hook-like appendages that hook on to fur, feathers and clothing easily, necessitating a good deal of time to pick out the burrs. This trait is how the plant gets its common name.

This plant shouldn’t be confused with cockleburs, but except for the burrs, the two plants don’t look much alike.

Though the first year burdock doesn’t usually grow very tall, in the second year it can reach nearly three feet in height. The leaves have wavy edges and taper to a point from a thick base. Some leaves can be large and have stalks that are a foot long. The flowers are purple in color.

The long, tapering tap root is quite edible, especially if it is from the first year plant. Older roots can become tougher, more fibrous and bitter and may need to be boiled in more than one change of water.

The roots are normally peeled and thinly sliced before boiling. These can be especially tasty when seasoned with soy sauce and ginger, or wild ginger. The roots, cooked with wild onions and chicken broth, can make a very agreeable chicken soup.

A cup of the root, sliced and boiled, has only about 110 calories and it is quite high in vitamin B6, as well as being a good source of vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, copper, fiber, and a fair source of calcium and iron. The downside is that it contains about 300 mg of sodium in the cup serving.

The flowering stalks, while they are still young and before the flowers open, can also be peeled and eaten raw or boiled. Since burdock is related to globe artichokes, it isn’t surprising that the flavor is similar.

The roots and seeds also have good medicinal value and are usually dried and made into tea for this purpose. The tea is good for treating scruvy, stomach problems, rheumatism, menstruation, dropsy, kidney problems and as a general tonic. The infusion is also a diuretic, helping the body flush toxins from the system. Externally, the tea is useful for treating ulcers, sores, bruises and boils. The leaves can also be used medicinally, but they tend to be bitter when taken internally.

Burdock is a useful plant for anyone needing to survive, or even to make meals stretch a little further. There aren’t many places where it can’t be found growing, so foraging is usually uncomplicated. Some people even grow it on purpose, even though it is known as a weed.

The picture is by Hans, public domain image,

Previous survival food: Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

Portulaca_oleraceaThe purslane, also known as pigweed, pursley and moss rose, is a delightful survival plant with nearly a worldwide distribution. In the United States, this wild herb is considered to be a weed, but in some countries, it is cultivated on purpose. There are really good reasons for this, owing to food and medicinal value as well as the fact that it can grow in nutrient poor clay soil and can withstand drought conditions. All of this makes purslane a terrific survival food in times of trouble.

The wild plant has round stems and oval shaped fleshy leaves. It is classed as an annual, but it is also a succulent and grows readily from seeds. The plant usually grows close to the ground, though some species can grow as tall as 16 inches in height. The flowers are small and yellow, giving way to seed pods, each of which have many seeds. The pods pop open when the seeds are ripe.

Purslane is widely eaten in Europe, Asia, the middle east, Mexico, South and Central America and even Australia. The Greeks call this andrakla and cook the leaves and stems, mixing them with tomato, onion, garlic, olive oil and feta cheese.

The flavor is sour but mild, so it is good when eaten in salads, raw. The stems and leaves can also be fried, stir fried, steamed or boiled, with other ingredients or as a stand-alone potherb. The potherb is similar to spinach, though the plant doesn’t shrink as much as spinach does when it is cooked. This herb is great when used as an ingredient in soups and stews, such as wild stews, because it is slightly mucilaginous, in the way that mallow is, though not quite as much. In fact, moss rose is quite good when cooked with mallow. It can even be cooked in pastries, and this is a favorite way of preparation for the Turks.

Thicker stems can be pickled in much the way that cucumbers often are, too.

As a food, purslane is a healthy addition to the diet. The herb is high in vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, niacin, riboflavin, calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, manganese, fiber and is extremely high in omega-3 fatty acids. Purslane is packed with antioxidants and appears to inhibit the growth of tumors, while preventing them from becoming cancerous. Few plants are higher in vitamin A, calcium or iron.

It has been and is used medicinally to treat insect bites, snake bites, bee stings, punctures, burns, boils, sunburn, rashes, and internally for diarrhea, bleeding in the digestive tract and hemorrhoids. For external use, the plant can simply be crushed and rubbed on. It can be made into an infusion, but this is seldom necessary.

In short, this wild herb is a powerhouse just waiting to help the survivalist or anyone else who wants to live healthier. It is found all over the place, is tasty and is easy to identify.

Picture by ZooFari, creative commons 3.0 unported attribution.

Last survival food in the series: Dock

ImageThere are quite a few species of dock, but one of the most widespread is curled dock (Rumex crispus), sometimes called yellow dock. Curled dock can be found in most states and many provinces, but it isn’t native to North America. It came from Europe and Asia. This plant is considered to be a weed in North America and Europe, but it has good food and medicinal value. It is also now found in South America, New Zealand and Australia.

This wild herb can be found in places where the ground has been disturbed, including waysides, fields, gardens, vacant lots, forest borders, fence lines and along trails. The leaves are several times longer than they are wide and they taper to a point. There is a strong mid vein in the leaf and in Rumex crispus, the edges of the leaves are wavy, hence the common name. The plant puts up a flower stalk from the center of a rosette of leaves and this can become several feet in height. The flowers aren’t appealing, but dock produces copious numbers of seeds.

Once fully mature, the plant becomes deep reddish brown or burnt orange. The edibility is confined primarily to the leaves of young plants. Once they become older, the flavor becomes strong and bitter.

Caution: Like the closely related sorrel, this plant contails oxalic acid. It should not be eaten in large amounts and should not be eaten by nursing women. (Oxalic acid is what makes rhubarb leaves poisonous.) In sensitive people, oxalic acid can cause stomach distress and kidney stones.

The young leaves are sometimes added to to salads, and the leaves can be boiled or steamed as a potherb. Boiling the leaves in a couple changes of water helps to remove some of the oxalic acid, though this is seldom an issue in the young leaves as long as the helpings are moderate. The flavor is pleasantly sour, almost lemony, because of the acid. The seeds can also be dried and ground into flour.

Though the plant can be useful as a food for someone who is trying to survive a calamity, the biggest value is medicinal. While the older leaves are usually too bitter to eat, they can still be used for medical purposes.

A tea made from the leaves is very high in iron and has been used for a very long time to treat people who are anemic, including pregnant women or women who are menstuating. The tea can be helpful for people who have lost blood, as it can encourage the production on red blood cells. Unlike many high-iron sources, dock doesn’t usually cause constipation.

The crushed leaves can also be applied directly to rashes and stings, for fast relief. This property is mentioned in an old saying: Dock in, nettle out, dock rub nettle out. The reference is to the rash of stinging nettles. Rubbing dock leaves against the burning rash caused by the nettles causes relief almost immediately. Interestingly, dock can usually be found nearby where stinging nettles are growing. Externally, the leaves are also used on cuts and sores.

Dock roots are laxative, and a strong infusion or tea of the roots, mixed with vinegar, has been used effectively to treat ringworm.

Survivalists and others can take advantage of this plant, both as a food source and medicinally. It usually isn’t too hard to find or to identify. Some people also enjoy the flavor of the young leaves, myself included.

The last survival food in this series: