Weeds to Eat for Survival

Imagine getting lost in the woods or stranded on the side of a deserted highway with no cell service. Maybe you have had to flee your home and head for the hills without a chance to grab any of your emergency food supply. Could you survive? What would you eat? Before you assume you are going to somehow transform into a glorious hunter taking down large game, think again. You won’t. In fact, if you don’t have any weapons or hunting and trapping skills, you are going to be forced to eat what you can find that doesn’t run from you.

Weeds. Weeds are everywhere. They are one of the only guarantees you have in this life. Weeds are irritating pests that plague our gardens and landscaping. They make us crazy and we typically either yank them out by their roots or spray them with some harsh chemical to make them go away for good.

After you read this, you are never going to look at those weeds the same way. Those irritating weeds may very well save your life one day. Check out the following list of common edibles that are found growing in the wild.

1-Dandelions are prolific and can be a nightmare for anybody who wants a lush, green lawn. However, if you stumble across the little yellow flowers in the wild, grab a handful and eat up. You can eat the flowers, leaves, stems and even the roots of the dandelion. The flowers are good raw or sauteed. The leaves are best eaten before the flower opens. They can be a little bitter. The roots are definitely bitter, but if you brew them in a tea, they are an excellent source of fiber.

2-Purslane is another edible commonly found growing in vegetable gardens. It is a ground cover plant that is succulent. It has a shovel shaped leaf. You can eat it raw or cooked. The thick leaves are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids which is good for you and can help keep your heart healthy while you are out foraging.

3-Chickweed is another weed often found growing in the lawn. It has little white flowers that help it stand out against green vegetation. The chickweed can be eaten raw or steamed with a handful of other edibles. It is rich in vitamin C, which will come in handy when you are fighting to survive.

4-Cattails are something you could run out and eat right now. The roots of the cattails are actually pretty good. You will need to peel back the first layer or two before chomping down on the crunchy stalk. You can eat the seedheads before they turn brown as well. Cook them up over an open fire and eat them like corn on the cob.

5-Field pennycress is identifiable by the little white flowers that run down a line along the stem. They look a lot like a flower you would see growing in a flowerbed. The leaves and seeds are edible raw or cooked. If you know you are walking through a field that is prone to run-offs from a farm, don’t eat the pennycress. Pennycress growing by the side of a road where pesticides are often sprayed, should be avoided. The roots absorb the minerals and the toxins in the area and could end up making you very sick.

6-Plantain is a weed found growing regularly in disturbed, somewhat damp areas. They love to grow alongside creeks and marshes. The green leaves are about the size of your palm and have a ribbed texture. The plantain is an excellent source of calcium, which is another necessary component to a healthy diet when milk and cheese are going to be in short supply. You can eat the leaves raw or cooked. Choose young, smaller leaves when possible. The older leaves tend to be bitter.

7-Kelp may not look pretty and the slimy texture may turn you off, but it is a great food to find when you are in survival mode. You can eat it raw, dry it and eat it or toss it in a soup with some of the other edibles you have collected. You can find kelp in fresh and saltwater.

8-Blackberries are truly the only berry you want to pick and eat. If you are not absolutely sure about a berry, don’t eat. There are far too many poisonous berries out there. Blackberries are often found growing in the wild. The berry bushes will have thorns, so pick carefully.

9-Pine needles aren’t exactly edible, but you can steep them in water to make a nice tea. A hot tea packed with vitamin C is the perfect way to settle in for the night. It will warm you and fortify you at the same time. You can also dig around for pine nuts in the pine cones on the tree. Don’t bother getting poked looking for nuts in the cones on the ground. The squirrels have probably already gotten to them.

10-Nuts are a luxury if you can find them, but this is only going to be possible if you are in a warm climate. Northern areas are not going to be lucky enough to stumble upon nut trees. Nuts are high in protein and calories, which is a very good thing when you are in survival mode. Learn how to identify various nut trees so you can harvest the nuts. They rarely look like they do in the stores. There is a slight process to getting them out of their husks and ready to eat.

You don’t have to worry too much about finding food if you are educated in the art of eating edible plants. Do some research and the next time you see a dandelion pop up in your lawn, take a bite. See what you have been missing all of these years! Foraging is one of the only ways you can guarantee you will have something in your belly when you are in nature and hungry.

11. Wild onion

The wild onion looks a lot like wild garlic and you can use them the same way you would with onions and scallions you buy in stores. You will find wild onion in clumps throughout lawns. They stand taller than other grass and weeds. Learn to distinguish between wild onion and toxic weeds that look alike. The wild onion should smell and taste like an onion.

12. Hairy bittercress

Hairy bittercress is an edible plant you can find in cool weather in disturbed areas like lawns.

13. Clover

You can use the fresh flowers of clover for a mildly sweet tea. You can use both white and red flowers for tea. Don’t pick clover blossoms with wilted brown petals. You can use the flowers fresh or dried. Remember that clover flowers are grown in tropical areas and fermented clover flowers are toxic. Also, be aware that clover can cause allergy in some people, so begin with a small amount if you don’t know if you’re allergic to it or not.

14. Violets

You can use the leaves and flowers of violets to make a nice salad. The leaves have a pleasantly mild flavor, whereas the flowers are rather sweet. You can use the leaves for cooking.


You don’t have to worry too much about finding food if you are educated in the art of eating edible plants. Do some research and the next time you see a dandelion pop up in your lawn, take a bite. See what you have been missing all of these years! Foraging is one of the only ways you can guarantee you will have something in your belly when you are in nature and hungry.

What is foraging?

Foraging refers to searching and finding food sources/medicinal plants in the wilderness. If you go on a camping/hiking trip or find yourself in an emergency, foraging is an excellent method to find food. Knowing which plants are safe to eat can keep you from starving when you’re lost and need to wait until search teams find you.

If you like camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities, you must be prepared for worst-case scenarios. Do due diligence and learn as much as you can about forage for food in the wilderness. Our recommendations are a great source.

What is foraging

How should you forage off the land?

Did you know that we can only survive for three days without water but 30 days without food? Therefore, if you’re in an emergency, you shouldn’t stress about finding food but about getting to civilization. It doesn’t mean that you starve yourself or stop foraging for food. After all, you still need the energy to find your way back home.

Here are some basic rules when you start foraging for food in the wild:

Search for the suitable berries

Berries are an excellent source of fiber, carbohydrates, and vitamins. Look for aggregate berries (tightly packed clusters, such as mulberries and raspberries) because they are 99% safe to eat. Black, blue, and purple berries are 90% secure to eat, and you should run an edibility test just to be sure. Don’t jump into eating any red and orange berries because only half of them are edible! As for white, green, and yellow berries, it’s best to avoid them in the first place because only 10% of them are safe to eat.

Look for greens that are safe to eat

Many wild plants are safe to eat. Along with the evident fruits and vegetables, you should open your eyes big and have the patience to find the safe weeds to eat.

Catch insects as well

Insects have seven times more protein than ground beef. It will be easier to catch insects in the wilderness than a small game. As long as you don’t squeamish about it, you can look for and eat mealworms, earthworms, crickets, ants, and grasshoppers. Don’t eat fire ants and boil ants before eating. Also, remove the legs and wings before eating insects.

Learn about common poisonous plants

We know it’s rather tricky to distinguish between safe and toxic mushrooms or do the same fr berries. However, it would help to recognize the most common poisonous plants, such as poison ivy, poison oak, and sumac. They have a chemical (urushiol), an oil that can cause contact dermatitis. It’s difficult to remove from the skin, generating rashes that don’t go away quickly.

Avoid treated land and busy roads

Oil lead, car exhaust, and various harmful substances can tain vegetation and surrounding brush. Stay on the safe side by avoiding areas exposed to man-made elements or coated in pesticides and herbicides.

What are the best ways to find edible plants?

If you finish your food supplies, you can forage food, but only if you precisely know what is safe to eat. Run an edibility test for plants you find in the wild.

What are the best ways to find edible plants

Look for the obvious poisonous traits

Stay away from mushrooms and plants with milky sap fine hairs. Avoid the umbrella-shaped flower clusters, spines, and waxy leaves as well.

Run a skin test

Take a piece of the plant you intend to eat and rub it against the inner forearm. You can also rub it on the outer lip. Wait for 15 minutes until you notice the effects—whether it’s safe to eat or not.

Have a taste test

Once you have the skin test and it’s safe, you can continue with a taste test. Taste the same part of the plant and let it sink in for five minutes.

Should you not taste any soapy flavor, bitterness, or numbness, take some of the same parts of the plant (a teaspoon) and chew it for five minutes. Spit out extra saliva from time to swallow. After you swallow it, you need to wait for eight hours. During the eight hours, you shouldn’t eat anything.

Eat a small amount

If you didn’t experience any digestive problems until now, you should eat one tablespoon of the same part of the plant and wait again for eight hours. Should you not have any symptoms, it’s safe for you to eat that part of the plant.

Stay cautious

When you have no other option but to forage for food in the wilderness, you should use your common sense and judgment. There are toxic plants that look like edible plants; some have edible berries, but poisonous bark and stems—elderberries are one example. Also, keep in mind that just because one part of the plant is safe to eat doesn’t mean that the whole plant is edible. Test each piece separately before you eat the entire plant and do due diligence before taking the leap of faith with a plant.

If you decide to collect wild weeds for their foliage, you should harvest them before they flower to get the most out of their nutritional content. Even if these plants are safe to eat after flowering, their content of minerals, nutrients, and vitamins decreases. Also, the taste might be a tad bitter.

Here are some general guidelines about harvesting:

  • Harvest early in the morning, after the dew dries. Do it before the weather gets too hot.
  • Most flowers have the highest oil concentration and flavor right after the flower buds have appeared but before opening.

6 test tips when testing a plant

Testing a plant’s edibility is just one of the numerous skills to help you in a survival scenario. Here are more tips to remember if you want or need to forage for food:

1.       Do it on an empty stomach

We recommend you drink plenty of water and not consume any food for eight hours before doing an edibility test. Once you start the test, you shouldn’t eat any other foods except for the part of the plant that you test.

2.       Collect several parts of the plants

We want to highlight that an edibility test will last at least 16 hours to complete. You don’t want to complete the relatively long process only to realize that you don’t have enough parts of the plant to feel complete. Before beginning your test, you should collect as much of the plant as possible to have enough when you discover it’s safe to eat it.

3.       Trust the taste

Toxic plants taste bad because nature doesn’t trick you into poisoning yourself. It’s a trick that plants protect themselves from pests and bugs. If the part of the plant you test has a soapy or bitter taste, spit it right away.

4.       Don’t test plants with almond scent

An almond scent is a natural sign of toxicity (cyanide, most of the time). Don’t eat berries or plants that smell burnt or raw almonds.

5.       Examine the foliage

Plants with foliage that look like parsley, dill, or parsnip greens are probably toxic and you should not attempt to test them.

6.       When in doubt, skip it

Even if a plant is safe to eat, it can still present poisonous characteristics such as discolored sap or spiky hairs. Even if plants with such traits aren’t poisonous, you shouldn’t take on any chances and consume these plants.

Always go with a sustainable foraging

Commercial collection of medicinal plants is the leading cause of extinction for many plant species. Even if you forage in emergencies, you should always do it responsibly for nature and the environment.

Sustainable foraging depends on what is harvested. Many wild plants that are safe to eat will produce tens of thousands of seeds per plant, so you shouldn’t stress sustainability. However, you should get informed about sustainable foraging.

One main rule is always to collect only 5% of an individual patch of a species within a maximum of 25% f the area. Some plant species have a high risk of overharvesting, so you should have a mindful attitude about it. For instance, it will pass seven years between germination and seed production for wild leeks. It’s relatively easy to overharvest wild leeks. Unless you harvest the root, you should never remove the entire plant but leave the plant the chance to re-grow.

Only take the part of the plant that you use

When you forage for food, only take part you intend to consume; leave enough to ensure that the plant will still grow after you’re gone. Keep in mind not to take more than 25% of a plant if you don’t intend to take the entire plant.

Don’t overharvest

All population is limited and plants don’t make an exception. Even if you notice that you have many edible plants, you should respect the colony. Don’t take more than 10% (and even less, if you know that the foraging pressure is high for the area) and never collect more than you anticipate you will use.

Don’t forage rare and protected wild edible plants

Even if some plants are abundant in the area, they could still be rare throughout their ranges.

Cultivate wild edible plants once you get home

Many wild plants that are safe to eat are easy to take and propagate in your garden. Ramps are becoming scarcer because of overharvesting. However, you can cultivate ramps as well. Be considerate and find out about the growing conditions of rare plants in your local area. There’s a lot of pressure on wild plant populations, so it’s our responsibility to preserve as many plants as possible.

Six sustainable methods to forage for wild food

So you’ve been hiking for many hours and you end up with a sunburn on your neck. At the same time, you get hungry and you no longer have a snack in your pack. What do you do? Do you forage for an edible plant or not?

According to botanists, foraging for wild foods is actually suitable for both plants and people, as long as we follow some basic rules. Many people think that foraging will alter the plant population. However, if you do it intelligently, it will not negatively affect you. Conscientious foraging will help some species thrive. Next time you find yourself in a situation to gather wild food, consider these recommendations:

1.       Leave the bottom behind

Many perennials (plants that live for more than two years) have edible parts below (bulbs and tubers) and above ground (leaves). If you can choose, always pick what you can see.

In the case of perennials, you can take the top part without feeling that you’re extincting the plant species. We go back to the wild leek that grows two leaves with onion taste and underground bulb—it’s the part the most people prefer to take. The main issue appears if we take the entire plant out of the ground to get to the bulb. If so, the plant will die and have no possibility of growing again.

Next time you see a wild leak, try to take just the leaves and don’t touch the bulb below-ground.

2.       Respect the crown

At the base of all plant bulbs, we ding a plug of tissue that generates the roots—known as the “root crown.” Indigenous people used to detach the root crown from the bulb and put the bulb back into the ground. This would help the plant to regenerate.

We don’t necessarily need to be so extreme, though. Even if you don’t take everything below ground, you can still put some parts (root crown) back into the ground.

3.       Choose the right time

Another aspect to consider is foraging for some parts of the plants. When you find a species with a below-ground part that we want to forage, we should do it to collect the seeds and place them in the hole we make. Leek, for example, is typically collected in the spring and only produces sees in the late summer. The indigenous tribes used to wait until they could put the plant seeds in the holes they made.

4.       Be selective

Another method to reduce our impact on the environment is to select species that limit an adverse effect upon collecting. For example, the Japanese knotweed is an invasive plant that grows rather aggressively and crowds the surroundings. However, it’s a plant that we can eat. It has no problems reproducing.

Therefore, you should focus on plant species that handle extensive collections—species that don’t disappear quickly even in high foraging efforts.

5.       Have the fruits instead of the plant

Many wild plants are perennial, so eating the fruits won’t damage them. Perennials such as the apple tree or the oak tree have fruits that animals enjoy. The oak tree can perfectly survive even if animals eat all acorns. When you eat the fruits and not the vegetative parts, you reduce the damage to the whole plant.

However, the rule isn’t valid for annuals—plants that only survive for a season. Be cautious when you decide to eat their fruits. If you take one too many fruits, the plants will no longer have the means to re-populate during the cold season.

6.       Mind the percentages

When it comes to conscious foraging, you should always collect a small population so that the rest of the plants can still grow, give fruits, and sustain the population. Each plant species is different; for some, 25% of the plant is acceptable, whereas even 50% won’t be an issue for others. For example, you can collect a high amount of fiddlehead fern because it will colonize itself from its stem. Simply learn about the plants and how they re-populate on their own.

Let’s say you take one-tenth of the plant and a week later, another hiker takes another one-tenth of the plant. After several weeks, how much of the plant will still be left? In the end, all hikers would have collected a lot more than it was safe for the plant. Don’t forget that animals also look for food and might forage for the same plants.

Soon enough, you will get the point when there’s nothing left. It doesn’t matter how much you try to save; whatever the number might be, once it’s gone, you cannot take it back.

How do you recognize poisonous plants?

There are several characteristics of poisonous plants that make them easy to recognize. Here are some of these traits:

How do you recognize poisonous plants

Fine hairs and spines

Fire hairs and spines indicated that a plant actually has a protective mechanism to keep predators at a distance. Most of the hairs will cause a burning or stinging sensation when they come in contact with your bare skin.

Milky sap

Latex or milky sap is a substance that comes out of a plant’s stems or branches when you break it/crack it. It can cause various reactions, from skin irritation to powerful allergic reactions.

Waxy leaves

“wax” (the cuticle) on leaves is a protective layer that helps plants retain water. Sometimes, it can signal that a specific plant is a toxic plant and that you shouldn’t eat it.

Umbrella-shaped flower clusters

Avoid most plants with umbrella clumping flowers because they are toxic.


Oyster mushrooms, morel mushrooms, and chanterelle mushrooms are safe to eat. However, you should be cautious when finding fungi growing on the ground or trees. If you cannot recognize a mushroom and be 100% sure it’s safe to eat, you shouldn’t eat it. The risk for it to be toxic is high.

What plants should you avoid in the wilderness?

When foraging wild food, the rule of thumb is always to eat a plant that you know for sure it’s safe to eat. It also helps to know which plants are toxic—some of them might grow even in your backyard.


The monkshood has a long history and many names and monkshood is the most innocent one. The name comes from the shape of the flower that reminds of a hood. All parts of the monkshood contain aconite, which is lethal. Back in the day, hunters would poison the tips of the arrows with it.

Death camp mushroom

The death cap is the perfect example of plants reminding us that we should only eat them when we’re 100% sure they’re not toxic for us. Even if the death cap looks innocent and

might taste lovely, it causes 90% of the poisonous mushroom ingestions worldwide. Even if it comes from Europe, it’s also found in the united states as its invasive species.

Horse nettle

Even if the horse nettle is part of the same family as eggplant and tomato (nightshade family), you shouldn’t eat it. Its mature fruits might remind you of juicy yellow cherry tomatoes, but they’re poisonous. The horse nettle comes from the American south and can be troublesome to animals. Since it has bitter fruits and spines, humans will naturally avoid it.


Socrates died from drinking hemlock tea. The shrub is highly toxic and causes painful symptoms that alter the nervous system and make the person unable to breathe. The hemlock doesn’t look dangerous, as it has small white flowers and lacy green leaves. Many people mistake it for wild parsnip and wild carrots.

The hemlock isn’t native to North America, but you might still find it along roadsides and near streams. Make sure you learn the difference between the hemlock tree and the shrub.

Dolly’s eyes

Also known as white baneberry, dolly’s eyes produce berries from May to September. The white berries with black dots in the middle remind us of the doll’s eye and make the perfect plant to show in a scary movie. Add the neon-pink stems, and you get a poisonous plant as it is nice looking. Don’t touch, let alone eat, this plant. You can find dolly’s eyes in the forests throughout the eastern part of the united states.

Poison ivy

Birds eat poison ivy fruits, whereas deer eat its leaves, but humans shouldn’t even touch the plant. We all know about how bad the rash from poison ivy can be. Learn how to identify poison ivy while foraging for food. Poison ivy is widely spread and grows as a vine or shrub in fields, forests, and parks. On a side note, poison ivy is in the same family as cashews and mangoes—which many of us love to eat.


Don’t let the lovely smelling flowers of the oleander fool you because oleander isn’t safe to eat. As a matter of fact, all parts of the oleander are toxic and cause severe symptoms and even death from heart complications. Oleander is a decorative shrub and thrives in sunny locations like Florida, Texas, and California. The chances of running into oleander in the wild are slim in the united states, but you will meet it in the urban area.

What other food options do you have in the wild?

As much as they love hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities, people who love wildlife will probably want to learn more about their food options in the wilderness.

What other food options do you have in the wild

Wild greens, berries, fruits, tubers, roots, shoots, and flowers

They represent some of the most accessible food options to procure. There are so many options to try within this category, from cactus to blueberries, wild asparagus, and stinging nettles.

Nuts, seeds, and grains

They are high on the wilderness survival foods pyramid because they’re not widely available. For example, you might have to climb trees to get nuts. Some nuts (acorns) will require soaking in water before eating because they contain tannins.

You also need to collect information about wild grains. You can simply chew on wild grasses most of the time to collect the nutritious juices and spit out the fiber (it’s not digestible). Moreover, you will have to grind the seeds to make grains. Here are some examples:

  • Wild rye
  • Wild rice
  • Indian ricegrass
  • Amaranth
  • Walnuts
  • Hickory nuts
  • Acacia
  • Mesquite pods
  • Pine nuts
  • Acorns


For many countries, eating insects is normal and you should get your head out of the box about eating insects. Let’s start by asking you not to chump the head off of a live insect. Also, always cook the insects before eating them because you need to kill any parasites. Crickets and grasshoppers are the most common insects to eat, but there are many other options:

  • Ants and their larvae
  • Ants
  • Termites
  • Maggots
  • Beetles
  • Earwigs

Fish, seafood, and eggs

Even if it seems easy in the movies, catching a fish with a spear or bare hands takes a lot of effort and skills. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to catch a fish with a trap. You can set it up and wait until the next day.

If you’re near the ocean, you will trap many animals. However, you will need to climb the trees to get any eggs. Here are some options:

  • Fish
  • Clams
  • Oysters
  • Shrimp
  • Kelp
  • Nori
  • Crabs
  • Squid

Reptiles and amphibians

You can use your bare hands to catch amphibians, especially in streams, lakes, and small bodies of water. If you have the skills, you can also make traps. Lizards are fast and like hiding in small crevices—catching them will be a challenge! There are all over the place, so you will be lucky to get one with a trap.

Other animals you can try catching:

  • Lizards
  • Turtles
  • Frogs
  • Snakes
  • Salamanders


You should really be cautious about eating mushrooms because many poisonous mushrooms resemble edible ones. Even if you don’t die from eating a poisonous mushroom, you can still end up with a bad case of diarrhea. Diarrhea can cause severe dehydration, especially when you’re in the middle of nowhere without medication. Use an experienced guide to eat mushrooms and not rely on social media. As for options, check out the following:

  • Oysters mushrooms
  • Western giant puffball
  • Morels
  • Chanterelles
  • Chicken of the woods

Birds and small game

Needless to say, you will need to set up traps to catch birds and small game. We assume you’re not hiking with a bow or a weapon on you. Here are some animals within this category:

  • Pigeons
  • Geese
  • Ducks
  • Mice
  • Quail
  • Squirrels and chipmunks
  • Hares and rabbits

Large game

If you have a rifle and have the skills and knowledge, you will be safe when hunting large games. If you are in a survival situation, you probably don’t have the rifle with you nor the possibility to use it—the sound will give away your presence! You will need to use silent weapons such as bows and spears. Using a bow or a spear does require a lot of skill, though.

We remind you that hunting a large game is just the first step to take, as you will also have to season and preserve it for later use. It’s a whole new topic to cover.

Robert Dwayne

Robert Dwayne

To say that I am an outdoors enthusiast is probably an understatement. I am hyper passionate about everything outdoors: hiking, survival, hunting. On this website I am sharing my stories and experiences, and I hope you'll find inspiration to take up your own adventures!