What's Edible in the Wild?

This article is an excerpt from Bushcraft: The Ultimate Guide to Survival in the Wilderness by Richard Graves. We would encourage you to continue learning through his book and purchasing it here. Used by permission from Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.

Food and water are essential to living. Under normal conditions a person cannot live longer than three days without water, but one can live ten days or longer without food.

Food, apart from its vitamins, minerals salts and other minute elements, must contain Proteins and Carbohydrates. Proteins are the flesh builders. Carbohydrates are the energy makers- the fuels for your body’s furnace.

Every action calls for work from some of your body’s cells, and, although new cells are continually being made in your body tissue, old cells are dying. These body tissue cells require replacing, and it is the digestible protein in your food which is used to build those cells.

PROTEINS are supplied by such foods as meat, cheese, nuts, beans and peas.

CARBOHYDRATES are supplied from the starchy foods such as bread, sugar, potatoes, and roots and tubers, and green vegetables and sweets generally, including honey.

For every action you burn up fuel. The more vigorous your actions the more fuel you require, and the faster your body burns it. This fuel is supplied from the carbohydrates in your food. Your body can no more run without this fuel than can the engine of a car if the petrol tank is empty. Your body stores up in its cells reserves of sugars, so that even if you have no food for your stomach, you can draw on these reserves and keep going for a short period.

Your body also needs other foods such as salts and special minerals and vitamins, but in a natural diet most of these essential specialties are contained in the fruits and meats and vegetables which you would eat.

It is possible to have a full stomach at every meal and at the same time to starve to the point of death. If you tried to live entirely on proteins, you might starve for carbohydrates, and, correspondingly, you could be full or carbohydrates but starve from proteins. There should be a balanced proportion of proteins to carbohydrates, and the proportion is, roughly, one part of protein to six parts of carbohydrates.

Another absolute daily essential is salt. Without sufficient sale there can be serious physical consequences. In tropical areas where there is great loss of body salt through excessive perspiration, it is essential to eat sale, and maintain the salt content of the blood at a safe level.

General rules covering the edible qualities of food are set out in the succeeding sections. If there is doubt, take no risk. Eat a small quantity of the suspected food, and await results. If there are no ill-effects the food is probably safe.

All Flesh is Edible
Nearly all flesh, if freshly killed, is safe to eat. The flesh of all mammals, all reptiles and all birds is free from any poisonous contents and safe. But NOT the flesh of all fish.

By “poisonous” is meant actually toxic, that is, containing a poison. An exception in the reptile world is the Hawksbill turtle, which, in the thorax, contains a sac which more learned authorities class as toxic or poisonous.

Parasite Infestations
The words “safe to eat” do not mean that the flesh may be eaten with no ill-consequences. It merely means that the flesh itself contains nothing which will be poisonous to adult human beings.

Many animals are hosts to parasites which can be fatal to man if they are introduced into his body. For instance, the flesh of the rabbit may be infested with hydatids, a worm which if it finds entry into a human, can often prove fatal. The ancient Jewish law which declared the pig unclean was undoubtedly based on the observation that eaters of pig meat showed a higher death rate than eaters of other meats. Pigs are commonly infested with parasites which can also make man their host. Hence the law forbidding the eating of pig flesh.

In common with the pig and the rabbit there is always the chance that the flesh of almost any animal (particularly animals which graze close to the earth or which burrow or which frequent fresh water streams) may be infested with parasites dangerous to man, and consequently no flesh is absolutely safe to eat raw, even in emergency. However, the parasites and their eggs are destroyed by heat, and therefore all flesh should be thoroughly cooked before eating.

This particularly applies to all fresh water fish and fresh water shellfish.

Bacterial Decay
Putrefaction and decay are caused by bacterial action. Food is protected commercially by freezing, by salting or pickling, by heating and vacuum sealing, and by many other means. None of these methods which call for equipment are practical in the bush, therefore other methods must be found to preserve meat safely for indefinite periods.

Meat goes bad because of bacterial infection. Bad meat can be fatally poisonous if eaten. When the term “safe to eat” is used it only applies to freshly-killed and fresh meat.


Preliminary Cooking
Meat which has been either boiled or baked has in the boiling or backing been made sterile, that is, the bacteria which cause putrefaction have been destroyed, and therefore the meat will remain safe to eat for a short time. Re-cooking will effect further sterilisation and prolong the period during which the meat can be eaten. The time between cooking and the meat can be eaten. The time between cooking and the meat being unsafe to eat depends largely upon the weather; hot humid conditions will make the meat unsafe more rapidly than cool dry conditions.

The presence of blowfly grubs or maggots on meat does not mean that the meat is tainted and unsafe. These maggots do not indicate poisonous properties of decay in the meat. Their presence merely indicated the visit of the female fly, which, seeing suitable conditions for her eggs or larvae, has place them there where they may have food. Meat which has been blown can be washed and eaten with perfect safety. Admittedly the maggots are repulsive, but they are in themselves quite free from actual poison. The blowfly is no guide to the condition of meat. It will blow any meat, putrefied and poisonous or safe.

Edible but not Palatable
To say that meat is safe to eat does not mean that it is palatable. The flesh from a shag or diver (cormorant) is edible, but so strangely “fishy” and “oily” that it is most unpalatable. Nevertheless, in emergency it can provide the proteins necessary to sustain life, and this flesh is wholly digestible.

The flesh of a cat, dog or rat is edible, and if you did not know the origin of the meat prior to its being cooked, you would eat it without repugnance. Cat tastes almost exactly like hare. Flying fox, roasted, is as succulent as sucking pig; and snake, roasted in the ashes, has a white meat of delicate flavour. But you would not say they were palatable, simply because of the source of the meat to your mind would be repulsive.

The rule is that the flesh of all birds, mammals and reptiles is safe to eat, but not all are palatable.

13 thoughts on “What's Edible in the Wild?”

  • Joe

    What should be emphasized over long-held wisdom regarding the whole "live ten days without food" mantra is this:

    You can CONTINUE TO BREATHE for ten days without food.

    Ever skipped just TWO meals? How well did you function at even the most basic tasks (reading, shuffling papers around, typing an email)?

    I am in great shape, but I am unable to efficiently function if do not eat for 24 hours, and most people would be. The rest, I give another 24 hours before they, too, are rendered unable to actually survive.

    Great article; just wanted to give everyone something to think about.

    • Jackson

      I have fasted for several days numerous times with no ill affects. I was still able to function at every thing I normally do. Maybe at a lower level or slower rate But I was able to function. The longest I went, by choice, was 7 days. The first three days you feel hunger,after that not so much. Of course I did take water and vitamins during that time. Most can live for 30 days give or take or longer depending on a lot of factors. I carry some extra weight so that helps a lot.My body can live off of those extra fat stores initially. It is time for me to start another fast now. I am past due. It takes tremendous discipline just to even get started.

  • Namejohn williamson
    Namejohn williamson February 11, 2015 at 11:22 pm

    more people should read this article. i was talking to a group the other evening you would not beleive what they thinking was "never happen to me" I live in a rural area on the lake. If something bad happens HERE lot of dead humans. They are country folks most didnt finish school and no getting thru to them no chance they just look at me any i take cans and survival equip from THE READY STORE show them how to get to you however useless.it may be I have a group tonight will be better they called me

  • Monica

    For Joe, I beg to differ. Yes, the body can survive without food for extended periods. However, not long without having any clean water. I have deliberately fasted for two weeks at a time, no food, just lots of water. Not saying everyone can, but certainly many can and do go a week or longer without any ill effects. I fast for the health benefits. Just something to think about....

  • Charley

    I agree with Monica. I have always believed that survival is mostly mental. If you think you can, you will. Hence, the need for education - it is easier to think you can when you know how.

  • JReaux

    I made it through a week of humping 75 pounds of gear through lower elevation mountains, consuming only a couple of cereal bars (3) all week, and relying on iodine tablets treating water. I would like to say I was not hungry after the second day without food, but maintained hydration. I didn't feel good about the iodine in lieu of a filter as I was filling my bottles with stagnant and heavy particulate water. Although I lost 9 pounds, I don't recall losing much physical ability in the week. However, I would be willing to bet in the next few days I would have went downhill in a hurry. I agree with Charley, much of this is mental.

  • Luke

    Joe is not wrong. Everybody has a different makeup of their bodies. If you are somebody who is in good shape and also has a fast metabolism combined with a low BMI, they need to eat more often to stay functional. Somebody at the other end of the spectrum can go longer without food. Myself for example; I am in decent shape but have a slow metabolism. My buddy who I go to the gym with eats three times as much as I do, does the same exercises and gets borderline delirious when he goes long periods without food.

    • don

      Great post, Luke, and good point. I know MANY people who have such a high rate of metabolism that they can eat WAY more than I can and never gain weight. And of course BMI is another factor to consider in how long a person can go without food and still function.

  • Monica

    Luke. I certainly was not intimating that Joe was wrong. I believe he feels ill when he does not eat, whether it is medical, or a combination of reasons. I was explaining that not everyone will fall over exhausted or dead if they fail to eat for a day. Yes, overall health, weight, mental beliefs all play a role. I use fasting for health benefits, and to maintain a good BMI.
    Relaying my experience with fasting was merely the flipside of Joe's experience. It is an individual thing.... fasting is not for everyone, but as Charlie stated, ones mental state of mind and or "beliefs" have quite an effect on your overall wellbeing, or ability to sustain.

  • Northwoods Cheryl
    Northwoods Cheryl February 15, 2015 at 9:32 am

    Ok, what about all the "wild things" you can glean along your trek that are vegetable in nature? I didn't see any reference to those. Not much protein in most but many have carbs and all have vitamins. The lowly Lamb's Quarters weed has more vitamin C ounce for ounce than oranges do. They are EVERYWHERE. Also, roots from burdock and cattails have lots of carbs and some vitamins. There's Purslane, a common weed that hugs the ground, vine-like, with teardrop shaped shiny leaves. They taste like lemon pepper. The whole plant is edible either cooked or raw like salad greens. Learn to spot out these things on your walks, or better yet in your own yard if you have one. And this is just the tip of the iceberg! The BIGGEST thing is learn them NOW, before you are under duress from a grid-down or other bad-happenings scenario. It's mighty hard to stay focused and learn a new skill set when you are worried about the survival of the day..

  • New Prepper

    Most or all of the meats that the Jewish law forbids are scavenger animals. They are forbidden because of what they eat or the fact that their primitive digestive system does not filter it adequately. Their purpose is to clean the land or water. The waste doesn't hurt them but it does hurt us.

  • Northwoods Cheryl
    Northwoods Cheryl February 17, 2015 at 12:05 am

    My veterinarian told me once that porcupines do not have any diseases and not to ever shoot them in "normal times" because they would be a sure source of safe meat in an emergency.

  • Stepcof

    Train your cells to feed on Ketones rather than glucose. Hi quality fat low carb diet. You can go 24 hrs easy with no food and with no hunger. After 24 hrs you will start to feel drained but not hungry. At that point you will be burning fat not glucose (carbs). Great way to loose weight. Great way to kill cancer cells (cancer feeds on glucose). Great for thinking clearly during a survival situation. Too many people are living meal to meal on carbs. This may be necessary for SOME athletes, but is just plain fattening for the average Joe. Search for the neurologist Dr. Pearlmutter's documentaries on YouTube. Good info!!

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