The Reality of Foraging When There’s No Food

The Reality of Foraging When There’s No FoodYou’ve seen in movies and TV shows how people manage to survive in the wild with the bare minimum. How they manage to procure food through foraging and hunting. Even more, they provide a false sense of security by making these activities look like a child’s play. The reality is totally different and few people have any idea of what foraging requires.  

As a forager, you learn in time that although Mother Nature can provide you with enough resources to survive, not all food sources are practical. In fact, although it may seem that plants will offer you enough nutrients to survive during a crisis, the reality can become gruesome. Without gathering adequate quantities of food, you may ultimately succumb to a slow starvation or even poison yourself without knowing it.

Foraging for survival – The myth

In our community, there’s the myth that preppers, survivalists and pretty much everyone that has adequate foraging knowledge can survive indefinitely by eating nothing more than wild edibles. Most people blindly believe that you can receive enough nutrition and calories from the plants in your living region at any time and anyplace. Does this myth stand or is just one of those myths that will get you killed?

Foraging for survival – The reality

After discussing this topic within my network and after trying my hand at foraging for many years, I can tell you that things are not as simple as they seem. We may argue that we are the living proof that nature can provide us with everything we need to survive. That our ancestor lived long enough to increase their numbers with just what the wilderness provided. However, as my grandpa used to say, beggars can’t be choosers.

I mean, our ancestors didn’t rely only on plants to provide meals for their family and they were both hunters and gatherers. Today, people believe that they can subsist on wild plants during a long-term survival situation, but they forget one important thing.

There are certain times and places that you could live of wild edible for months at a time. That if you find yourself stranded on a deserted island during the fruiting season. I specified “deserted” because if there are any other humans or animals, there will be a lot of competition for those fruits and tropical treats.

However, the bountiful eating seasons are always delimited by periods of famine, when low-calorie plants available. When you have to rely on what you saved from the previous season or what you manage to hunt or catch.

The most eye-opening example is the winter season. This brutal time of the year is difficult even from animals that are experienced foragers and have these skills deep embedded in their DNA. Even those animals don’t always make it and some of them will never see another spring again. When snow is all around you covering the entire landscape and killing plants or making them unreachable, foraging becomes an almost impossible task.

Related article: Tips For Foraging Safely During A Survival Scenario

And the story goes on…

And if you want to keep going, think about spring and what it brings. Do you think Lady luck knocks on your door as soon as the snow melts and you will no longer starve? Well, think again. During the spring season, there is a lot of biodiversities and it’s an ideal time to learn how to identify growing plants. However, when it comes to nutrition, most plants lack the calories needed for subsistence. They are not fully grown and are mostly water.

I don’t want to scare you straight, but there’s also another thing that will make your foraging adventures leave you with a bitter taste. The lack of experience is a common point for most people, and it can be a deadly factor if picking the wrong plant. You might not have the needed knowledge to use all the resources around you.

Let’s say you know everything about your region, but what happens when you find yourself in unfamiliar territory? You won’t know which plants are safe to eat unless you have an extensive plant guide with you. Plant identification is difficult during normal living conditions when you’re out for a walk to enjoy nature. If you add the stress of a survival situation, a different environment that the one you’re used to and the feeling of desperation slowly creeping on you, things won’t end well. The wilderness is not always filled with high-calorie edible plants and thinking that you can survive only by eating plant food, is wishful thinking.

Are there any alternatives?

The reality on the field is different than the theory you find in books. If you find yourself in a survival situation and you are forced to rely only on wild foods, the first thing would be to plan your action. Don’t give up and you may have a chance to survive on wild foods.

Choose your calories

You don’t need to count your calories, but you do need to focus on collecting high-calorie foods. Focus on identifying edible tree nuts, starchy roots and safe-to-eat berries.  Collect as many of those calories dense foods as you can and make sure you ration your stash. Even more, find a place to store your resources. A place that is safe from animals and insects and that can be easily accessible.

One thing that I often hear when people talk about foraging is the mentioning of teas. I do enjoy a warm cup of wild tea, but plants used for teas are nothing but a delicious, morale-boosting treat. They don’t provide high calories and they won’t keep hunger at bay. Also, I bet you’ve seen this phrase a lot “can be used in salads”. That’s great and all, but except for vitamins and minerals, there’s not really a significant calorie intake that comes with those wild salads.

Don’t be a picky eater

I’ve read a lot about the early pioneers and how tough life was back there. To my surprise, people used to die back there because they were “picky eaters” if you can believe something like that. When working for food, novice trappers and hunters, but also first mountain-men (settlers) would occasionally die from not eating enough.

And by not eating enough, I mean they were eating just lean meat (no fat or carbs) for long periods of times, weeks on end. This was a strange form of malnutrition and it took some time for people to realize that they need to eat ample amounts of fat and organs. Or to consume the entire animal, as people say nowadays.

When hunting or trapping animals for survival, focus on animals with higher amounts of body fat. Think about the Eskimo and how their animal diet rich in organs and fat can help them survive in regions that are inhospitable.

Use everything you can to stay alive

If you are forced to survive and you fail at hunting or fishing, try to be creative and look for alternatives. Turn your eyes to bugs since these crawling creatures are surprisingly nutritious and safe to eat.  Learn about edible insects and how to cook them properly.

The environment will provide you with a good source of food that might not sound so appealing at first, edible insects. Even if it sounds gross, relying on edible insects in order to survive is a tactic that turned out to be very effective for many people.

In 2015 a 62-year-old man who got lost in the Australian desert after chasing a camel, managed to survive for 6 days only by eating ants. This is only one example and through history, people have relied on insects to increase their calorie intake. It’s no wonder why modern insect farms are popping all over the world.

Have a backup

We humans have backup plans for almost every aspect of our lives, why not have one for our survival plans. If you get stranded in the wilderness, you should have not one, but many backup plans. You can’t forage, you should be able to fish. You can’t hunt, you should be able to trap something. How about finding your way back, still no? Then learn how to signal for help.

The story can go on, but the point remains. Have a backup plan for everything as it will save you a lot of energy and you will be able to concentrate on other things. You can use various methods to start a fire and that’s good, but nothing beats a lighter when the time is against you. Even bringing a pocket guide for identifying plants can be considered a backup plan. You have a smartphone, right? Why not use it to download some books about foraging and identifying plants.

A final word

There is no magic formula or well-guarded secret when it comes to foraging. You just need to understand how the plant life cycle works, what can you forage and when. Add a lot of practice and experience and you can consider yourself a good forager. People need to understand that running into the woods when it hits the fan and hoping to survive with what Mother Nature provides (animals, plants, etc.) is just a fairy tale. If you haven’t done this for the most of your life, you will be better of dumpster diving.

Stay safe and always be prepared!

Useful resources to check out:

The Common Vegetable that Will Increase Your Heart Attack Risk at Least Two-Fold

How To Build The Invisible Root Cellar

10 Things Cowboys Carried With Them In The Wild West To Survive

Knowledge to survive any medical crisis situation

This ONE THING Can Help You Terminate Your Store-Bought Dependency

The vital self-sufficiency lessons our great grand-fathers left us

4 thoughts on “The Reality of Foraging When There’s No Food”

  1. If your plan is to stay in the locality try hedgerow planting, in the hills behind us we have sown seeds for herbs, fruit and vegetables in various locations that we harvest on our travels especially if our garden crops fail or fall short of our requirements, always a handy backup if you have to head for the hills, after all a packet of seeds cost nothing and if left most will reseed themselves.

  2. Bob,
    Good points about foraging. Much of what is wild and edible is mostly just ‘edible’ — you can eat it without getting sick. Most plant-edible will be nearly void of calories. Roots and tubers tend to have starch/calories. The thing there is that they can take time (burning calories) to get to them.

    Another point about wild edibles is that they tend to be widely scattered and low-yield. Domesticated crops have been bred to produce a lot (kernels of wheat per stalk, for instance) whereas wild edibles just produce a few. Wild plants just aren’t all that productive or grow that densely.

    Back in the pre-contact days, Native Americans had to wander for many miles to forage. It took hundreds of square miles to support a few hundred. Living by foraging won’t be like browsing the buffet.

    That’s not to discourage people from learning what wild edibles grow in their area. Everyone should. Know what you can eat. It will help. Just don’t plan on filling your tummy three times a day.

    — Mic

  3. you also want to use the lest amount of energy you can to get the food needed. That is why trapping and fishing with trotlines and fish traps is better than hunting most of the time. while your traps and fishing lines and fish traps are working you can find other food sources. Just be sure what you are picking it truly eatable. Many things animals eat are poisons to humans. Small game is generally a better choice then big game. also do not overlook any source of food, nesting birds, eggs, bugs, ect.

  4. I was in the Peace Corps in West Africa. I lived in a 50 hut bush village that would easily fit on a Walmart parking lot (including the out-houses). The village was 40 miles from the nearest light bulb.

    There was no game and no ground food except what people grew on their slash-and-burn farms. There was no abundance of local meat of any kind save for an occasional ground animal someone happened to catch. I ate rice and fish (from a can) for the two years I taught school, ran CARE projects and bandaged sores out of my living room.

    I had a kerosene refrigerator so the county doctor gave me some cholera serum and showed me how to vaccinate villagers in the area. I was in villages where I was the first white man some people had ever seen.

    Even in these isolated areas, there was still no abundance of any food except what could be grown and occasionally eaten with canned fish in exchange for cash sales of dry rice crops.

    Agree with the author and others “of lore” who say the picken’s will be pretty slim for living off the land.


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