For nourishment in a survival situation
FOOD is not as high on the list of survival priorities as many people believe it is. Nor
The easiest and most recognisable for most people would be NZ’S native ferns. Some caution is required here as only a few of the many hundreds of fern species are edible, although it appears none are highly poisonous. Even the edible ones are likely to have some carcinogenic qualities but as a survival food this may not be avoidable.
Māori commonly ate the roots of bracken fern (rārahu) and although their preparation methods were quite complex, in a survival situation you could roast them and chew them to obtain the juices. The fibrous part of the root is edible but according to Elsdon Best (author of Forest Lore of the Maori), it’s not terribly pleasant to swallow.
The young fronds (the koru-shaped fiddleheads) have historically been eaten but are now known to be carcinogenic. Although the carcinogenic compound appears to be destroyed with cooking, it is best to avoid this plant unless absolutely necessary and only eat it after cooking.
It is preferable to obtain the young shoots, or fiddle heads, of the hen and chickens fern (mouku), the common shield fern (pikopiko), the gully fern (pākau) or the hound’s tongue fern (kōwaowao). All of these young fronds are quite palatable when steamed or boiled until just tender.
The easily-recognised mamaku (black tree fern) is a useful survival food to know. Māori steamed the mamaku pith taken from the trunk but due to the slow regeneration of the tree it was only used in times of scarcity or by travellers. Removing the pith from the trunk prevents the tree from renewing and should only be attempted in a genuine survival situation.
According to Andrew Crowe, author of A Field Guide to the Native Edible Plants of New Zealand, it is possible to remove some of the pith from the frond stems without damaging the tree. These can then be sundried, steamed, baked or boiled.
Another tree that grows in abundance in New Zealand is the cabbage tree (tī kōuka). The tender shoots of all types of cabbage trees can be eaten, raw or cooked. The trick is to get the new shoots growing out of the top of the stem, peel away the outer leaves and eat the tender white part, which looks a bit like a leek and tastes a bit like cabbage. Depending on the season and the age of the shoots, the taste can be fairly bitter but this does improve somewhat with cooking. Due to the year-round availability of this plant, it truly is a great survival food. Another great survival food to keep in mind is the supplejack (kareao). The new growth at the end of the vine has a mild similarity to asparagus or green beans and are at their best in summer and eaten cooked. The berries are little red ones and can be found throughout the year. They don’t taste brilliant but do provide some good protein and energy. The tubers and leaves of supplejack are all purportedly edible but not known to have been consumed by anyone on a regular basis.