Edi­ble Plants and Their Dan­ger­ous Dop­pel­gängers

RECOIL OFFGRID - - Health - By An­drew Schrader

Most of our read­ers al­ready know that our pref­er­ence is for fresh meat in the wild dur­ing a bug-out or back­coun­try hik­ing sce­nario. And as Green Beret Mykel Hawke noted in Is­sue 23 of RECOIL OFFGRID, it’s much eas­ier to get life-sav­ing nu­tri­ents and en­ergy from an­i­mals than it is from plants.

That be­ing said, an­i­mals aren’t al­ways avail­able to us.

And in a true sur­vival sit­u­a­tion we may need to end up for- ag­ing for plants in or­der to scrape by. The prob­lem is that for­ag­ing for plants, al­though eas­ier be­cause they can’t run away from you, is com­pli­cated by the fact that some plants can harm you and oth­ers can kill you. The sec­ond is­sue is that some plants that re­sem­ble edi­ble op­tions and look fa­mil­iar to us can ac­tu­ally be quite harm­ful if in­gested. If you’ve ever seen the movie Into the Wild, this sit­u­a­tion was de­picted to re­flect one of the the­o­ries about how Christo­pher McCand­less died.

To help us sort things out, we tracked down pro­fes­sional back­pack­ing and climb­ing guide Lee Var­ta­nian. Th­ese days, be­sides guid­ing in his “spare time,” he works as the founder and head of Modern Icon, which hand­crafts K9 leashes and har­nesses for high-end law en­force­ment and mil­i­tary ap­pli­ca­tions. He also helps train U.S. De­part­ment of De­fense (DOD) agen­cies in “the art of ver­ti­cal ac­cess in non­per­mis­sive en­vi­ron­ments.” In other words, us­ing ropes and climb­ing skills to gain pas­sage to ar­eas that bad guys don’t want you to ac­cess.

Lee earned his bach­e­lor’s de­gree in out­door ed­u­ca­tion, with a mi­nor in en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­ence, and has been guid­ing pro­fes­sion­ally for 18 years. As a kid, he prac­ticed by for­ag­ing for food in his neigh­bor­hood and con­struct­ing home­made snares. Be­sides read­ing ev­ery book on edi­ble plants he could find, he also hoarded mag­a­zine clip­pings from sur­vival­ists, in­clud­ing wild food pro­po­nent Euell Gib­bons, au­thor of Stalk­ing the Wild As­para­gus, who some read­ers may rec­og­nize from circa-1970s Grape Nuts com­mer­cials.

“Ev­ery­one thinks about club­bing a wild rab­bit and cook­ing it over a fire when they think of sur­vival ex­pe­ri­ences,” Lee told us. “But they for­get the im­por­tance of be­ing able to eat on the move. Killing and prep­ping wild game with prim­i­tive tools is a chal­lenge even on a good day. Do­ing that while you’re mal­nour­ished, cold, and sleep de­prived can be close to im­pos­si­ble and po­ten­tially haz­ardous to your phys­i­cal safety.”

If un­ex­pect­edly stranded in the back­coun­try, Lee’s rec­om­men­da­tion for most peo­ple, most of the time, is to shel­ter in place and wait for res­cue. Hik­ing out, how­ever, may some­times be nec­es­sary. “In ei­ther sce­nario,” Lee said, “you may have to rely on both hunt­ing and gath­er­ing de­pend­ing on how long you are lost. So don’t miss out on the ben­e­fits of gath­er­ing plants that are plen­ti­ful and won’t run away when you’re on the move.”


First of all, don’t just ran­domly chow down on the first thing that looks like a tomato or a berry. Fol­low a se­ries of pro­to­cols to help make eat­ing in the wild less haz­ardous (note that we never used the word “safe.”)

Crush the plant’s leaves and take a whiff. If it smells un­pleas­ant, or like al­monds, dis­card it.

Rub the juice of the crushed leaf on the in­side of your arm, and wait for 15 min­utes. If no ir­ri­ta­tion de­vel­ops, place a small piece on your lips, then in the cor­ner of your mouth, then the tip of your tongue, and fi­nally un­der your tongue, hold­ing each for three min­utes be­fore mov­ing.

If the plant ir­ri­tates your skin or mouth, treat it as you would an acid. Pour wa­ter over your skin to re­move tox­ins, and use al­co­hol or dish soap to clean off the residue. Con­tam­i­nated cloth­ing must be washed or thor­oughly dis­carded.

If no neg­a­tive side ef­fects are ob­served, swal­low a small amount and wait for five hours, con­sum­ing noth­ing else in the mean­time. As­sum­ing noth­ing bad hap­pens, the plant can be con­sid­ered less haz­ardous to eat.

“The part a lot of peo­ple miss,” Lee said, “is en­sur­ing that what­ever they’re test­ing is plen­ti­ful. Don’t let your cu­rios­ity over­ride your logic, and al­ways con­sider boil­ing the plant to make it more eas­ily di­gestible.”


If the sam­ple you ate starts to give you a bad ride, or if you or some­one else in­ad­ver­tently ate some­thing that’s turn­ing out to be toxic, there aren’t a lot of great op­tions. An un­pleas­ant reaction can turn deadly in a short amount of time. The best thing to do is to make a note (or take a sam­ple) of the plant or plants in­gested, then evac­u­ate im­me­di­ately to a hos­pi­tal. How­ever, if you’re in such a bad sit­u­a­tion that you’re forced to eat plants in the first place, it’s likely that im­me­di­ate evac­u­a­tion isn’t fea­si­ble.

If you can’t get your vic­tim to a hos­pi­tal, place them into the re­cov­ery po­si­tion (¾ prone) and pre­pare to wait it out. Rest will give their body the best chance at fight­ing the tox­ins in the event you’ve ex­hausted all other op­tions.

Many peo­ple as­sume that the easy so­lu­tion at this point is to in­duce vom­it­ing, but that’s re­ally not the an­swer. First, a toxic plant may cause vom­it­ing on its own, so if it’s go­ing to hap­pen, it’s prob­a­bly al­ready hap­pen­ing. Sec­ond, in­duced vom­it­ing can cause caus­tic sub­stances to cre­ate more dam­age on the way up, es­pe­cially if the vom­it­ing is pro­jec­tile and goes through the nose. Last, there’s also a chance to in­ad­ver­tently in­hale the vomit ac­ci­den­tally, fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing an al­ready bad sit­u­a­tion.

Be­cause your self-treat­ment op­tions are so lim­ited, it’s crit­i­cal to avoid eat­ing any­thing that you can’t 100-per­cent pos­i­tively iden­tify in the first place. The mess you don’t make is the mess you don’t need to clean up.

So now that you know how to test items, and just how dan­ger­ous it can be to ac­ci­den­tally eat the wrong thing, watch out for the fol­low­ing deadly dop­pel­gängers — though keep in mind that this is just a small sam­pling of harm­ful plants. Our hope is that this list­ing will help you more safely stalk your own wild as­para­gus and get more nu­tri­tion with less nau­sea. Good luck out there, and happy “hunt­ing!”

WARN­ING! This ar­ti­cle is meant to be an over­view and not a de­tailed guide on iden­ti­fy­ing and con­sum­ing edi­ble plants. Seek guid­ance from a trained botanist be­fore at­tempt­ing to eat any plants. Any at­tempt to con­sume plants shall solely be at the...

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