Sunday, October 30, 2011

Wilderness Survival Foods

It turned out I used this as the basis for our next herb club program on November 9th.  You can see what I added at the end of the post.
I ran across this article on a totally unrelated blog I was reading, but being the herbie that I am I had to read it, then of course, to share.
What is the universal edibility test?

What is the universal edibility test?G­etting lost or stranded in the wilderness is serious business, and ­you need to make sound decisions to give yourself the best chance at survival. It also helps to know some basic wilderness survival skills. To make sure you're safe from the elements, you'll need to know how to build a shelter. To provide you with an opportunity to cook food, boil water and send a rescue signal, you should learn how to build a fire without a match or lighter. The other crucial component to survival is finding water in the wild. People can live without food for up to a month, but water is necessary to keep us alive.
But just because you can live without food doesn't mean you should. Going without food will leave you weak and apt to make poor decisions, which could endanger your life. Being able to identify edible plants in the wilderness is a good skill to have under your belt. The problem is, there are more than 700 varieties of poisonous plant in the United States and Canada alone, so unless you have a book that clearly identifies edible species, it's nearly impossible to determine whether or not a plant will make you sick with absolute certainty.
It's dangerous to eat a plant you're unsure of, especially in a survival scenario. It's better to be hungry than to poison yourself. Some poisonous plants look a lot like edible plants. Some plants have parts that are edible and parts that are toxic. Some are only edible for certain periods throughout the year. You can see where mistakes can easily be made.
If you're in a survival situation and you don't have a book on local edible plants, there is a test you can perform to give yourself a good shot at eating the right thing. It's called the universal edibility test, and we'll cover it in this article.

Universal Edibility Test: Separate, Contact, Cook and Taste

The universal edibility test requires breaking down the parts of a plant and testing them individually over a period of 24 hours. In a survival situation, you don't want to go through this trouble if there isn't a lot of the plant you're testing. If there are only a few sprigs of what you think might be the colorful and edible borage, it won't help you much even if you find that it is the cucumber-like herb. Find something near you that's growing in abundance. To prepare for the test, don't eat or drink anything but water for at least eight hours beforehand. If you're lost or stranded in the wild without any food, this should be pretty easy to accomplish. Now it's test time:

Separate - Because only some parts of the plant may be edible, separate it into its five basic parts. These are the leaves, roots, stems, buds and flowers. There may not be buds or flowers. Check out the parts for worms or insects -- you want a clean and fresh plant. Evidence of parasites or worms is a good sign that it's rotting. If you find them, discard the plant and get another of the same variety or choose a different one.

Contact - First you need to perform a contact test. If it's not good for your skin, it's not good for your belly. Crush only one of the plant parts and rub it on the inside of your wrist or elbow for 15 minutes. Now wait for eight hours. If you have a reaction at the point of contact, then you don't want to continue with this part of the plant. A burning sensation, redness, welts and bumps are all bad signs. While you wait, you can drink water, but don't eat anything. If there is no topical reaction after eight hours, move along to the next step.

Cook - Some toxic plants become edible after they're boiled, so get out your apron and start cooking. Your goal is to test it how you would eat it, so if you don't have any means to boil the plant part, test it raw. Once you've boiled it, or if you're going raw, take the plant part and hold it to your lip for three minutes. If you feel any kind of burning or tingling sensation, remove the piece from your lip and start over with a new part. If there's no reaction, press on.

Taste - Pop the same part in your mouth and hold it on your tongue for another 15 minutes. If you experience anything unpleasant, spit it out and wash your mouth with water. You're looking for a similar burning or tingling as you did on your lip. It may not taste great, but that doesn't mean it's toxic.

If there's no adverse reaction in step four, keep on truckin' to the following page for the next steps.

 Now I am not going to copy the whole article, you can read the rest here.   But I will tell you this,
I hope you have some fat on  you cause this is going to take a little time and you will be hungry before the tests are completed.
Also notice it is on the How Stuff Works website. A very interesting place to browse.

 For more information on wilderness survival, please put down that carrot root and click forward to the next page.

Plant Warning Signs

Aside from the universal edibility test, there are a few other tips on what kinds of plants you should avoid. These tips may rule out some plants that are edible, but it's better to do that than to risk getting poisoned.

$            Never eat plants with thorns.
$            Steer clear of plants with shiny leaves.
$            Don't eat mushrooms. Many are safe to eat, but many are highly toxic and even           deadly, so it's not worth the risk.
$            Umbrella‑shaped flowers are a bad sign. Stay away from these plants.
$            Don't eat plants with white or yellow berries.
$            If the plant's sap is milky or discolored, leave it alone.
$            Avoid beans or plants with seeds inside a pod.
$            If it tastes bitter or soapy, spit it out.
$            Avoid anything that smells like almonds.
$            Same as poison ivy, stay away from plants with leaves in groups of three.

Lots More Information‑edibility‑test3.htm
Related HowStuffWorks Articles

    Top 5 Most Poisonous Plants
    How Entomophagy Works
    How Poison Ivy Works
    How Venus Flytraps Work
    How to Survive the Freezing Cold
    Harrowing Survival Stories
    How to Find Water
    How to Build a Shelter
    How does hemp work?
    How can I tell if a bug is edible?
    If I kill an animal, can I eat it raw?

More Great Links
    The Nature Conservancy
    Survival IQ
    The Edible Schoolyard

 "Edibility of Plants." wilderness‑, 2008. http://www.wilderness‑‑1.php
   Brill, Steve. "Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants." Harper Collins Publishers, 1994.
Kaplan, Melissa. "Edible Plants List.", April 19, 2007.

Some Plants we know to be edible:

Wild Edible Plants

$            Blueberry (fruit)
$            Garlic Mustard (green plant)
$            Gooseberries (fruits)
$            Indian Cucumber Root (tubers)
$            Jerusalem Artichoke (tubers)
$            Mayapple (fruit)
$            Nettles (young whole plant) (& cordage)
$            Ostrich Fern (fiddleheads) (young plants)
$            Trout Lily (tubers)
$            Wild Carrot (roots) be careful some toxic plants are lookalikes.
$            Wild Garlic (whole plant)
$            Wild Leeks (whole plant)
$            Agave Root (root)
cattails - The spike or shoots can be harvested from spring until summer. They can be eaten raw or sauteed. We must take the time to identify the plant correctly at this time of the year. In the early spring, it is easier to confuse the plant with poisonous look‑alikes such as Sweet Flag (Acorus Calamus) or Daffodils (Narcissus). It is fairly common to find cattail plants from the previous year still standing. Their cigar shapped fluffly head will help verify that we found the correct plant. Later in spring the stalks will be much larger.

It is important to know the plants in the area and how they grow according to the season. From spring to summer, the plant will start to create pollen. The pollen can be used like flour.

Group: Monocot
Family: Alismataceae
Names: indian potato, wapato, duck potato
Edible Parts: Tubers, buds and fruits of this plant are edible in late summer
Preparation: Can be eaten raw, recommend boiling. We boiled the potato for twenty minutes. If the water source should be treated before drinking it, then any plant that grows near the water source should be boiled.

Note: Arrow Arum has high levels of calcium oxylate. Even after boiling parts of the plant for twenty minutes, the plant will make you sick. Will cause vomiting, sweat, and diarrhea.

The leaves should be studied closely and the tubers look nothing alike. Wapato will also flower during mid summer with a three petaled white flower.

Mulberry (Morus)
It is possible it would be found in this area, not probable.

Kudzu (Pueraria montana) -surprise! It has a use.
Nutritional value: Vitamin C, A, Starch
Pretty much the entire plant is edible and is also known for medicinal values. We were blessed to find this great patch of Kudzu surrounded by Blackberries. The leaves can be eaten raw, steam or boiled. The root can be eaten as well.

Kudzu flower blossoms smell absolutely great ! Unmistakable smell of grape. The flower can be used to make Kudzu Jelly.

Blackberry (Rubus L.)

Prickly Pear Cactus
Both the pads and the fruit can be eaten. Prickly pear jelly is often found in the South‑west states. The pads are supposed to be best if gathered in spring. The fruit here was a little past its best point. The color of the fruit will be a dark wine‑like burgundy.

Acorns (Oak)- Acorns contain carbohydrates, protein, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and even fat. Although they must be prepared to eat, they are an indispensable part of a wilderness diet. The native Americans would harvest the acorns to help them pass the winters.

Acorns have the advantage of being a food source that can be stored. Acorn fat can cause the acorns to get moldy or rotten.

Preparation: Tannin should be removed from the acorns. Reducing the tannic acid from the acorns by soaking them will make them more palatable and less toxic. Some people soak the acorns a process called leaching. Others grind the acorns into flour and then treating it with hot water. Finally boiling the acorns is suggested for rapid removal of the tannins. We soaked the acorns for three days after peeling the outer shell.

Pine - There are over a hundred different species of pine. Not only can the food be used as a supply of nourishment but, also can be used for medicinal purposes.

Edible parts of the pine include:

* Pine needles
* Inner bark
* Seeds
High in vitamin C content pine needle oil is used by some in aroma therapy for sinus and infections of the respiratory system.

More on Kudzu
As with any foraged food, make sure the plant has not been sprayed with any chemicals and is not growing anywhere that toxic waste is dumped. Try to avoid plants grown too close to the roadways as they tend to contain too much dust and automotive exhaust. Since the vine patches are thick, wear boots and watch out for critters and insects. Also, kudzu looks very similar to poison ivy - be sure you know how to distinguish between the two plants!
Kudzu grows from Florida to New Jersey, and as far west as West Virginia and East Texas. However, a small patch of it has been found in Clackamas County, Oregon. No one is sure where it came from.
The leaves, vine tips, flowers, and roots are edible; the vines are not. The leaves can be used like spinach and eaten raw, chopped up and baked in quiches, cooked like collards, or deep fried. Young kudzu shoots are tender and taste similar to snow peas.
Kudzu also produces beautiful, purple-colored, grape-smelling blossoms that make delicious jelly, candy, and syrup. Some people have used these to make homemade wine. The large potato-like roots are full of protein, iron, fiber, and other nutrients. They are dried and then ground into a powder which is used to coat foods before frying or to thicken sauces.
Kudzu recipes to try:
Click here for some recipes for kudzu jelly, kudzu quiche, and kudzu collard greens.
More kudzu recipes
More recipes, including kudzu wine

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"Teas: Sassafras and Sarsaparilla" presented by Pat Baugh

Our Rockport Herb & Rose Study Group program for September 14, 2011 was "Teas: Sassafras and Sarsaparilla" presented by Pat Baugh. She had some good information which I will post along with some websites for more information! Thanks Pat for a great program!

Did you know…?

Sarsaparilla has long been used as a blood purifier and tonic that boosts stamina and energy. Although there is no definitive evidence, many body-builders strongly maintain that Sarsaparilla (or Smilax) helps to build Muscle mass, while avoiding the harmful side effects of anabolic steroids. Sarsaparilla is considered a fine tonic herb, an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, and the herb may even act as an aphrodisiac. Perhaps this is the reason that the "Good Guys" of the Old West, who disdained whiskey in favor of Sarsaparilla, always seemed to have that extra edge.


Sarsaparilla contains vitamins A, B-complex, C and D. Also the minerals iron, manganese, sodium, silicon, sulfur, copper, Zinc, and iodine. It contains the amino acids methionine and cysteine. It also contains diogenin, a saprogen which in turn contains the female hormone progesterone and the male hormone testosterone. Sarsaparilla helps strengthen the nerve fibers and tissues of the brain, spinal cord, lungs, and throat. Sarsaparilla is especially good for removing heavy metallic contaminants from the blood, which are received through the nostrils in the foul, smog-filled air of urban areas. Sarsaparilla root, which contains testosterone, will help hair regrow.


Sarsaparilla is a perennial, climbing vine, native to the rain forests of Central and South America, Jamaica and Caribbean regions, and also grows in other temperate zones such as Southeast Asia and Australia. The root is long and tuberous and supports a ground-trailing evergreen vine that may reach fifty feet in length, and the fragrance of the root (which has been used for centuries in herbal medicine) is spicy-sweet and it has a pleasant taste. Its name is derived from two Spanish words, sarza, meaning "bramble" and parilla, meaning "vine."

The indigenous tribes of Central and South America used Sarsaparilla for centuries for sexual Impotence, rheumatism, skin ailments and as a tonic for physical weakness. New World traders of the 1400s and 1500s soon discovered and adopted the herb and introduced it into European society, where physicians there considered it a fine tonic, blood purifier, diuretic and diaphoretic, as well as a strong remedy for syphilis and other sexually-transmitted diseases. Since that time, Sarsaparilla has gained popularity for its medicinal effects, and it became registered as an official herb in the United States.

Pharmacopoeia as a treatment for syphilis from 1820 to 1910. Some of the constituents included in Sarsaparilla are beta-sitosterol, starch, fatty acids, calcium, cetyl-alcohol, chromium, cobalt, Glucose, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, resin, saponin, silicon, sitosterol-d glucoside, tin, Zinc, B-vitamins and vitamins A, C and D.


Sarsaparilla is considered to be a fine tonic and blood purifier that is said to attack and neutralize toxins (including environmental poisons) in the blood. In addition, the herb also promotes urination and sweating; and that action is believed to further rid the body of toxins through bodily secretions. It also helps to cool the body and break intermittent fevers.

As an antibacterial, Sarsaparilla has been used internally and externally to counteract infections of all kinds. Internally, the herb is said to attack microbial substances in the blood and also counteract Urinary Tract Infections. It was used for centuries as a treatment for syphilis, gonorrhea, and other sexually transmitted diseases, being officially listed in both the United States Pharmacopoeia and the United States Dispensatory for those ailments. Externally, it is said to treat psoriasis, leprosy, boils, abscesses, skin diseases, wounds and Eczema. Conventional medicine recognized Sarsaparilla's value in treating skin conditions in the 1940s, when The New England Journal of Medicine officially praised it for treating psoriasis.

Sarsaparilla is an anti-inflammatory that is believed to ease rheumatism, Arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. Because of its diuretic properties, the stimulation of urine production increases the excretion of uric Acid, which also helps to relieve Gout; and although it does not relieve acute cases of Gout, its use may prevent attacks when taken over a period of weeks or months.

There is much mystique and controversy surrounding Sarsaparilla's hormonal properties in both men and women. In men, the herb is said to stimulate production of natural hormones (testosterone), which may help to restore both sexual interest and erectile function. This action is different from many other male aphrodisiacs that act by increasing blood to the Penis, which also carries the risk of creating high Blood pressure. In women, hormonal production is also said to be encouraged, which may not only boost diminished Sex Drive, but may also help to alleviate the symptoms of menopause.

Bodybuilders claim that the natural steroidal glycosides in Sarsaparilla help to build Muscle mass, while avoiding the harmful side effects of anabolic steroids, although there are no clinical results to prove this. Additionally, they maintain that use of the herb boosts energy and stamina, and eases the inflammatory conditions brought about by strenuous exercise.

Sarsaparilla is said to be a fine tonic and "alterative," an agent that may favorably alter an unhealthy condition of the body with the tendency to restore normal bodily function. The herb is also thought to help keep the glandular system in balance.

Courtesy of website:

Here are some more websites to check out:

A Guide to Wild Edible Plants for Parents and Teachers to Use with Children

Texas Native Plants

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Tree ID from Virginia Tech