There’s nothing more irritating to me than reading an article about survival foods that focuses only on foods in the desert southwest, for instance, or woodland plants of the East Coast. I’m not in those places, and I’m not likely to be there in an emergency. Of course, it’s up to us to know the edible and useful plants of our bioregion–if you’re in the desert southwest you definitely should know what’s available around you. But it’s also helpful to know the plants that you can look for anywhere. Here are some.


Dandelion Flower Even kids know how to identify this widely available plant. The leaves are bitter but edible. Try using the youngest, tenderest leaves in a raw salad and cook the other leaves as you would spinach. The roots can be cooked and eaten or dried and made into a nutritious tea. Photo by Greg Hume


A purple bag filled with acorns

There are about a hundred varieties of oak trees in the Us and all have edible nuts. See our previous article about using acorns as a survival food.


sow thistle

Sow thistle flowers kind of looks like dandelion flowers. The leaves are edible and can be prepared in the same way as dandelions. Dandelions have only one flower per stalk while sow thistle has many flowers per stalk. ALso, dandelion leaves are only at the base while sow thistle leaves grow all the way up the stalk. Unlike dandelion leaves, which are deeply lobed, sow thistle leaves have spines on them. Photo by Alvesgaspar

Stinging Nettle

Stinging nettle

Look for this in damp, shady woodlands. It does sting unless you protect your hands when you touch the stalks. To me, it feels tingly like my hands fell asleep. For me it lasts about 12 hours, but it can vary depending on how much you touch and how sensitive you are. The feeling doesn’t really bother me but it does greatly bother some people. If you can’t protect your hands while you harvest it just know that it is not harmful and it will go away. The leaves are highly nutritious, can be eaten cooked like spinach and actually taste good. These are my favorite spring green and I go out intentionally looking for them. The eaves dry well and can make for a nutritious tea anytime. The sting is neutralized upon cooking or exposure to boiling water, as in tea. It’s best to avoid these plants once they start to flower, because the concentration of uric acid can make them taste gritty and it can irritate the urinary tract.  Photo by Franz Xaver


mustard flowersWild mustard grows all over. Here where I live, we get a mustard that tastes terrible. These plants also have very few leaves. But they usually grow in large patches where you can get something out of them. I’m told in other parts of the country is a black mustard that is enjoyable and versatile to eat. Whatever kind you get, the leaves are edible (you’ll probably want to cook them), as are the flowers and seeds. Photo by Jubair1985

What? Eating that grub doesn’t sound appealing? Well it might keep you alive. I ate a hazelnut grub when I was learning how to prepare acorns (article link on using acorns as a survival food here) and it wasn’t bad! Of course it was small. I’d have a much harder time eating a grub the size of my thumb. I know it’s just a cultural thing though.

I’ve also eaten crickets at a Mexican restaurant and it wasn’t bad, but I didn’t want to look too closely at the eyes, legs and antenna before popping them in my mouth! The people who know that I ate a grub (actually, I ate more than one!) tell me that they would do it only in a life or death situation. They weren’t interested in eating one “just to try it.” So what do you think? Would you actually eat grubs or other insects if you really needed to? If so, here are 4 insects you can eat all year-round. There are nearly 2,000 edible species of insects around the world, and many of them people already eat. It’s not a weird thing.

1. Ants and Termites

There are a wide variety of ants available in all corners of the globe. There are even ants in India that are used to make a lemony sauce! Most ant species are edible. I would avoid fire ants. According to National Geographic, 100 grams of red ants provides some 14 grams of protein (more than eggs), nearly 48 grams of calcium, and  iron, among other nutrients. It’s hard to find a credible source online of what specific ants you can eat in the US (plenty of info about the Australian honeypot ant and the Amazonian lemon ant — helpful to know if you’re ever lost in the jungle or on a walkabout. If anyone knows a credible list of ant species that are edible and identification let me know.

2. Earthworms 

These are abundant and easy to both harvest and grow. The squiggly creatures can be eaten both raw or cooked–although cooked sounds a lot more pleasant to me. Plus, insects including worms can carry parasites so cooking them lessens your chances of catching something. Suggested preparation is to boil them first to remove the slime, and change the water a few times until it remains clear as you continue to boil them. Then, roast then, fry them, freeze them or dehydrate them. Grind the dried ones into flour. That could be the most appetizing way to consume them. If you can, let them eat something clean like potato or corn meal for a few days before you consume them.

3. Maggots

Not super appealing, but if there’s a dead thing there’s going to be maggots. Many insects that are edible (snails, crickets, grasshoppers etc) are only available in the warm months for most people in the US, so a bug like a maggot is one that you can find all year round. Harvest them from meat that’s been left hanging too long, and spread them on toast.

4. Roly Polys (Sowbugs, Pillbugs)

These critters that roll themselves into a ball are ubiquitous under rocks or rotten pieces of wood. Once you collect a handful of them, boil them. If you can, let them eat something clean like potato or corn meal for a few days before you consume them.