Edible Forest Plants that Will Keep You Alive in the Backcountry

Thlaspi caerulescens

If you ever find yourself lost in the backcountry your knowledge of edible forest plants will come in handy. When you’re at a location where civilization is a few days away you’ll need to be prepared for the worst. Learning how to live off the land should you run out of food will ensure you make it back home safely. And of course, there is plant life all around you, but knowing what’s safe to eat and what’s poisonous can mean the difference between life and death. Some plants can kill you or make you violently ill, while others can sustain you and keep you alive. These plants are full of the nutrients and vitamins you need to give you the strength to make it back. It’s your responsibility to learn the types of plant life that are safe to consume if you’re planning on venturing out into the backcountry, where anything can happen.

The edible forest plants include:

  • Plantain plants
  • Pennycress
  • Chicory
  • Purslane
  • Chickweed
  • Burdock
  • Cattail
  • Wild asparagus
  • Dandelions
  • Clover
  • Wood sorrel
  • Amaranth

These are just some of the edible plant life you’ll come across during your backcountry adventure. Fortunately, there many other species of plant life that can also provide you with the vitamins and nutrients that are crucial to survival, should you find yourself lost in the woods.

Surviving in the Backcountry

Exhausted adventurer

When you’re lost in the woods, you’ll need to ration your supplies to prevent starvation and dehydration. If you don’t know the best animals to hunt, or you’re lacking the hunting skills you need, you can always rely on plant life to sustain you. Fortunately, there are hundreds of different species of plant life that you can rely on for sustenance. Unfortunately, there are also several varieties of poisonous plants that can cause death or severe illness. Learning which plants are safe to eat and which aren’t can be critical if you’re an avid backcountry hiker or camper. In this type of camping situation, you’ll be hundreds of miles from civilization, which is why it’s crucial that you learn how to live off the land in the event your vehicle breaks down, you become injured, you become lost, or you’re low on supplies.

Dangerous Plant Life

Obviously, the fact that certain plant life can kill you makes proper identification critical. Fortunately, there are dozens of edible plant life that you can eat once you run out of supplies.

But learning what plants are unsafe is almost as important, if not more so, than learning about the plants that are edible. Below is a list of plant life characteristics that can indicate that a plant is poisonous and unsafe to eat.

Avoid plants if they:

  • Have seeds, bulbs, or beans inside of pods
  • Discolored sap
  • Milky sap
  • Bitter taste
  • Foliage similar to parsley
  • Thorns
  • Smell like almonds
  • Have grain heads with black or purple spurs
  • Have a pattern of three-leaved growth

Safe Plants to Eat

Many types of poisonous plants possess one of the characteristics, however keep in mind that some edible plants can also possess some of these same characteristics. Below is a list of edible plant life that come loaded with the nutrients you need for survival.


This is an edible weed that is native to America. The plant is safe to eat but you’ll want to keep an eye out for the spines located on some of the leaves. The plant itself is not poisonous however the leaves do contain oxalic acid and can also contain high amounts of nitrates depending on where it’s grown. Prior to eating, I recommend boiling the leaves in order to remove the nitrates and oxalic acid. Never drink the water after you boil the plant.

Wild Asparagus

Did you know that it’s common to find wild asparagus growing in forests? In fact, you can commonly find them growing in North America, West Asia, and North Africa. The stalks of wild asparagus are much thinner than what you’ll find at your local grocery store, however,  they’re still a great source of Vitamin B, potassium, and vitamin C. This plant can be eaten boiled, fried, or raw.

Wood Sorrel

wood sorrel

This plant is most commonly found growing in South America and is used for both medicinal purposes and as a reliable food source. In the past, it was used to help alleviate thirst and it can also be used to cure cracked and drylips, as well as mouth sores. The leaves of the plant are an excellent source of vitamin C, whereas the roots can be boiled and have a taste that’s very similar to that of a potato.


These plants can be found pretty much anywhere in America. While most of us look at these plants as weeds they’re actually entirely edible and have a somewhat bitter taste. Because of this, I recommend boiling them first. You can boil the leaves, flowers, and stems, or you can eat the entire plant raw. If you do decide to boil it you can also consume the water after. Dandelion tea is actually sold in stores and is said to offer a wide range of health benefits.


This is a common weed found all over the world. You can eat both the leaves and the seeds of the weed boiled or raw. This plant is chock full of vitamins and minerals, which can provide much-needed fuel.

Plantain Plant

The plantain plant has been used for thousands of years as both an herbal remedy and a reliable food source. It should not be confused with the banana-like plantain. Plantain plants can often be found in bogs and marshes, however, they can also they found in Alpine areas. Thier short-stemmed ribbed leaves usually fall to the ground and can grow up to 4 inches wide. I recommend only eating the younger leaves as the mature leaves are very bitter tasting. This plant is high in calcium, vitamin C, and vitamin A.


Considered a weed in America,  it can also provide a wide range of vitamins in the wilderness that is essential for survival. It can be consumed boiled or raw and it’s often found growing at the start of fall or the beginning of the summer. I recommend boiling the leaves prior to eating it in order to reduce some of the bitterness.


The most predominant characteristic is the purple flower heads. This is a large size plant that’s native to the Western Hemisphere, and it’s actually one of the most popular foods in Japan. Both the stalks and leaves are edible. You can consume the plant by peeling the stalks or boiling the leaves. Unfortunately, the leaves do tend to leave a bitter taste in the mouth if consumed raw.


This plant is commonly found in North America it’s often found near wetlands, ponds, lakes, and other water sources. For Native Americans, it was a staple part of their diet. Most of this plant is edible and it can be consumed raw or boiled. You can boil the leaves much like you would spinach and it offers a similar taste that’s very mild and somewhat earthy.


Did you know that clovers are actually edible? You can find these small plants growing pretty much everywhere. It can be eaten boiled or raw, but it possesses a pretty satisfying, somewhat sour taste.


This particular plant can be found in Australia, North America, and Europe. The roots of the chicory plant can be boiled.


The chickweed plant’s thick leaves are accompanied by small light-colored flowers and the plants themselves can usually be found in the late spring and early summer months. You can consume the entire plant boiled or raw

Related Questions

Are Banana Peels Edible?

Yes. Banana peels are not poisonous and come loaded with nutrients. In fact, the peel is actually eaten in many parts of the world, they’re just not commonly eaten in America. The peels contain high levels of potassium, magnesium, and vitamins B12 and B6.

Can Humans Eat Bark?

Yes. The bark on trees is nutritious and safe to eat. However, you should learn which part of the bark is edible. For food, the section of bark to eat would be the cambium layer. This layer of bark is located right next to the wood, or meat of the tree.

Can People Eat Leaves?

Yes, you can make a salad or boil the leaves of many trees. Choose young leaves over mature leaves, which are usually bitter. I recommend using the leaves from trees such as mulberry, linden, sassafras, fennel, Chinese elm, birch, and beech. Some of these leaves will have a sweeter taste than others. Bitter leaves can be boiled for a few minutes to help to reduce the bitter flavor.

What Can I Use to Cut Bark Off Trees or to Gather Plant Life?

I recommend using the best survival hatchet, which is a very versatile tool that can also be used to set up camp, fell small trees, or clear trails. The Off Grid Tools Survival Axe Ultimate Outdoor Multitool-Hatchet Hammer Saw is a very versatile model and scored well in several areas including durability, blade design, and overall quality.

Final Thoughts

You may be surprised by some of the edible forest plants of my list, but now that you know more about which foods you can rely on in the wilderness and which foods to avoid, you now have another food source option that you can rely on should you find yourself lost in the backcountry. Continue to familiarize yourself with the variety of plant life that’s safe and which ones are poisonous. The next time you’re on a long hiking or camping trip with family and friends you can show off your new skills and put them to use picking plants that will provide the nutrients you need during your exciting adventure through the backcountry.

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