Survival food, what to eat in a hostile environment

During our H.E.A.T courses, attendees often express a concern as to what to eat in a hostile environment, they ask us about survival food.

Specifically the attendees want to know which edible wild plant they can eat or at least how to identify poisonous plants for humans.  

Recent studies of Supply Chain Management have established that most urban environments only store sufficient food resources for 72 hours or, more appropriately, 9 meals.  Therefore, should you be in a situation whereby civil order has collapsed, strikes often prevent delivery to supermarkets and retail outlets have been ransacked and you need to fend for yourself, the following principles of survival should be followed.

If you do not have water readily available, then you should not eat for the first 24 hours. Even if you can recognize edible wild plants, you need water to aid digestion. You will have sufficient body fat and nutrients in your body to sustain you for a 24 hour fast (or even a little longer) which will enable you to focus on your survival priorities, to wit: shelter and warmth.  Once you have found a source of drinkable water, you can then consider acquiring the nutrients necessary for your sustained survival.

Hunger is a feeling of pain or discomfort caused by lack of food.  In extreme cases, the lack of food can result in an exhausted condition which will impact on your ability to survive in the hostile environment in which you find yourself.  Therefore, you need to look for various types of edible wild plants and animal to satisfy your average energy requirements of up to 3000 calories a day for a man; and up to 2000 calories a day for a woman.  In a survival situation, however, you will most likely be engaged in strenuous activity and will require almost 5000 calories a day in a warm weather or 6000 calories a day in colder climates.

To keep your body and mind working in an efficient manner, you need a balanced diet of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals.  Unfortunately, in a survival situation, you are rarely faced with the opportunity to source each of these major food constituents on a daily basis.

Although romantics often think that in a survival situation they will be able to “live off the land” by eating a largely vegetarian diet, many roots, leaves and plants are not only inedible but also poisonous to humans.  As a general rule of thumb: 90% of plant life is not suitable for human consumption; whereas 90% of animal life is.

Even though there are thousands of edible wild plants available throughout the world, you should carefully examine the area in which you find yourself to determine whether the plant life is edible or not. Because there are many poisonous plants that humans cannot eat, when selecting unknown plants to eat, carry out the “Test Taste” to see if a plant is safe to eat.  As many plants have more than one edible parts, it is important to test all parts of the plant.

Use these following guidelines when selecting plants for possible consumption:


  • – avoid all legumes (beans and peas) as they absorb minerals from the soil and cause digestive problems
  • – avoid all white and yellow berries – many are poisonous.  Half of all red berries are poisonous, but blue or black berries are generally safe to eat
  • – avoid plants with umbrella-shaped flowers, although carrots, celery and parsley are members of this family, and are edible
  • – plants that are irritants to the skin should not be eaten
  • – a milky sap indicates a poisonous plant
  • – plants that grow in water or moist soil are often edible
  • – do not eat bulbs unless they are from water lilies ie: Okavango Delta, Botswana
  • – bunches of fruit and berries are generally edible
  • – single fruits on a stem are safe to eat


However, if you find animal life in your surrounding area, even in the desert, here are some tips to help you transform even the most seemingly inedible creature into a culinary masterpiece.

Remember that all meat taste unpleasant unless cooked or eaten with salt.  Keep some salt tablets in your survival tin, as salt can also assist you with replacing electrolytes lost through sweating.


  • MEAT:

    cut into small pieces and boil in a pot.  Treat pork in warm climates with caution as the white meat can spoil quickly.  Wild pigs and warthogs are often infested with worms and liver flukes.  Buck and venison are known to carry worms, so must be cooked thoroughly.

  • FISH:

    usually germ-free if caught in fresh water.  The fish can be stewed with vegetables and herbs or wrapped in leaves or mud and baked in a fire for 30 minutes.

  • BIRDS:

    boil all carrion, but do not eat carrion that has been re-boiled.  Young birds can be roasted, but need some rendered fat to prevent burning.


    gut and cook lizards in their skin in hot embers before boiling.  For snakes, cut off their heads which contain the venom glands.  After peeling off the skin, skewer the snake with a green stick and cook over embers.  Frogs should be skinned (many have poisonous skins) and roasted on a stick.


    boil until the shell comes off and then cut up the meat and cook until tender.


    boil crabs, lobsters, shrimps, crayfish, mussels and prawns to remove any harmful organisms.


    can be boiled or dried on a hot rock, then crushed and ground into a powder.  Add this powder to soups and stews.


Although many mushrooms are edible, many are poisonous for humans.  Therefore, unless you positively know your edible fungi and avoid those with white gills, a volva, and stem rings, you are advised to avoid eating mushrooms altogether.