“Plants are a Source of Food” Another Survival Myth

You Cannot Live Off the Land by Gathering Plants?

Video Transcript

Hello, My Name is Bruce Zawalsky and I am Chief Instructor of the Boreal Wilderness Institute, a small Canadian Outdoor Education Company located in Edmonton, Alberta and I would like to briefly talk to you about another of the many myths in Survival Training and that one is that “Plants are a Good Source of Food in a Survival Situation” Myth and why this myth is still around today?

How many people think they can live off the land in the Canadian Boreal Forest of Montane environments? How may believe they could live off plants by gathering enough calories in a day to make up for what they expend gathering and surviving each day i.e. their BMR or your Basal Metabolic Rate.

This is the amount of calories you use in a day doing no exercise, i.e. the amount of calories you need to survive. It is equal to 1 Kcal/Kg of Body Weight per Hour, so for an 80Kg person it is 1920 Kcal A Kcal and a Food Calorie are essential the same. If we are hunting or gathering the Calories we use increase greatly, especially in the cold or at higher altitudes.

The Harder we work the More calories we expend! If we plan to hunt, gather or even walk out of a survival situation in our cold dry environment a better figure for how many calories we would burn would be 57Kcal/Kg of Body weight per day, i.e. an 80Kg person would burn over 4500Kcal per day, roughly 2½ Times the Calories! That a lot of calories to collect or even hunt each day. Many still believe they can live off plants, but it is a Myth!

The Natives of the Boreal Forest lived on a diet of 95% Meat & Meat Products, Nearer Treeline People like the Dene lived on a diet of 98% and the Inuit lived on essentially an all meat diet of 99.9% meat & meat products. They had hundreds of years of tribal experience and an average life span of about 40 years, life was not easy in these environments and they did not live off plants. They gathered plants only for short period of the year when gathering was worth it like in the fall during berry season. They also practiced binge eating, if it was available they ate it and then fasted when nothing was available.

So why not try Anyway? Well most of our edible plants are a poor source of both protein and calories. We have no grains even in our grasslands in Canada worth producing as an agricultural product, our framers grow mostly Eurasian products. Except for berries in the fall all we have is wild rice that has a very limited range and short season.

Many of our plants have NO Food Value at all. Eating these plants will cause a loss of calories as your body tries to digest something it cannot. Many others have low levels of toxins that will not affect a healthy individual ingesting small amounts, but may hurt a starving individual eating large amounts to avoid fasting or hunting for big game.

There are at least 700 poisons native plants in Canada plus non-native evasive plants are always creeping into our eco-systems. Learning what plants you cannot eat is actually harder that learning those you can, as there are very few edible plants that have caloric values worth collecting. The short list is the Dandelion (Nearly all plants in the Genus Taraxacum), Many Berries, and Wild Rose (Rosa Acicularis) Fruit. Sadly this list is short, even here there are plants that you can or might mistake for these edible plants.

Eating any plant that has another plant that looks similar to it that either has no food value or is poisonous, which most do is essential a life shortening strategy in a survival situation Let’s face it, Plants are NOT a Good Source of Food in a Survival Situation in the Boreal Forest or Montane Environments of Canada.

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Chief Instructor of the Boreal Wilderness Institute