Posts tagged: plants

Plants That Will Save Your Life: 5 Plants With Nutritional And Medicinal Value

Plants That Will Save Your Life - 5 Plants With Nutritional And Medicinal Value

If you happen to find yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere, forced to survive and whatever it is you come across, you might think you’re done for. But you’re not. Plants, in general, make a great source of food as they’re available, obtainable and can meet most of a person’s nutritional needs. But the key point in eating whatever it is you come across consists of identifying the plants first. This is crucial in a survival situation as many of the plants you’ll stumble across could easily kill after one bite. Many are edible, many are poisonous, and telling the difference is what will make you another day! You have to be very thorough and precise, as many poisonous plants look a lot like their harmless relatives. Many cases have been recorded in which people died for confusing hemlock with wild carrots.

Aside from identifying plants, there are other factors you’ll need to consider. Even apparently harmless plants can be life-threatening for various reasons. For example, plants growing near urbanized zones (near houses, along the road) should be avoided. If avoiding them is not an option, washed them carefully before consuming them, as they most like are sprayed with pesticides or contaminated by noxious vehicle fumes. The plants that grow in water should not only be washed but also boiled properly, due to the fact that the surrounding waters could be contaminated. The boiling process reduces the risk of indigestion or even worse complications (like Giardia lamblia, an intestinal parasite).

Many wild plants are abundant in oxalic acids or oxalate compounds, which can permanently damage the kidneys and cause distress to your throat and mouth. The acid, however, is usually destroyed during the process of boiling, baking, roasting or frying. So, if it’s possible, best prepare the plants before eating them. Let’s have a look then at what’s safe to eat and what’s not, in case if you find yourself forced to survive on wild “greens”.

The Water Lily (Nymphaea odorata)

It’s most common to the subtropical and temperate regions and is found floating freely on the surface of the water. It’s set on large, triangular leaves that act as a floater. The corolla (the total of petals) is generally white, sometimes red, and very thick. The flower can be eaten raw, as can the seeds. Its fleshy rhizomes that grow in the mud are what it uses for feeding (similar to a root). The rhizomes must be peeled first before consumption, so make sure to peel off the corky rind. You can boil the root, and the resulting concoction is very useful to cure diarrhea or sore throats.

The water lily (Nymphaea odorata)

The water lily (Nymphaea odorata)

The Baobab (Adansonia digitata)

The baobab (Adansonia digitata)

This tree most commonly grows in Africa, Australia or Madagascar, in savannas only. It’s one of the most massive growing trees in the world, as it can reach a total height of 60 feet and a total of 30 feet. It has short branches, thick gray bark, segmented palm-like leaves and white flowers, which hang from the branches. The fruit is about 18 inches long, shaped like a football and cover in thick hairs. Parts of the tree are edible only if the tree is still young. For example, the young leaves can be used for soup and the tender root can be simply eaten raw. The fruit is also fit for human consumption, but only after peeling the outer coating. The seeds can be roasted and grinded into flower. It also has curative properties, easily curing diarrhea if you drink the mixture resulted from the fruit pulp and drinking water.

The baobab fruit

The baobab fruit

Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia sp.)

This cactus is very common to dry and arid regions throughout the U.S. and central South America, but not only. It’s easily recognized by its green flat stems, covered in tiny round dots, covered by pointy hairs. It’s 100% edible (except for the prickly hairs), as most of its mass is comprised of assimilatory tissue, characteristic for plants that grow in arid areas. This tissue is full of water and nutrients. The fruits can be peeled and eaten fresh or mixed with drinkable water to prepare a refreshing drink. The pads can be also used as a natural bandage if you split them in half and apply them over an affected area.

CAUTION: do not eat or touch if the cactus plant is covered in a milky sap!!!

Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia sp.)

Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia sp.)

The Tamarind (Tamarindus indica)

It normally grows in dry regions all across Africa and Asia. It has been cultivated for a long time in India and it can also be found in parts of the American tropics, Central America, South America and even the West Indies. It’s a fairly large tree (can grow up to 85 feet tall) and its leaves are divided like feathers (pinnate), with 10 – 15 pairs of leaflets. The pulp of the fruit is very nutritional, as it’s abundant in vitamin C, which is practically fuel for the immune system. The pulp can be mixed with water and sugar (or honey for those with a sweeter-than-average tooth), and if you leave it to mature for several days it will result in a delicious acid drink. The young leaves are excellent for soup, the seeds can be roasted and even the bark can be nutritious if chewed raw.

The tamarind (tamarindus indica)

The tamarind (tamarindus indica)

The Ti Plant (Cordyline fruticosa)

Its natural habitat is tropical forests, growing towards the margins. Although it originated in the Far East, it has been planted tropical areas from all around the world. Growing up to 15 feet tall, the Ti has unbranched stems, the leaves being clustered toward the end of the stem. The leaves vary in color according to species, from green to red. The flowers too are clustered together towards the top of the plant. The roots (which can be boiled or baked) and the tender young leaves (best boiled) are very nutritious and highly recommended as survival food. The leaves have a lot of other uses as well: you can craft footwear from ti leaves, use as shelter covers and the terminal leaf (if it’s not unfurled) can be a very efficient natural sterile bandage.

The ti plant (Cordyline fruticosa)

The ti plant (Cordyline fruticosa)

Be aware of the fact that, if you find yourself stranded, nature is not only out to get you, it can also help your cause. However, be very very thorough in deciding what you are going to eat or not, as this wrong decision might be the last one you’ll ever make. Want an endless supply of clean fresh water?

by My Family Survival Plan

The Do’s And Dont’s Of Mother Nature (II): How To Tell Apart Poisonous Plants

While outdoors, it’s best to be on the lookout not only for animals but for plants as well. It’s safest to have common knowledge about your surroundings, as plants too could cause real damage (even death) if you’re not aware of what you’re touching or eating. The damage they can inflict varies on the amount and type of toxins each plant contains, but also on the individual resistance each person has to a certain type of toxin. Some people can with take certain poisonings better than others. So what for some results in only a major rush, to others can prove fatal.

There are 3 major ways in which plants can afflict the human body:

1 – Contact: touching any part of a certain plant that causes immediate irritation or dermatitis.

2 – Inhalation: breathing in the poisonous compounds the plants produce.

3 – Ingestion: by eating the wrong plant we risk intoxicating ourselves with various poisonous substances.

Identifying dangerous plants is not as easy as it seems. There are no strict rules or patterns; the only way of detecting danger is to have some knowledge in the field of biology. Bright colors do not necessarily mean poison secretions, but a strong signal towards the insects that contribute to pollination. A misconception in popular culture is the idea that boiling a plant will neutralize the poison. Many poisons are resistant to boiling and may cause death. An even worse idea is to eat whatever the animals eat, because animals may have developed tolerance to poisons that would harm (or even kill) humans. When surrounded by vegetation that you don’t recognize, the best policy is to avoid contact as much as possible, because it may be potentially harmful.

The most common affliction people get from natural surroundings is contact dermatitis. The toxin that causes the rash is found in secreted oil that can easily spread by scratching and is increasingly dangerous if it comes in contact with the eyes. It can also stick to the equipment that you are carrying around and can spread just as easily from there. Most times this type of infection is persistent, it’s local (but it can also spread) and it can develop complications in case of sweating of overheating. The symptoms are almost never immediate; they can occur in hours or even days. Most common symptoms of dermatitis are reddening, itching, swelling, burning and blistering.

The best way of countering the poisonous oil is to wash as soon as possible the affected area with cold water and soap. Rubbing the area with dirt and sand works as well unless blisters have developed. In this case, rubbing dirt or sand may cause the boils to break and, consequentially, infection. After the oil is removed, dry the area. As an alternative, you can use tannic acid solutions on the wounds; tannic acid is found in oak bark.

Plants that are known to cause contact dermatitis:

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) comes in many forms: as a trailing vine, as a shrub and even as a climbing vine that grows amongst trees. Its poison is found in the sap of the plant, in a clear compound called urushiol.

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)

Western poison oak (Toxicodeendron diversilobum) can inflict serious rashes from direct contact or even from inhaling the smoke from its burning body.

Western poison oakWestern poison oak (Toxicodeendron diversilobum)

Cowhage or devil beans (Mucuna pruriens), is a plant native to Africa and Asia. Its poison is found in tiny hairs that cover some parts of the seed pod and flowers. In this case, washing with water only is misadvised, as water dilutes the poison.

Cowhage or devil beans (Mucuna pruriens)Cowhage or devil beans (Mucuna pruriens)

Common nettle or stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a common plant in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America; it too injects histamines through tiny hairs found on the leaves and stems that cause rashes and inflammation. It’s edible if prepared correctly.

Common nettle or stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)Common nettle or stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)

Ingestion poisoning is less likely to occur, but its consequences can prove dire very fast. It’s strongly advised while on the field to not eat anything that hasn’t been identified. The signs and symptoms are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, depressed heartbeat and respiration, headaches, hallucinations, dry mouth, unconsciousness, coma, and death. In case of ingestion poisoning, the first step is to remove (regurgitate) all the harmful ingested material. Induce vomiting or dilute the poison by ingesting large quantities of milk or water.

Here are some plants that you should not eat under any circumstances:

The white cedar or chinaberry (Melia azedarach) has fruits that can prove fatal to people if eaten in large quantities. Their toxins, however, do not affect the general health of birds, which can get a state of dizziness at most.

The white cedar or chinaberry (Melia azedarach)The white cedar or chinaberry (Melia azedarach)

The physic nut (Jatropha curcas) is a common plant in the American tropics and its seeds contain a highly toxic substance called toxalbumin curcin or jatrophin and can cause severe complications if eaten. Although toxic, the oil contained in the seeds provides raw material for high-quality biodiesel fuel.

The physic nut (Jatropha curcas)The physic nut (Jatropha curcas)

The suicide tree (Cerbera odollam) earned his reputation thanks to over 500 cases of suicides recorded between 1989 and 1999 in France. Its seeds contain cerberin, a toxin that causes irregular heartbeat and failure.

The suicide tree (Cerbera odollam)The suicide tree (Cerbera odollam)

The snakeweed or death-of-man (Cicuta virosa) is a plant whose root is extremely poisonous when freshly pulled out of the ground, abundant in cicutoxin, very damaging for the nervous system. When dried, the poison fades.

The snakeweed or death-of-man (Cicuta virosa)The snakeweed or death-of-man (Cicuta virosa)

If you find yourself in the field, try to restrain as much as possible from eating or even touching plants you know for certain are harmless. Read up a little first about where you’re going and try and spot the potential dangerous plants and herbs on the field. Caution is key in not getting seriously injured or worse.

52 plants you can eat