by Survival Expert James Mandeville Disclaimer: All the following plants have been tried by the author. The author does not assume liability for adverse reactions to the wild plants featured in this article either by consuming them or coming into contact with them. They are handled and consumed at your own risk. Every reasonable care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information in this article but the author assumes no liability for any inaccuracies or omissions. Use of this website means you have read and accepted the above and agree to all the conditions of use in our Disclaimer. Introduction:
This is not a world–wide comprehensive field guide, and there are many more edible seashore plants. The plants referred to in this article are generally regarded as being common and safe to eat by the majority of people. It is a good policy to learn, and be absolutely familiar with, a small number of common survival plants that you are confident you can positively identify, rather than try and remember many plants and maybe make a bad error in identification. All survival skills need practice, relying on a survival book or field guide in an actual survival situation is not a good survival policy. Always test a plant
using the Universally Accepted Test for Edibility of Plants unless you are certain you know the plant is safe. This article is about finding obvious food in a survival situation; if you want to try them out, please only pick from areas where plants are abundant and remember to respect their natural habitat. A word or warning:
Be mindful that wild plants are visited by birds, rodents, snails, and the like. Pick from the middle of the plant selecting leaves that are intact and always cook or blanch the vegetation you collect in boiling water before eating. If you are not used to eating wild plants, start with very small quantities and see how your digestive system reacts – some people can suffer discomfort in the gut, other don't. Avoid plants growing near busy roads because these will contain higher levels of pollutants. Most seashore plants require soaking in repeated changes of fresh water to remove bitterness and salt content. Chenopodiaceae family: Arrach (Chenopodium album):
Survival food value:
(Excellent, good, quite good
, poor) Range:
Various species, growing extensively across the temperate regions in altitudes of up to 4,260 metres (14,000 feet). Habitat: Found on wasteland, open spaces, grassy spaces and common on shorelines. Use as a survival food:
Chenopodium album is an important survival food. It is noticeable as a spiky plant growing up to 1 metre (3.3 feet) tall. The leaves are dull green and spear–shaped, or more rounded and oval depending on the species. The flowers are tiny, and creamy–white to green. The leaves can be boiled or steamed and eaten; the seeds can be eaten or crushed into flour to make bread. It gets its common name from its balanced amino acid pattern, which is remarkably close to that of the hen's egg. Chenopodium bonus–henricus:
Also known as "Good King Henry," Chenopodium bonus–henricus has been grown as a vegetable in cottage gardens for hundreds of years and is often found around the sandy reaches near the seashore. This dual purpose vegetable is now rarely grown and the species is more often considered a weed. Cropping can begin in the Spring. Some of the new shoots can be cut as they appear (usually from mid–spring to early summer) and cooked like asparagus. All cutting should then cease so that shoots are allowed to develop. The succulent triangular leaves may be harvested a few at a time until the end of August and cooked like spinach. Chenopodium berlandieri:
Chenopodium berlandieri, a member of the Chenopodiaceae family that contains similar nutritional value. Common names:
Pigweed, lambsquarters, goosefoot, pitseed and huauzontle. It is an annual herbaceous plant in the Chenopodiaceae family. Range:
The species is widespread in North America, where it is native to Alaska and northern Canada, south to Michoacán, Mexico, and including every U.S. State except Hawaii. Further information:
The fast growing, upright plant reaches heights of up to 1.05 metres (3.4 feet). It can be differentiated from most of the other members of its large genus by its honeycomb pitted seeds and further separated by its serrated, more or less evenly, lobed lower leaves. Use as a survival food:
Although widely regarded today as a weed, this species was once a fully domesticated pseudo cereal crop, similar to the closely related Chenopodium quinoa. It continues to be cultivated in Mexico as a pseudo cereal, a leaf vegetable and for its broccoli like flowering shoots. Chenopodiaceae family Food value:
Leaves typically contain 16% protein; 7% fat; 46% carbohydrate and leafy stems typically contain 4% protein; 1 % fat and 9% carbohydrate. Further information:
Also known as 'Fat Hen' or 'Goose foot'. Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), Elaeagnaceae family:
Hippophae rhamnoides Survival food value:
(Excellent, good, quite good, poor
Europe, including Britain, from Norway south and east to Spain and Asia, to Japan and the Himalayas. Habitat: Usually found near the coast, often forming thickets on fixed dunes and sea cliffs.
All species of the genus are called Sea Buckthorns. Plants typically grow 2 – 4 metres (6.5 – 13 feet) in height and have silvery–green deciduous leaves and colourful berries that persist most of the winter. Use as a survival food:
There are both male and female plants; the latter develop berries that are round to almost egg–shaped and up to 1 cm (0.4 inches) long. The fruit is usually orange, but can be yellow or red. Unlike the majority of fruits that fall away from the maternal plant at maturity, the sea buckthorn berries remain on the bushes all winter until eaten by birds. The fruits have a distinctive sour taste and a unique aroma reminiscent of pineapple. Fruits are amongst the most nutritious of all berries and also contain beta–carotene and other nutrients. Although too acidic to eat direct from the bush, they make excellent juice (with a flavour of passion fruit) and jelly. In a survival situation, pour boiling water over the fruit and mash it up into a paste. It helps if you can sweeten it with something. Eat small quantities of the mashed fruit and see how your stomach reacts to the acidity; increase the daily consumption gradually as your digestive system gets used to it. Food value:
The fruit is a very rich source of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, C and E, flavanoids and other bioactive compounds. It is also a fairly good source of essential fatty acids, which is quite unusual for a fruit. Medical value:
It has limited value as survival medicine because of the difficulties of extracting the necessary oils and juices, but it has considerable use commercially. In a survival situation, a decoction of the fruit may be used as a wash to treat skin irritation and eruptions. The tender branches and leaves contain bioactive substances that are used to produce an oil that is quite distinct from the oil produced from the fruit. Yields of around 3% of oil are obtained but it is extremely difficult to extract the oil manually. This oil is used as an ointment for treating burns. Range:
Europe, including Britain, from Scandinavia south and east to N. Africa and W. Asia. Habitat: Margins adjoining shoreline, fen peat, scrub, hedges, ash and oak woods, on calcareous often dry soils. Further information
Do not confuse with Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica L.) Rhamnaceae family, see photo below.
Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica L.)
The fruit of Rhamnus cathartica L. is purgative, but not seriously poisonous. Other parts of the plant may also poisonous to some people and young children.
Glasswort (Salicornia Europaea), Chenopodiaceae family:
Glasswort (Salicornia Europaea) Survival food value:
(Excellent, good, quite good — poor
Salicornia species are native to North America, Europe, South Africa and South Asia; the coasts of Western Europe, including Britain. Habitat: Salicornia is a genus of succulent, halophyte (salt tolerant) plants that grow in salt marshes, on beaches, and among mangroves; coastal sands in Europe and Scandinavia, mudflats and salt marshes, often near the low tide mark. Use as a survival food:
Low to medium survival food value. Leaves, seeds and young stems are edible raw or cooked. The plant is at its best for eating in late summer. The stems are very succulent, but have a thin woody core that is easily removed. They are best harvested when about 15 cm (5.9 inches) long, the top 10 cm (3.9 inches) being used, leaving the bottom 5 cm (2 inches) to produce new shoots. They require little cooking, just a few minutes of cooking is sufficient. The plant has a salty flavour with a taste vaguely reminiscent of asparagus. The young shoots can be pickled after first boiling them in salted water. Food value:
No current accurate analysis. Plants contain starchy compounds and sucrose. Depending on the soil, plants absorb and can contain relatively high amounts of sodium and potassium. Seeds contain 72% linoleic and 18% oleic acids. Seeds are rich in protein and edible oil, but are small and fiddly to collect and handle. Medical value:
Nothing known. Further information:
Also known as Marsh Samphire (commonly confused with, but not related to, the edible Crithmum maritimum, Rock Samphire; see photo below).
Crithmum maritimum, Rock Samphire
Common names for the genus include glasswort, pickleweed and marsh samphire; these common names are also used for some species not in the Salicornia family. Previously used in glass manufacture, hence the common name, Glasswort. Oyster plant (Mertensia maritima), Boraginaceae family:
Oyster plant (Mertensia maritima): Survival food value:
(Excellent, good, quite good, poor
Uncommon and declining globally, so please, if you find it, do not eat it unless you are in a true survival situation. Low survival food value as a food; the leaves are edible raw or boiled. The oyster plant is a mat–forming plant, which is distinctively blue–green with purple flowers and succulent, oval leaves. Range:
Found throughout the temperate regions of both hemispheres, including Britain. Habitat: Shingle by the sea. Use as a survival food:
Leaves are said to taste of oysters, although the flavour is fairly bland and has a very mucilaginous texture, which is probably where the similarity to oysters came in. Flowers can be eaten raw. Eaten by the author back in the 1960's when the plant was not on the endangered plant register! Food value:
No reliable data but known to be very low in calorific value. Medical value:
Passion Fruit (Passiflora edulis Sims), Passifloraceae family:
Passion Fruit Survival food value:
quite good, poor) Range:
A native of South America. Found all over the Pacific Islands, New Zealand, the Indian Ocean Islands and southern Africa, especially South Africa. Habitat: Passion fruit is found near shorelines.
A perennial climber, with stems sometimes reaching 15 metres (49 feet), passion fruit is a vine–like plant that smothers trees and shrubs. Often cultivated, it escapes to wild habitat because its seeds are spread by humans, birds and feral pigs. Leaves are deeply lobed, pointed at the apex, glossy and dark green. Flowers are white, except for the base of the corona, which is purple. Use as a survival food:
Medium to high value survival food. Easily identified. Fruits are ball–shaped and greenish–yellow turning deep purple, 6 cm (2.4 inches) long, with sweet pulp that has a distinctive musky, guava–like flavour and smell, with a sub–acidic to acidic taste. Food value:
Per 100 g (3.53 ounces) of edible portion (Purple passion fruit, pulp and seeds): Calories 90; moisture 75 g (2.65 ounces); protein 2.2 g (0.08 ounces); fat 0.7 g (0.025 ounces) carbohydrates 21.2 g (0.75 ounces); ash 0.8 g (0.03 ounces); calcium 13 mg (0.2 grains); phosphorus 64 mg (0.99 grains); iron 1.6 mg (0.023 grains); sodium 28 mg (0.43 grains); potassium 348 mg (5.37 grains); vitamin A 700 I.U.; thiamine (trace); riboflavin (trace); niacin 1.5 mg (0.023 grains) and ascorbic acid 30 mg (0.46 grains). Medical value:
No validated value as a medicine. In Madeira, the juice of passion fruits is given as a digestive stimulant and treatment for gastric cancer. Further information:
Of the estimated 500 species of Passiflora, in the family Passifloraceae, only one, P. edulis Sims, has the exclusive designation of passion fruit, without qualification. Within this species, there are two distinct forms, the standard purple and the yellow, distinguished as P. edulis f. flavicarpa Deg. All wild Passiflora are edible but should be tested first before consuming. Scurvy grass, (common scurvy grass): Cochlearia officinalis, maritimus. (Cochlearia species; also called scurvy grass, scurvygrass, or spoonwort)
Scurvy grass (Cochlearia maritimus)
Survival food value:
(Excellent, good to quite good, poor
Common scurvy grass grows as low, rounded or creeping plant, typically 5 – 20 cm (12.7 – 50.8 inches) tall. The leaves are smoothly rounded, roughly spoon-shaped , or in some species, lobed; typically 1 – 5 cm (2.54 – 12.7 inches) long, and with a fleshy texture. The flowers are white with four petals and are borne in short racemes. Range:
Cochlearia is a genus of about 30 species of annual and perennial herbs in the cabbage family Brassicaceae. Growing across temperate and arctic areas of the northern hemisphere. Habitat: Most commonly in coastal regions, on cliff-tops and salt marshes; they also occur in alpine habitats in mountains and tundra. Use as a survival food:
Both young tender leaves and flowers (biennial/perennial – young leaves best in early spring) can be eaten. Older leaves tend to be very bitter and have to be soaked in a couple of changes of potable water before eating to remove some of the bitterness. If eating leaves raw, first blanch for a few seconds in boiling water. The flavour is strong, some people find it overpoweringly strong, tasting similar to mustard. The leaves of scurvy grass are particularly rich in Vitamin C. Medical value:
Scurvy grass was extensively eaten in the past by sailors suffering from scurvy after returning from long voyages, as the leaves are rich in vitamin C, which cures this deficiency disease. The discovery of citrus fruits, particularly limes, replaced scurvy grass for this purpose. Further information:
The plant has spread far inland in many areas along grassy road verges. The use of salt on roads in the winter has created a high degree of salt in the soil along these road verges and the seeds are thought to have been spread by car tyres. Perhaps the only plant to have spread due to the motor car.
Some people find it can cause stomach and intestinal irritation when large amounts are eaten uncooked. Some people find the leaves and juice from them can irritate the skin. Sea Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum subsp. maritimus)
Sea Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum subsp. maritimus)
Survival food value:
(Excellent, good, quite good to poor
A large, straggling plant, often more than 1 m (3.3 feet) in height, bearing many pale yellow flowers in May and June. Each flower is typically cruciform, as seen in most of the Brassicaceae, and there is often obvious veining on the petals. Occasionally a plant has white or pale pink flowers. These are followed by a hard seed pod with an appearance like a row of beads, due to constrictions between each seed. Range:
It is found on Mediterranean and Atlantic shores. In Southern Ireland and in many areas of SW Scotland (its northern limit) it is the predominant coastal plant. Also on the South and West coast of the UK. Habitat: Common all around the coasts growing on open coastal grassland, sand dunes, shingle, cliffs and disturbed ground by the sea. On parts of the east coast of Britain it grows on muddy shores and can be found inland on dunes and on waste ground. It thrives in poor, sandy soil, and can cope with drought conditions. It is found in muddy estuaries. Use as a survival food:
The whole plant is edible. To prepare the roots, peel off the tough outer layer leaving the clean inner part of the root. Chop them up and cook them in boiling water until tender (30 – 45 minutes). They have a strong smell of radish when peeling them but once cooked they are quite mild in flavour. Leaves can be eaten raw (always blanch for a couple of seconds in boiling water) or cooked and have peppery taste, sometimes with a "earthy" aftertaste. The young segmented pods taste like mild radish. Avoid mature seed pods as these are rubbery and less digestible.
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz):
Energy 35 kJ (8.4 kcal); Carbohydrates 2.9%; Sugars 0.9%: Dietary fibre 1.6%; Fat 0.1%; Protein 0.4%.
Vitamins: Thiamine (B1) 1%; Riboflavin (B2) 3%; Niacin (B3) 2%; Pantothenic acid (B5) 3%; Vitamin B6 5%; Folate (B9) 6%; Vitamin C 18%;
Minerals: Calcium 3%; Iron 3%; Magnesium 3%; Manganese 3%; Phosphorus 3%; Potassium 5%; Zinc 3%; Medical value:
Sea radishes are diuretic in nature, which means that they increase the production of urine. Juice from radishes cleans out the kidneys and inhibits infections in the kidneys and urinary system, thus helping the treatment of various urinary conditions that are exacerbated by excess toxins in the system. Further information:
None. Sea kale (Crambe maritima)
Survival food value:
(Excellent, good to quite good
Easily identified. It is large and very fleshy, covered with a greyish, bluish, or whitish waxy coating or bloom that is easily rubbed off. Long–stalked leaves. Flowers in the summer bearing large panicles of veined white flowers which have a honey–like smell. Range:
Hardy plant growing throughout the British Isles. Found along many European Atlantic coastlines. Once a fairly common plant but now dwindling in many areas. Habitat: Found on wasteland, open spaces, grassy spaces and common on European Atlantic coastlines. Found growing on sand and shingle around the coasts of the British Isles, mainly the south coast of England, along stretches of the East Anglian and Cumbrian coast, along the beaches in Northern Wales and in the extreme south–west of Scotland. It can found on dunes that have an underlying layer of shingle. Use as a survival food:
Young, white stems are edible and tender before the leaves start to expand. Shoots are best cut when 10 – 12 cm (4 – 5 inches) long and still crisp. Consume within 24 hours. Mild taste often compared to a cross between Asparagus and Celery. The entire plant is edible raw or cooked. Blanched leaves can be kept for extended periods of time and are best eaten raw; they have a cabbage or kale flavour (hence the plant's name). Stems can be eaten raw or cooked and have a nutty / bitter taste. Flower heads taste a bit like broccoli and can be eaten raw or cooked. The roots have to be boiled or roasted and taste like sweet potato. Do not confuse sea kale with sea–kale cabbage (Brassica oleracea L.), which is a different vegetable altogether (see photo below) Sea–kale cabbage leaves can be harvested, cooked and eaten as normal cabbage.
Sea–kale cabbage Medical value:
None known Further information:
Sea–kale is regarded as being indigenous to the UK. It is declining in some areas, possibly because of coastal erosion and the construction of sea defences destroying the shingle habitat where sea–kale grows. In some areas sea–kale is on the increase but the risk of people getting interested in foraging may prove detrimental to the sustainability of these seashore plants. Please only harvest them if you really need to and respect the natural environment of all these precious indigenous plants. It flowers in June and July.