There are a lot of plants that could be in the top 5, but I think its important to narrow it down. Knowing 5 plants that are useful for food, medicine or utility can save you in a survival situation. So Iv’e thought about which ones I would choose to study if I were limited in time. Knowing these 5 plants extremely well will get you through.
Here is the criteria that I used. The plant had to be very recognizable, safe, multi purpose, easily attainable, and had a long season.
Perhaps the most recognizable plant is the Dandelion. One of the earliest blooms in the Spring, it is the most prolific early in the season, but, it is available all summer and most of the fall as well. Every part of the plant is edible. Early in the year, the fresh leaves are even delicious boiled. Dandelion roots make a very good coffee substitute. The flowers make a wonderful syrup and the leaves are extraordinarily nutritious. Remember this is survival. So even if the plant you find is past it’s prime, it is still edible and very good for you. Extremely high in Vitamins C and K, Dandelion is great for detoxifying the liver, gall bladder, bladder and kidneys. Cooking it will help take the late season bitterness out, but in a pinch, eat it raw, flower blossoms, stems, leaves and roots.
The second on my list would be the Plantain. Not the banana, but Plantago Major and Minor, or Broad Leaf Plantain and Narrow Leaf Plantain. Both are very easy to recognize.
Note the major veins that run from the stem to the apex of the leaf. Pull the leaf from the stem and notice the fibers that stretch out and break. Both varieties will do this.
Plantain is crazy good for you. Boiled like collard greens, it can provide a delicious meal. Narrow Leaf Plantain can even survive the winter if it is mild enough. Both are plentiful through out the warmer months.
Medicinally it is considered a panacea meaning its a cure all. Especially good to stop bleeding, it also has anti bacterial and microbial properties. It’s also very good at relieving bee stings. Basically, if you are suffering from something, Plantain is worth a try. It’s a major reason Native Americans called it “white man’s foot print”. The settlers depended on it so much that where ever there was a white man, Plantain was sure to be there as well.
This one might surprise you. The Common Purple Violet. The reason is that it is available all year. You can dig through the snow in forest areas and still find green edible leaves that are very high in vitamins.
Violets also contain Salicylic Acid. The same compound that Aspirin was developed from. Violet leaves and flowers can be eaten raw making for a very recognizable, available edible. You can also use it to treat stomach ailments as well as gargle a tea for sore throats. The main reason I chose it though, as there are other plants that might be a better choice if available, is the simple fact that you can find it in the dead of winter in sufficient quantities to make it worth digging for. Look for dense patches in small wooded areas. They tend to thrive in areas that the growth isn’t too mature. Though you can find it on the mature forest floor as well.
The forth plant is the Mullein. The reason for this is, the leaves are available year around. In a clearing, look for the tall spikes from last years bloom. Locate them and nearby will be the rosettes on the ground. Just dig around the snow East of the plant stalks that you have found. You should find some nearby.
Mullein is not edible, but it is drinkable. The leaves fuzziness renders them unpalatable as a vegetable, but as mentioned it makes a pleasant tea. One that is full of nutrients. Just what you need any time of year in a survival situation.
Drinking the tea is also a very effective decongestant. Even smoking the dried leaves is thought to be an effective treatment for a cough.
The seeds should not be consumed as they contain Saponins. A compound the Native Americans used to kill small fish in calm pools. Another survival tool.
Maybe one of the most important traits of Mullein is in the dead stalks. The pithy center burns for a very long time allowing you to carry fire from one location to another. That can be a life saver if fire is difficult to obtain.
The final plant to know might also surprise you. The Birch Tree. Yes, it is a plant. What makes birch so valuable is it’s versatility. You can eat the spring leaves or make a very nice tea from them. You can tap the tree like it were a Maple in the spring and drink the sap. The sap can also be boiled to make syrup and sugar, though not as efficient as the Maple. The sap was drank by Native Americans to detox their bodies after a long hard winter of a poorer diet.
The dead bark can easily catch fire and burns hot enough to get other tinder burning. It will even light somewhat wet. The importance of that is an understatement when you are wet and cold. The bark can be scored into rectangles around the tree and stripped off. The bark is water proof. Heating it makes it pliable and the bark can be used to make containers and shelters. Heck, Native Americans even make canoes out it.
The Birch was likely the most important plant to the Great Lakes Tribes. The reason was is that it helped them survive. Get the hint?
Note: Stripping a Birch Tree of its bark will likely kill it. Don’t do that unless it is a true survival situation. Find downed trees to use the bark in non survival conditions.
As I said, there are other plants that could be your main study. The point is, pick out 5. Study them…know them. Have them in your survival plan. I chose the ones above for good reason. Choose your own that works for you in your area.