In any survival situation, the most important thing is finding food.
While you may have a stockpile stored safely somewhere, it might not be accessible. Depending on the circumstances, you may find yourself having to forage for food to survive.
Foraging for food is an essential part of any survival plan and will be vital during a crisis. Most forested areas are rich with edible plants that can potentially hold you over until you can reach your safe house.
However, many wild plants can be dangerous – and some are perfect replicas of the original. Knowing which plants are safe to eat and which are not is critical to survival.
Below are a few plants that you do not want to eat when aiming to survive in the wild.
Menispermum canadense, also known as Moonseed, is a woody vine that grows 8’-20′ long. Stems of the young plant are green to brownish-red and slightly hairy, while older ones become hairless and woody. The smooth leaves of this plant are 6″ long and 8″ across and often bend downwards.
Clusters of white or yellowish flowers sometimes appear along the non-woody stems of these plants and may reach up to 5″ in length.
This plant blooms in late spring to early summer and lasts about two weeks.
Female flowers will develop into small berries in late summer to early fall and look similar to wild grapes.
Found throughout North America, this plant commonly grows within the region and is native to Illinois.
A low-lying vine plant, Moonseed has a high poison severity and is highly toxic to humans – causing convulsions and death when ingested. The toxic principle of this plant, Alkaloid dauricine, is found in all the plant parts.
Thankfully, this plant’s highly potent berries have a rank taste – which often deters hungry foragers.
However, because this plant’s leaves and fruit are similar to Fox Grapes- which are edible, this resemblance leads to them being confused as Fox Grapes or Wild Grapes and unknowingly consumed.
Unfortunately, Moonseed is highly poisonous and can be fatal if eaten.
Related: The Best Natural Treatments for Poison Ivy and Poison Oak Rash
While this plant’s flavor is usually enough to indicate danger, one should always examine the fruit’s seeds when foraging to ensure it is not a moonseed.
Moonseeds have a single crescent-shaped seed, while a grapes seed will be round. The tendrils of this plant are also an indication. Grapevines will have forked tendrils, where Moonseed vines lack tendrils altogether.
Signs and symptoms of Moonseed poisoning may include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Irregular heart rate
- Stomach pain
- Pupil changes
- Cardiac arrest
- Weakness or paralysis
*If Moonseed is consumed, it is suggested that you seek immediate medical attention to rid your body of the deadly toxins and treat any related symptoms.
White snakeroot plants have coarse toothed, round-based leaves with pointed tips and can reach up to 3 feet (1m) in height—clusters of flowers grown on the top of the stem throughout summer and fall.
This plant prefers shady areas and is commonly found along roadsides, in thickets, or under powerlines.
The leaves and stems of the white Snakeroot contain tremetol. This fat-soluble toxin is known to poison the livestock consuming it and passes into lactating animals’ milk.
The name of this plant was derived from the belief that this plant’s roots could cure snake bites.
It was also thought that burning this plant could revive an unconscious person. Thus it has been used medicinally for many years. However, due to its toxicity, even the medicinal use of Snakeroot is not recommended.
While consuming this plant is not often deadly to humans, it can cause ‘milk sickness’. The poisonous properties of this plant are most significant when the plant is fresh and green.
However, even dried versions of this plant have been found to contain toxins. This plant is especially toxic to animals, with death occurring when an aminal eats anywhere from 1%-10% of their body weight over a few weeks.
Signs and symptoms of Milk sickness (also known as tremetol vomiting):
- Severe intestinal pain
*Milk sickness caused by Snakeroot does not rely on personal ingestion. Milk sickness can occur when consuming animal products from an animal that has come into contact with or ingested this plant.
Pokeweed (aka wild parsnips/carrots)
Phytolacca americana, or pokeweed, is native to eastern North America and the mid-west but is scattered throughout Canada, the United States, Europe, and Asia.
Considered a pest weed by farmers, pokeweed is poisonous to humans, dogs, and livestock.
While this plant is edible in the spring season with proper preparation, it later becomes deadly.
Cultivating poisonous berries can induce vomiting, burning sensations, altered heart rate, respiratory issues, convulsions, and even death if ingested.
Related: 52 Plants In The Wild You Can Eat
All parts of this plant can be toxic and pose a risk to humans if eaten. The poison, produced by the chemicals phytolaccatoxin and phytolaccigenin, is most concentrated in the roots, stems, and leaves of this plant.
However, the berries should also be avoided as they still contain enough toxicity to cause harm.
Pokeweed can be identified by its large, fleshy, white taproot that often grows 4 to 6 inches in diameter. The stems of this deadly flora can grow 3 to 7 feet tall in some areas and are typically a deep reddish-purple. Whiteish-green flowers adorn this plant and consist of 5 petal-like, rounded leaves that mimic flower petals, growing in clusters opposite leaves.
Each flower-like structure develops into 8-10 juicy berries that are flat and round in shape and small in size. The berries begin as a light shade of green, turning black or purple, and generally become heavy, drooping with maturity. Each berry contains a small, black lens-shaped seed encased in a juicy blood-colored liquid.
Native Americans used pokeweed to treat a variety of conditions in the past, and juice from the berries was often used to create red dye.
Signs and symptoms of Pokeweed poisoning include:
- Diarrhea, sometimes hemorrhagic (bloody) diarrhea
- Stomach pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle spasms
- Heart block
- Rapid pulse
- Low blood pressure
- Slow or difficult breathing
*Other names for Pokeweed poisoning include American nightshade poisoning; Inkberry poisoning; Pigeon Berry poisoning; Pokeberry poisoning; Scoke poisoning; Virginia poke poisoning; Poke salad poisoning.
Poisoning from pokeweed requires immediate medical attention.
However, suppose you cannot get to an emergency room. In that case, you could attempt to create activated charcoal by burning wood or another dense plant fiber until everything but the carbon has been scorched away.
Unfortunately, this process can take several hours, and you need to mix the charred wood with other chemicals to create a useful substance. Thus, this may be challenging in a survival situation, and it is best to seek professional medical help.
*If you or someone you know has consumed pokeweed, call poison control, or immediately go to the nearest emergency department.
Belladonna or Deadly Nightshade
Atropa belladonna – commonly referred to as Belladonna or Deadly Nightshade – is a poisonous perennial herbaceous plant in the nightshade family.
Found in various places in Europe, Northern Africa, and Western Asia, it is also scattered throughout Canada and the United States.
This plant’s foliage and berries are extremely toxic if ingested because of the chemical (tropane alkaloids) they contain.
Bella Donna is one of the most poisonous plants known to man, and its effects can be deadly.
All parts of this plant contain tropane alkaloids. The leaves are most poisonous when the plant is budding or flowering, and the roots are most toxic at the end of the vegetation period.
However, this plant’s berries pose the greatest danger because they look delicious and have a somewhat sweet taste.
Related: How to Tell the Difference Between the Poisonous Virginia Creeper and the Healthy American Ginseng
Despite its name, which means ‘beautiful lady,’ the Belladonna plant is exceptionally hazardous. Poisonous to humans and most animals, Belladonna poisoning affects the nervous system.
Symptoms may include:
- Dry mouth
- Red, dry skin
- Inability to sweat
- Muscle spasms
- Blurred vision
- Enlarged pupils
- Inability to urinate
Belladonna is commonly used as an ingredient in many over-the-counter medications to treat many common ailments.
For example, belladonna can be found in treatments for the common cold, fever, whooping cough, each ache, asthma, motion sickness, flu, joint and back pain, inflammation, and nerve issues.
Related: How to Make Cabbage Bandages to Treat Inflammation and Joint Pain
Unfortunately, belladonna can have serious side effects, especially when consumed without medical advice.
*If consumed, seek medical attention immediately. Activate charcoal is used to remove toxins from the body, and treatment of the various symptoms is often required.
Found throughout most western and eastern United States, this plant is easily mistaken for bay leaves. Unfortunately, using these leaves to spice up your emergency stew would be a bad idea.
Rhododendron and Azaleas are close relatives and cause the same types of toxicity. Often referred to as ‘mad honey,’ the honey found in this plant’s flowers is known to cause confusion, and eating any part of this plant is discouraged.
Poison control often receives calls in spring and early summer about children who have put the flowers or leaves in their mouths trying to eat them.
While this plant generally only causes mild mouth irritation, nausea, and vomiting have also been known to occur with ingestion. While rare, severe and life-threatening poisoning has occurred. Thus, this plant should not be consumed.
The honey of this plant holds the highest concentration of poison. The agent responsible for the poisoning properties of this plant is Grayanotoxin.
The neurotoxin, which is also known as andromedotoxin, acetylandromedol, rhodotoxin and asebotoxin, is produced within rhododendron and other plants within the Ericaceae or Heather family. Honey made from the nectar also contains grayanotoxin – or ‘mad honey.’
Mad Honey poisoning can occur anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours after ingestion and symptoms include:
- Circumoral paralysis (around or near the mouth)
- Low blood pressure
- Low heart-rate
- Loss of coordination
- Progressive muscle weakness
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Loss of balance
- Difficulty breathing
*Rhododendron poisoning is rarely fatal to humans, and symptoms usually last less than 24 hours. Death is much more common among animals who ingest this plant while grazing.
Treatment requires vomiting-inducing techniques and repeated use of activated charcoal. If you ingest Rhododendron, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Related: 10 Medical Home Emergencies and How to Manage Them
While obtaining plants for survival may be dangerous, you can often find danger in your own backyard as well.
Plants that commonly grow in urban areas can be just as harmful to your health as those found out in the wild.
For example, rhubarb leaves are known to be extremely poisonous, and while this plant is known to many as a tasty treat, the leaves may cause severe medical issues if consumed.
Rhubarb poisoning can cause:
- Breathing difficulty
- Burning in the throat
- Eye pain
- Kidney stones
- Red-colored urine
- Stomach pain
In the wild, there are many plants available for survival.
Unfortunately, there are also many that can cause damage or even death if consumed unknowingly. It is vital that you are aware of what you are eating and sure that it is safe.
Being aware of your surroundings and knowing which plants (or which parts of plants) are safe to consume may mean the difference between life and death.
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Thanks for this very informative and helpful article on which plants to avoid. I just want to add that I was always taught that Rhubarb leaves are poisonous, but that the poison also goes down into the tops of the edible stems. In otherwords, you can definitely eat the rhubarb stems, as people have been doing for centuries (at least), but when you pull off the leaves, also take the top 2-3# of the stem and throw that away as well. At least that is what I was taught decades ago. Otherwise, we LOVE Rhubarb in our Bumbleberry Pies and Cobblers!!
Hi, Joyce. Re: Rhubarb – I can actually believe that some of the “poison”, in this case oxalic acid, leeches down into the ends of the stems from the leaves. Logical. H’mm. Hard to say because all the “nutrients” as much as possible are going to the leaf perimeter.But can’t be THAT much. You can even die from eating too many apricot seeds. Doesn’t take a lot. Every once in a while I’ll eat a couple of peach or apricot seeds. Just to stay in practice. 😉 Doesn’t do me any harm. I’m just “slightly” bent. LASL In this case the word poison is used loosely. In my humble opinion. The oxalic acid is a poison in the sense that if you ingest enough of it you will at the very least do considerable damage to your kidneys or even die. But an adult would have to eat approx. 20 lbs. of the leaves. If someone forced me to do that, eat a rhubarb leaf (only way I would ever even attempt to eat it), I would probably throw it up halfway through. Those leaves are huge. It’s almost a natural move to cut the ends of the stems just before preparing them for the pot. When I harvest the rhubarb it’s very difficult to come away with a completely clean stem. I carry it leaf down. Naturally. So all the plant juices would drain down into the leaves anyways. Never thought about it. Suffice to say that I’ve never had any problems whatsoever with rhubarb. The Rasputin symptom. Either it’s just plain dirty and needs to be washed or I’ve torn it off hurriedly. Either way the leaves have to be cut off asap. You can peel it if you like before cubing it and boiling it. It’s work and energy intensive but worth it. Sort of like making maple syrup in the late spring. Unfortunately I don’t have a maple bush. Rhubarb and strawberry anything is my favourite. H’mmm …… pie.
That is interesting, I am unaware if the poison can seep into he stems, but better safe than sorry.
Yea if it can kill you then it is not a survival plant. General rule of thumb, if you don’t know what it is then don’t eat it.
Say, Claude, the pdf format page for printing is a lot easier to read than the current main page format. It doesn’t include the comments but as far as the main article, I like that format far better than the new improved format.
Hemlock is an invasive poisonous plant common in the Northwest. It can be mistaken for wild carrots, to which it is related. All parts of the plant are toxic. You should not burn it, as the smoke can be toxic, too.
Interesting list. None of them growing here in the high mountain desert. I’ve seen all but one on travels. My late husband parents talked a lot about poke salad. A favorite of theirs from their younger years in Oklahoma. I mad e sore to L earn to recognize it but never bothered to prepare any. Boil, drain and so on seemed like a lot of work but worth knowing about.
Knowing what to avoid is as important and learning what to be hunting for. There are several things worth learning how to use them safely. I grow rhubarb but the knowledge to prepare only the stems is important. I still gravitate toward the safer and easier prepared.
I enjoy wild amaranth and lambsquarters here. Its still too early for most things. A few asperigus shoots are begining to show. We’re still getting some frosts but it won’t be long and I’ll be watching for the wild greens. Dandelions are are already blooming where they can get water along the sides of an irrigation ditch. The volunteer alfalfa is greening at last. I clean those up for the ditch cleaners. There is mint just begining to green up in the ditch. I’ll volunteer to help there as well. I don’t have access to the water but access to the plants is nice. The cleaners just take away all the vegetation along the waterflow.
“Milk poisoning”… isn’t that what killed Abraham Lincoln’s mother?
Also, couldn’t tell from the picture, but the plant identified as snakeroot looked to me like water hemlock (also poisonous). Is it another name for the same plant? I found one listing that said snake plant was another common name for it.
Here’s a link for snakeweed:
And another one for water hemlock:
As you can see, they look very different.
Also, here’s a link for snakeroot:
PS: Like the new format, Claude, but wish there was still an edit button 😕
Also, atropine is a drug derived from belladonna used to dilate the pupils of the eyes for certain medical tests.
The name “bella donna” comes from a fashion in the medieval courts of Europe of women using belladonna juice in their eyes to make their eyes look luminous and mysterious with the dilated pupils.
The leaves for white snakeroot in this article don’t look anything like it; white snakeroot has a single leaf with an uncomplicated petiole, as you can note in your link.
Pokeweed berries can leave an indelible purple stain. If birds eat the berries, the results may wind up on your walls. It is best to root these plants out if they are within 75-100 yards of your house.
Good article, you can’t know enough poison plants.Water Hemlock is the poisonous plant people in Texas most often get into trouble with. In the parsley family, looks like a big tasty wild carrot but the stems and foliage are always stained with purple. Superficial similarity to Queen Anne’s Lace, probably where people get in trouble as Queen Anne’s Lace is one of the most common and desirable forage plants here.
The Rhododendron pic is actually a Oleander which is also poisonous. The Rhododendron has clumped flowers
I would like to know what the name of the weed is that is at the bottom of many of the articles that I’ve read. The one that says ‘Common People Weed Out This Plant, But A Prepper Should Do This Instead’. I’ve clicked on the link for it but never get the name of that weed/plant and I’ve watched the videos from beginning to end. Does anyone know what that weed is? I ask because it grows like, well…like a weed on my property. Thank you in advance, to anyone that knows what that is and replies to my comment/question with the answer.
I believe it is called purslane. Sometimes the plant is plantain. Purslane is a plant usually found growing in cracks in your driveway or sidewalk. It is very low growing and has a reddish stem with small green leaves. It is best picked in the early morning and can be eaten raw or cooked. You need a pile of purslane in order to get any meaningful calories.
The other plant is broad leafed and grows either close to the ground or sometimes upright to a height of about 4 – 5 inches tall.
You can look both of those plants up on line and get more information about them.
Finally I can see your reply LCC. Thank you and yes, it is that low growing with reddish stem and very green leaves. With the amount that grows in my small closed in back yard I would have enough to fill a salad bowl at least once or twice. Thank you very much for the reply. Most appreciated from all of you that responded. I don’t use chemical pesticides any where in my yard so that the good insects and birds that come here, plus a very old gopher turtle that comes by from time to time can eat without worrying about being poisoned. That turtle did take a bite out of my zucchini once but he must not have liked it. Either that or he just ate what he wanted and then moved on to the fruit that falls from one of the palms in the front yard. Anyways, thanks again everyone.
I have seen that plant many times also. I live on the stateline of Wisconsin and Illinois and am only referring to Purslane and look-alike-Sedge growing in my area.
The plant in the picture is a Sedge (but that is not the name of the plant). Sedge is a category for a type of common weed. Check Wikipedia for a better definition.
In my yard I have both Purslane and its look-alike Sedge. My look-alike Sedge grows in concrete cracks, or in nearby mowed grass in sunny areas. It stays alive easy in direct sun. Walk on it, stomp on it, try to rip it out and its root won’t leave, and it easily grows back.
The Sedge has a small design on each leaf, sort of a small reddish area with a white or yellow trim to it in the center of each leaf. It grows low to ground and never upward, only outward horizontally or laterally as it spreads. Its leaves are thin and stay thin.
Purslane starts low and spreads low all around the root, but will shortly (after a few weeks) send a shoot upwards, then more shoots. I’ve never seen it grow beyond 5-6 inches tall. Purslane leaves are one color (sort of a green-yellow or light green). Purslane hates direct heat (sunlight) and prefers to grow near other plants that will shade it as the sun moves, so that it does not lose moisture. Purslane leaves get thicker by mid-summer (expected of a succulent). When I eat purslane leaves they are sort of gooey, but the flavor is fine (no bitterness). By mid summer in my yard my purslane if it gets too hot shrinks back to its early spring size, and after the heat of mid-summer passes it grows tall again. When I find the name of the Look-A-Like I’ll report it later.
I’m not sure, but I think that the plant is called purslane.
Hi, the name of the weed you were asking about is Purslane. It likes to grow in areas where the ground has been ‘disturbed’ (tilled). It is very full of nutrients and tastes good. I think that it tastes like fresh, raw peas, but two of my nieces do not agree…
Margene: We cook it just by dropping it in boiling soup, then cut off the heat. We found a new type that’s drought proof (this is Arizona 🙂 called elephant bush. niio
The site has changed but used to have a link to wild lettuce, Lactuca virosa, looks like a dandelion but some varieties get 6′ tall. Some use the sap for pain relief but it doesn’t outperform placebo in studies. Some kids smoke it to get high but I don’t know how that works, when I was a kid we smoked dry grapevine stems, but only to look cool. One can eat Lactuca but there is no reason to do that. Not sure that is what you saw…
I’m not sure if that is what it is or not but I will look up the Lactuca virosa and see if it is the same. I can’t imagine smoking it though. Never imagined smoking grapevine stems before either…until now. We do silly things to look cool when we are young don’t we? That did make me smile and chuckle just a little so thank you for that. Thank you again for the info as well.
Believe the picture was of a common spreading weed (purple stems and small smooth green oval leaves) that is edible actually makes a nice add to a salad. Try a few leaves that have not been sprayed with any weed killer. See if you like it.
The only stuff that gets sprayed anywhere in my yard is a mix or clear ivory dish soap and water. That’s all I will use. I do not want to be part of the problem with killing the birds, bees, and butterflies so you can trust that no weed killer or insect killer is used either. If I don’t want it to grow I pull it up or cut it off at the ground. All of my neighbors get their yards sprayed for insects except for the one right next to me thank goodness. There are flocks of birds (those white ones that eat bugs) that stop at my place regularly and I am pretty sure that they stop here because they know I don’t put poison on the ground. I like it that way. Thank you for the info and the tip to add to a salad. Definitely appreciated.
Claude: Sometimes when I post my name and e-mail address doesn’t show but appears when the post shows up. Other times it does show. I haven’t been able to determine a pattern as to when it shows and when it doesn’t.
Sometimes I can post without typing my name and email and it shows up. There is an apparent glitch in the system with regard to that feature.
For example, I had to type in my name and email to post this and that information showed up in the proper blocks but my response to velvet jade did not and that is why the name is just “left”
I’m trying to find your reply LCC but haven’t been able to. I’m sort of new to the ‘Ask a Prepper’ group but have been reading the articles for the last year or so. I have only commented on a few so maybe I did something on my end that hid your reply from me. No worries though. If you or anyone knows the name of the weed I’m talking about I would love to hear it. It’s the one that is pictured at the bottom right corner of this article in the ‘You may also like’ section. I remember seeing, hearing, or reading somewhere (might have been one of the video’s) that most parts of it are edible. I’m curious to find out so that I know whether to eliminate it or to just let it go and let it grow. Thanks for trying though. I appreciate that.
Thank you so much, Left Coast Chuck for providing us with feedback for our new Ask A Prepper website.
Every such suggestion from our readers is valuable to us, as the website is still being implemented and more changes will follow. We are working hard to shape it into its final version that will be faster, more intuitive and more practical than the older one.
With your continued help that goal will be reached faster, so that you may enjoy the wealth of survival knowledge it brings and learn something new every day.
we have cuter, not as nice things in Arizona, but not common because people kill them. One is silverleaf nightshade. While the berry is used to curdle milk, that’s only from a time people didn’t have lemon juice or vinegar when cheese-making. Now, most just make yogurt and go on from there to make cheese. niio
Hemlock looks very different form wild carrot/queen Ann’s lace to me. We also have both in Michigan and we also have night shade most of these plants on this list looked familiar to me. Thanks for the info!