Here is a US Navy training film from 1955 titled Survival in North Temperate Regions… Living Off The Land. It focuses mainly on recognizing, procuring, and preparing plants and animals that can be commonly found globally throughout the north temperate region roughly between 45° and 70° north latitude. It is based on the premise that most plant life found in the north temperate region is edible and that animals are abundant. The film does not go into detail on how to identify plants, nor much into how to procure animals for food, although it does show a few illustrations of some snares and traps such as the figure-4 deadfall.
A tethered live bird makes a good decoy.
… uhh, ok… perhaps I can catch a live bird with this sort of contraption:
The film is worth a watch if you are a complete newb so long as you have the understanding that it is very vague and that there is quite a bit of misleading information included… and if you are more advanced, even if only for shits and giggles. This article is a collection of my commenting where I feel it is important and correcting any errors or misconceptions where I find them.
The film states wild varieties of domesticated berries and other fruits can be recognized, and edible nuts are some of the most nutritionally dense of all forest foods. This is true… and yet there are exceptions that the film completely fails to point out. For example, acorns… the fruits (nuts are fruits too, as botanically speaking, a fruit is a mature ovary) of the Quercus genus [Oaks] contain tannic acids that must be leached out by boiling in several changes of water. And while probably not common in the north temperate zone, the fruit of Prunus dulcis var. amara [Raw Bitter Almond] contains amygdalin, which releases cyanide (aka prussic acid) when exposed to enzymes in the seed and the human digestive system. Eating as few as a handful of these can be fatal to an adult human.
The film points out that the inner bark of some trees is edible, such as the easily recognizable poplars, birches, willows, and “some species of pine”. Again, here is the most important point to remember concerning this film and all other sources of information about wild edibles. BEWARE! For example, what species of pine are NOT edible? The film does not say. It only alludes… which is better than nothing… but you should thoroughly research any plant you intend on recognizing as edible… this is just as true for animals… and also fungi! There are many edible plants and fungi that have deadly poisonous look-alikes. You need to be able to recognize the poisonous look-alike species from the edible species. Can you tell the difference between a wild carrot and a water hemlock… did you know they are in the same family… the Apiaceae? This film does a good job of creating a delusional mindset for young naive would-be adventurers… and therein is its real value… to remind us of how easy it is to be led down a path of ignorance. This film does not once mention that there are poisonous look-alike plants… these statements are especially disturbing:
Remember, if you are in doubt about the edibility of vegetation, eat what the birds and small animals select for themselves.
Keep in mind two basic rules. First, when in doubt, eat what the birds and animals eat.
This is false. Birds and other animals will eat many plants including fruits that are deadly poisonous to humans… such as Phytolacca americana [Pokeweed].
Although to its credit, the film advises against thinking of fungi as food, as it is so easy to confuse the edible species with the look-alikes. Not that there aren’t common plants with poisonous look-alikes just as deadly as a poisonous mushroom, but even so. I would never recommend a beginner to start learning edibles by handing him a field guide to mushrooms.
But back to the question of certain species of pine not having edible inner bark. Is this because the inner bark of some species of pine is not nutritious enough to be worth the effort of obtaining it… is this what the film means when it says “edible”? Or is it because certain species of pine are poisonous? Keep in mind that taxonomically speaking, because taxonomies are largely arbitrary forms of categorizing lifeforms… that the pines referred to by the film may actually not be thought of as pines at all by today’s taxonomies. Also, common names, such as Pine and Oak may in fact be referring to plants that scientifically are not pines or oaks at all. The Yew Pine, for example, has the scientific name Podocarpus macrophyllus, and is not a pine at all since all true pines are contained within the Pinus genus.
Taxus baccata [the Yew tree] can easily be mistaken for a pine, and is found in the north temperate region, and all parts of it are highly poisonous… except for the aril which surrounds the most highly poisonous part of all… the seed. The red flesh that surrounds the highly poisonous seed can be safely eaten, as it is either non-poisonous or only mildly poisonous. Keep in mind too, that living things evolve and that individual plants of a mildly poisonous species may be more or less poisonous. Why take the chance? In my research, by the way, I have found no species of pine… that is to say any member of the genus Pinus… that does not have edible inner bark.
Don’t overlook mosses and lichens, like this, sometimes called Spanish Moss.
The small growing tip of Tillandsia usneoides [Spanish Moss] is indeed edible, but it is so small that the energy required to get it is probably a diminished return once eaten. Although, Spanish Moss is not a moss or a lichen… nor is it found natively within the northern temperate region of between 45° and 70° north latitude. Spanish Moss is an angiosperm (flowering plant) that grows hanging from tree branches and belongs to the the family Bromeliaceae, a family that includes terrestrial species and epiphytes… as is Spanish Moss. The true mosses are Bryophytes (the most primitive terrestrial plants surviving today), as are the liverworts and hornworts. The lichens are composite organisms growing together in a symbiotic relationship consisting of a fungus (the mycobiont) and a photosynthetic (the phycobiont, usually a green algae or cyanobacterium).
Look for young ferns in shady wooded areas. Their tender shoots are good to eat, and none is known to be poisonous.
The young shoots are called fiddleheads, and are the only part of a fern that should be eaten… the rest is too unpalatable. And it is true… there are no known species of fern that are considered poisonous. I say this with some warning… read on. Even so, the fact is, Bracken Fern (Pteridium genus) is known to be carcinogenic. But in a survival situation, where the choice is to eat a known carcinogen or starve… I would choose to eat.
While Matteuccia struthiopteris [Ostrich fern] is not known to be carcinogenic, there have been several outbreaks of a gastrointestinal illness including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea after consuming it raw or lightly cooked. Vomiting and diarrhea is something that can quickly lead to death in a survival situation, as it so severely dehydrates and weakens the body. The as-of-yet-unknown toxin in Ostrich Fern is thought to be heat labile, so it is recommended to remove any non-green colored texture, then boil twice for 15 minutes with a water change in between. The water change is to remove any toxin that has been leached out of the fern, but that might not be destroyed by heat. Keep in mind that not all poisons and toxins are destroyed by heat, in fact most are not. So, don’t just assume that heating a poisonous plant will render it less toxic. Likewise, don’t think that you can remove the poisons from plants by leaching them out even by boiling. Learn to recognize poisonous plants and avoid them.
Wild rabbits are generally plentiful.
This is often true, but the film does not warn that man cannot survive on rabbit alone. A form of malnutrition, sometimes called rabbit starvation, caused by an excessive consumption of lean meat with no sources of fats and/or carbohydrates, especially when combined with extreme stresses such as cold or heat… can quickly lead to symptoms that include diarrhea, fatigue, headache, low heart rate and low blood pressure… accompanied by a hunger that remains unsatisfied… no matter how much rabbit is eaten. Rabbit starvation is avoided by eating carbohydrates and fats. Most human adults require about 1900 kilocalories (kcals) or more per day. Most protein only provides 4 kcals/gram and the human liver can safely metabolize ~325g (±40) of protein per day. This means that if lean meat was the only food source, that 500 grams of it would have to be eaten daily to supply 2000 kcals of energy. This amount vastly exceeds what the liver can safely do and similarly in that the kidneys are limited in their capability to remove urea (a byproduct of protein catabolism) from the bloodstream, which would result in excess levels of amino acids, ammonia and/or urea in the bloodstream, which can be fatal, especially if switching to a high protein diet suddenly without giving time for the body to adjust.
The film says that termites are easily found in wooded country, but termites are less common the further north one travels, to the point that they are rare in the north temperate region.
The film mentions that mice, rats and other rodents are easy to obtain…. that they can simply be stepped on! This totally false. I challenge anyone in a survival situation to procure any healthy rodent by simply stepping on one. The only rodent I have ever been able to walk up and step on was the largest squirrel I had ever seen and it was on the ground just standing there looking around and stumbling a bit as it walked aimlessly about. It was not at all aware of my presence even though I was a mere few feet away. I suspected extreme old age or rabies, so I stayed clear.
You can even eat poisonous land snakes with safety.
Here is nothing but a semantic issue I have. There is some grey area, but generally speaking, poisons and venoms are two different kinds of toxins. Venoms are toxic by way of entering the bloodstream by penetrating the skin, such as via snake fangs, and yet not if ingested or touched. Whereas poisons are toxic no matter how they enter the blood… whether ingested, inhaled, or touched. Snakes are venomous, not poisonous, with the exception of certain members of the genus Rhabdophis. These snakes are both venomous and poisonous. Huh… you ask? Yeah.
Lizards are found almost everywhere, and their flesh is good to eat.
Again, as with termites, I think the film has confused the north temperate region with areas much further south. Although, Zootoca vivipara is an Eurasian lizard that lives further north than any other reptile, even as far as the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia. In Europe, Anguis fragilis [the slowworm], Lacerta agilis [the sand lizard], Natrix natrix [the grass snake], and Coronella austriaca [the smooth snake] also reach to 60° N… but only Z. vivipara and Vipera berus [European Viper] live north of 60° N. In North America, no reptile is found at 60° N latitude or higher, although two species of garter snakes (Thamnophis genus) live as far north as 55° N.
When you are near water, you can find amphibians like turtles and frogs, in abundance.
Uhh… turtles are reptiles, not amphibians… duh. How do I know this? They told me. I like turtles.
There are many methods of catching fish, and you are familiar with most of them.
Since this is a US Navy film, maybe it was meant to be shown in series after another film that talks about fishing techniques??? Or maybe in the 1950’s everybody instinctively knew how to catch fish??? Funny.
Some food, such as these nuts… can be eaten raw.
Yeah… I got yer nuts fer ya!
Some of the cooking advice is extraneous and not really something I would consider in a survival situation, such as advising to stuff small animals with fruit before roasting. But it is no doubt intended to keep morale up by suggesting a few ways to be creative with food preparation. And make sure those green sticks the film suggests cooking fish on are from a non-poisonous species.
There, I have commented where I felt it necessary and corrected the errors where I have found them.
Anyone else notice anything incorrect or absurd in this film?
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