Stroud on Survival: How to Avoid Poisonous Plants in the Wild

As those of us who have suffered through a bout of poison ivy can attest, coming into contact with a poisonous plant -- let alone ingesting it -- can be an extremely unpleasant experience. Poisoning from plants can result in anything from minor irritation to death.


An important part of your trip planning and preparation is to learn which plants you'll encounter when you're in the wild, especially since many edible plants have poisonous look-alikes. Also, don't believe the following misconceptions about poisonous plants:



Misconception: "Eat what the animals eat."

Fact: Not true. Animals can eat plants that are poisonous to the rest of us.


Misconception: "If I boil the plant, the toxins will be removed."

Fact: In some cases, boiling doesn't remove all toxins.


Misconception: "Red, you're dead."

Fact: Some red plants are poisonous, but not all.

Misconception: "White, just right."

Fact: Many white plants and berries are poisonous.

If you don't know what a plant is, don't touch it or eat it. Eating the wrong plant can kill you. Nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, depressed heartbeat and respiration, headaches and hallucinations are all symptoms of poisoning.

If you suspect you've eaten a poisonous plant, immediately induce vomiting. This will bring up some of the toxic matter, but not all. After vomiting, if you have an ample supply of water, drink as much as possible to dilute the poison.

When you have no knowledge of a plant, suspect it's edible, and have no other choice but starvation, then you need to do an edibility test before you ingest a quantity of it. However, never eat mushrooms! Identifying mushrooms is a very exact science, and if you eat the wrong one, it can kill you quickly. Mushrooms offer little nutrition in return for the chances you are taking.

My friend in survival, Dave Arama, has this to add: "In a survival situation, and on an empty stomach, even a mildly toxic plant can kill you. With a full stomach as in our everyday lives, ingesting a mildly toxic plant will probably result in a stomach ache or in the worst-case scenario, a quick visit to the hospital.

If you suspect that your skin has come into contact with a poisonous plant, our first course of action should be to try to remove the oil by washing the area with soap and cold water. If there is no water nearby, use dirt or sand to wipe your skin -- but not if blisters have already appeared there.

The toxin and the infection can be spread by touching the infected area and then touching another part of your body, so resist the urge to scratch! Bandage the infected area to prevent any other part of your body from coming in contact with the infection.

Aside from the dangers of touching and eating unknown plants, there is another little-known way that plants can be harmful: if you burn them. People have experienced life-threatening health issues from burning piles of poison ivy and inadvertently breathing the smoke.

Plants can prove hazardous through more than just their poisons, too. Many are covered in spikes, spines, barbs or thorns that can cause excruciating pain that, if left unattended, can result in festering wounds. One unfortunate hiker who was walking carelessly through the desert tripped and held out his hand to break his fall. He landed on a saguaro cactus, and a 4-inch (10-cm) spine went right through his palm and out the other side.

Some plants can be hazardous because of the insects they host. Certain plants and insects help each other out. For example, there is a bush in the Amazon jungle that is home to a very protective type of ant. Get too close to the bush and the ants will actually jump out and attack you. Grab the bush and all bets are off. For this reason, wear gloves when possible and tuck your pants into your socks whenever you travel in creepy-crawly country, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.

Don't overlook the importance of footwear as protective clothing. One time in Arizona, I stopped in the middle of a hike because of excruciating pain in the top of one foot. It turned out to be a teddy-bear cactus making its way through my leather boots. The only scorpion sting I ever got was while wearing sandals in the desert. The scorpion also stung me on my index finger as I pulled it off my foot, and the numbness lingered for nearly two years.

'¦'¦'¦'¦'¦'¦'¦'¦'¦'¦'¦'¦'¦'¦'¦'¦'¦'¦'¦..

Survive coverThis story is an excerpt from the book Survive! by survival expert Les Stroud, best known for his hit show "Survivorman" on the Discovery Channel.

Recommended for You

Pass on your passion and make hunting fun for children with these tips! How-To

How to Make Hunting Fun for Kids

Jeff Johnston

Pass on your passion and make hunting fun for children with these tips!

Hunting in Quebec offers plenty of quality outfitters, affordable hunting options, great fishing and plenty of bears. North America

Bear Hunting Makes Quebec the Ultimate Springtime Destination

Lynn Burkhead - February 01, 2019

Hunting in Quebec offers plenty of quality outfitters, affordable hunting options, great...

A record crowd of more than 67,000 people fell upon the halls of the Sands Expo & Convention SHOT Show

HUNTING's Booth Babes of SHOT Show 2014

David Draper - January 21, 2014

A record crowd of more than 67,000 people fell upon the halls of the Sands Expo & Convention

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 11: Wheelgun Buffalo

Host Craig Boddington lays claim to hunting more than 100 Cape Buffalo over the course of his 40 plus year career, but he never took one with a handgun. That changed in South Africa when Craig faced down "black death" with a magnum wheelgun.

Cheeseburger Poppers

Cheeseburger Poppers

David Draper shares his recipe for making delicious cheeseburger poppers with wild game in this edition of "Fare Game."

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 14: Swamp Bulls

With his Mozambique forest bull in the salt, Craig Boddington sets his sights on the Marromeu grasslands in pursuit of a swamp buffalo.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Perfection takes practice, a little skill and the understanding that not all steaks are created equal. Recipes

How to Properly Grill Venison Steak

Hank Shaw

Perfection takes practice, a little skill and the understanding that not all steaks are...

If you're spending time in the outdoors where you might encounter bears, carry one of these guns. Survival

Which Firearm Is Best for Bear Defense?

Larry Case - July 11, 2018

If you're spending time in the outdoors where you might encounter bears, carry one of these...

We evaluate the 6.5 in a real-life case study. Ammo

Is The 6.5 The Perfect Hunting Caliber?

Mike Schoby

We evaluate the 6.5 in a real-life case study.

See More Stories

More Survival

The notion of catching game in a survival situation is an attractive one. The reality, however, is Survival

Les Stroud: How to Build a Rabbit Snare

Les Stroud - April 23, 2013

The notion of catching game in a survival situation is an attractive one. The reality,...



Nothing gets as much play in the media as people getting mauled or killed by animals. And while Survival

Les Stroud: How to Survive When Facing a Predator in the Wild

Les Stroud - May 30, 2012

Nothing gets as much play in the media as people getting mauled or killed by animals. And...

Every sportsman knows that danger can appear at any given time without notice, whether its a bear Survival

Best New Camping & Survival Gear for 2015

PH Online Editors - April 10, 2015

Every sportsman knows that danger can appear at any given time without notice, whether its a...

See More Survival

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save.

Temporary Price Reduction.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

×