Feed yourself for free: The 12 'Survival Plants' Part 2

John Yeoman
Thursday, 26th March 2020

There are 12 wild plants that can provide us with the right amount of nutrients to survive. Here are three more in the series to grow in your wild permaculture garden or forage.

Here are three more plants from the 'survival' list.

Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

This is one of the easiest herbs to spot. Its rusty brown seed spike thrusts conspicuously from every motorway verge and acid city soil from summer through to spring. And it's no matter if its seed head and long spear-shaped leaves should be confused with the very similar spike but broader leaves of dock, its near cousin. Dock is edible, although formidably bitter.

Sorrel is high in vitamins A and C, and many minerals, especially iron. But the oxalic acid - which provides its sour taste and the brown blotches on older leaves - can be harmful to rheumatics and other sufferers from over-acidity.

This tartness can be exploited for its own sake in sharp sauces, e.g. for fish dishes, or can be removed by boiling for 20 minutes in two lots of water (or you may need at least three, if you've picked dock by mistake.) Or it can be offset by combining sorrel with bland greens, like comfrey, nettle, plantain, spinach and so on; or with sweet tubers like parsnip and beet.

It is best gathered in spring and can either be dried in bulk to reconstitute for purees, drinks or sauces during the year, or may be used fresh, e.g. chopped raw as a flavouring herb to scatter on salads, cheese dishes or soup. It can also be used in quiche or in a mornay sauce, made of cheese, cream and white wine. 

Fat Hen (Chenopodium album)

Spinach makes only a tolerable substitute for this legendary green vegetable, celebrated since Neolithic times as a staple in the British diet - and indeed, until quite recently, when spinach stole the limelight.

Compared with spinach, fat hen (known in the US as pigweed or lamb's quarters), has more protein and vitamin B, more iron, calcium, is less acid and has a firmer texture, with arguably a more delicate flavour. It is prominent virtually the year round in well fertilised soil, particularly old town dumps, but can be picked free from un-weeded pathways just a short walk from virtually any country kitchen door.

In fact, were it not absurdly cheap in the fields, it would be prohibitively expensive in the shops. Enjoy it as 'asparagus' (steam the young shoots, 6 inches (152mm) at most, until tender). Or, dried and powdered, as a nutritious additive to stews or meat loaves. Or, simmered in butter with a pinch of ground nutmeg, then blended with flour and milk (or stock) and served with wedges of fried bread.

For soup, boil the leaves with an equal volume of water, a knob of butter, thyme and a small onion stuck with cloves. After 10 minutes, add enough honey until perceptibly sweet, a few raisins and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove the onion and lace the soup with yoghurt or cream to serve.

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)

The broad fleshy leaves of comfrey feel the way a hairbrush looks, but the disquieting furriness quite disappears, like that of nettles, in cooking. Renowned by herbalists as a 'miracle' healing plant that, in a poultice, quickly sets bones and reduces swellings, sprains and bruises, comfrey also has good value.

Caution: Comfrey, like bracken tops, is said to be potentially carcinogenic, if consumed over time in vast quantities. (As, of course, is tobacco.) This thought may not concern you overmuch in a survival situation but in normal times all herbs should be used in sensible moderation.


Nutritionally, comfrey is equal to most fodder plants, but per plant is more abundant in leaf than many, and can be picked the year round. Seek it out by ditches, riverbanks and other damp places. Either young or old leaves may be eaten, plus the stems and flowers, for comfrey is rarely as bitter as many 'weeds.' But for the best flavour, use the young leaves or blanch the plant for a few weeks by covering it with earth.

Comfrey has more mucilage (thick gooey substance) than even marshmallow, so its roots and leaves are excellent, dried and stored, as a 'flour' which can be mixed with wheat flour (or equal parts of soy and wheat flour) plus water to make pastry, intriguingly green but nutritious. It will also bind together croquettes and patties, in the absence of egg - a valuable economy tip. It will thicken sauces and fortify stews. The very young mucilaginous leaves, deep-fry (as do wild mallow leaves), particularly well in tempura.

Comfrey cakes are a tasty way to use leftover. Steam or simmer washed leaves for five minutes or until soft, then chop and sauté them briskly with onions. Mix with an equal amount of mashed cooked pulses, grains, rice or potato. Add some herbs and a dash of Worcester sauce and form into cakes. Bake or grill for about 15 minutes until brown on both sides.

Use comfrey leaves in a casserole as the layers or use as a side dish to meat or sausages by quickly sautéing in butter.


Feed yourself for free: the 12 'Survival Plants' Part 1 

Feed yourself for free: the 12 'Survival Plants' Part 3

Feed yourself for free: the 12 'Survival Plants' Part 4

This excerpt was taken from Self Reliance: A Recipe for the New Millenium by John Yeoman

Photo Credits: www.geograph.org.uk