Botany: The Most Neglected Subject in Survival (and Why You Could Die From Not Understanding It)

by | Sep 27, 2018 | Headline News | 16 comments

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    This article was originally published by Jeremiah Johnson at Tess Pennington’s

    Tess is the author of The Prepper’s Blueprint: How To Survive ANY Disaster

    One of the most neglected things regarding survival in the wilderness are resources to properly identify different plants, animals, and other natural resources that might aid you. Regarding the plant kingdom, there’s a fine line between foraging for food and unknowingly causing your own demise. This is because there are many plant species out in the wild that are downright poisonous. You need an edge and need to know what you’re looking for.

    Do-it-Yourself Botany: Plant Identification and Four Must-Have Resources for Your Survival Library

    Lupine can be mistaken for chicory. Some plants, such as poison oak, ivy, or sumac are dangerous to you if they come in contact with the skin, and also if they’re accidentally burned over a campfire and the smoke inhaled. The first article that I wrote for Ready Nutrition was a review of the book “Eat the Weeds” that gave a listing of all the weeds that are fit and nutritious for consumption.

    I’m going to recommend another reference that I found recently that will be a great addition to your preparation library. It is an easy-to-use resource that is very comprehensive in nature and an excellent instructional manual. Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification,” is written by Thomas J. Elpel, and this stresses identification by the plant family, and then narrowing it down to the individual plant.

    The book gives the history and structure of plants and then how to identify the different families of plants, finishing off with an entire reference guide with the in’s and outs of each kind. This includes trees and ferns, as well as your standard flowering species. Elpel goes into great detail of the differences between Monocots and Dicots, and flower shape and structure to identify first the family and then the individual plant.

    The reason emphasis is placed on the family is that it is easier to identify the group and then narrow that group down to the exact type of plant than to just take a plant in the middle of nowhere and have nothing to compare it to or points of reference. Now’s the time to pick this one up for a reference, as everything is growing all over the country and it can be used as a guide regardless of the geographic location you reside in.

    I have already written about my appreciation for Peterson Field Guides for animals, plants, fungi, and so forth: this is because of the color photographs that enable you to accurately ascertain what plant is in front of you. Use those guides to corroborate your hypothesis and to verify your find. Use Elpel’s guide here to enable you to narrow down the field with or without a field guide with color photographs. Peterson’s is by example, and Elpel’s is by the scientific method of observation.

    Botany in a Day will run you $30 for the cover price, and you can order it through Amazon if you cannot find it in a bookstore near you. It is not a “pocket-sized” reference, but it is a soft cover and can be tucked away in a backpack when you’re out and about. It is a worthwhile investment that will teach you how to identify the plants you encounter in your travels.  JJ out!


    Jeremiah Johnson is the Nom de plume of a retired Green Beret of the United States Army Special Forces (Airborne). Mr. Johnson was a Special Forces Medic, EMT and ACLS-certified, with comprehensive training in wilderness survival, rescue, and patient-extraction. He is a Certified Master Herbalist and a graduate of the Global College of Natural Medicine of Santa Ana, CA. A graduate of the U.S. Army’s survival course of SERE school (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape), Mr. Johnson also successfully completed the Montana Master Food Preserver Course for home-canning, smoking, and dehydrating foods.

    Mr. Johnson dries and tinctures a wide variety of medicinal herbs taken by wild crafting and cultivation, in addition to preserving and canning his own food. An expert in land navigation, survival, mountaineering, and parachuting as trained by the United States Army, Mr. Johnson is an ardent advocate for preparedness, self-sufficiency, and long-term disaster sustainability for families. He and his wife survived Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Cross-trained as a Special Forces Engineer, he is an expert in supply, logistics, transport, and long-term storage of perishable materials, having incorporated many of these techniques plus some unique innovations in his own homestead.

    Mr. Johnson brings practical, tested experience firmly rooted in formal education to his writings and to our team. He and his wife live in a cabin in the mountains of Western Montana with their three cats.

    The Prepper's Blueprint

    Tess Pennington is the author of The Prepper’s Blueprint, a comprehensive guide that uses real-life scenarios to help you prepare for any disaster. Because a crisis rarely stops with a triggering event the aftermath can spiral, having the capacity to cripple our normal ways of life. The well-rounded, multi-layered approach outlined in the Blueprint helps you make sense of a wide array of preparedness concepts through easily digestible action items and supply lists.

    Tess is also the author of the highly rated Prepper’s Cookbook, which helps you to create a plan for stocking, organizing and maintaining a proper emergency food supply and includes over 300 recipes for nutritious, delicious, life-saving meals. 

    Visit her website at for an extensive compilation of free information on preparedness, homesteading, and healthy living.


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      1. Finally! I thought I’ld never see a worthwhile prepper article on this site. I was nearly ready to give up. Thanks for the ads for those books. Good reference books are gold. Something for the homeschooled kid to read.

        There are cookbooks on vegetables and on herbs and spices that identify the family of the plant. Also good to know and have.

        Getting your hands dirty is good for the soul. Plant something. Do your own yard maintenance. You need to get outside in the sun, sweat a little, and say hello to your neighbors once in a while.
        Haha. No trespassing is OK, too. But I like to know the people who live near me. I mind my own business and have been blessed with good folk whom know their boundaries.

        I would rather live in a shack in a good neighborhood than a mansion in a bad one.


        • B from calif, correct

        • “Do your own yard maintenance.”

          But I thought I’m supposed to praise Jesus?!?
          He comes back and saves us every other Friday to work in our yard.

      2. One of the most important subjects out there. Most of these books cover plants from many different areas. But, something I learned a long time ago is to not try to learn all of the plants. Concentrate first on just what is in your area and then start with the most common plants to your area. Key to survival is don’t eat anything you are not absolutely sure of. Too many plants look remarkably alike.

        • Good article.
          It also helps to learn from locals which plants are edible.
          Many can be good, others can kill you.
          Knowing how the plant looks can help. Such as the leaves. Do they alternate, or form a certain way. Many are pretty similar, so you have to be careful.
          Mushrooms are sometimes hard to identify. Any book with very good pictures of any plant is a great help.
          I have one that was written by American Indians from all over the USA.
          Good book to have.

          If you order by mail, make sure you know the Latin name. Or you could get a completely different plant.

          Learn from the areas you have lived in. Take pictures of them and ask.
          One site called Dave’s Garden has a wealth of information. They also have people who can identify that plant. They are pretty knowledgeable there. And they also have pictures of all parts of the plant.
          You can also trade and sell there.
          Don’t forget about chemtrails. What they drop, falls everywhere. I have noticed that.

      3. Among our naturalists were a few men who labeled themselves “naturalists”. Often they were priests and pastors, educated men in a world with few educated men, and so wanting to stimulate their intellect, they studied Nature and made observations and drew conclusions.

        Some were physicians as they had NO allopathic medicines ie produced pharmacologic agents based upon “active ingredients” that were synthesized. Instead, they cultivated herbs and they gathered wild herbs, dried them, and formed mixtures and elixers. These were the “medicines” their patients took.

        But there had always been “wise women” who were prinarily midwives in England who did the very same thing. There might not be a physician/surgeon, so people would call on them, and bartered with them in payment.

        If you were to go back in history, then this forms the basis for osteopathic medical practices since the ancient Greeks and the Chinese. Japan was unusual because as they began westernizing, then a Kampo physician/herbalist began studying Portuguese, Spanish, or Dutch medical books as much as possible, and then later German and Austrian medical books.

        It wasn’t until about 1920 that many drugs could be purchased. That’s really when allopathic medicine began.

        • John Muir was a Scottish immigrant who became a naturalist and was instrumental in the national park system as a way of preserving the wilderness.


          Obviously Charles Darwin was a naturalist. He began study as an Anglican priest but switched to the sciences like Botany and Zoology and Biology.

          Gregory Mendel was a monk who became a naturalist and studied and recorded data on various pea species and there begins the study of genes and hereditary attributes as a precursor to Watson and Crick discovering DNA.

      4. Want to see the real face of evil.? Just watch the Kavanaugh coverage today. And take a real hard look at that thing they call Dr. Ford…..A man-hating disgusting monster. The whole dam thing is a circus of madness. They’re all psychotic. And they’re running this country.
        If this monster ends up stopping the nomination of Kavanugh, then our Judicial System of “innocent until proven guilty” will be gone forever. It will then only take an “accusation” (without proof or collaboration) to destroy anybody, at any time. The French Revolution comes to mind.
        For whom the bell tolls? It tolls for Thee.!!!!!

        • I am mad at how they are treating Mrs. Ford as if she is so fragile she will break. Speaking so softly and everyone thanking her for coming forward and apologizing for her sexual assault. And she acts as if she is so fragile. My question is how does someone so fragile get 4 degrees and manage to live in our society? IMO she’s fake and “putting on” this whole act, and if you watch her closely you will notice that she is “acting” and doing it quite poorly. She acts so afraid and timid, how in the hell does she have a job and confront the everyday problems of life without having a breakdown? I have to say this woman is totally fake! She is sickening to watch as she puts on this act. I want to puke! I don’t know her motives other than that of helping her leftist liberals derail the appointment of a conservative judge to the Supreme Court, which is very believable.

          • People rarely act out of character, and that character is usually expressed throughout their lives.

            We hear all kinds of testimony to Kavanaugh’s character -all of it good from many, many people who knew him then and know them now- but how much do we hear about Ford’s character (as she has expressed it in the details of her life and activities)?

            I’d like to hear some analysis of her life and actions the same way we seem to hear all kinds of analysis and (uncorroborated) claims about Kavanaugh’s.

      5. This requires a prioritization of time, in which you are mainly feral, domesticated, or some of both.

        I find that, where the system is lazy or over regulated, to the point of dysfunction, it takes less time and effort to be feral.

        It takes less time to pick from an established garden, than to go to the store. If you are handy, and thorough, it takes less effort to self-treat. You are your own source of providence and first responder.

        Botany is also a source of useful materials, and science hasn’t nearly discovered all the uses for common, everyday weeds and houseplants, yet. Your tricks are patentable, intellectual property, in spite of nosy neighbors. Industrial precursors are in the field and garden. Wonder about things, childishly, and test it. You are a citizen scientist.

        The humble work of your hands is haute couture, if marketed formally.

        If not, this is a still timeless kind of thrift, of benefit to all poor and handy people, and always will be. The world is a grocery store and pharmacist, in every corner, if that’s what you’re looking for.

        Everything needful can be replenished. It is renewable, had we the intention of terraforming planet Earth — as in the saying that you are growing (more good) soil, as well as a plant.

      6. I learned to identify edible wild plants from my grandparents and uncles. I also learned to identify the dangerous wild plants as well. I also taught my children to identify these plants, however trying to gain my grandchildren’s attention in order to teach them has been a useless effort. You can learn so much from your elder relatives since they relied a lot of times on eating these plants as supplements to their diets. People no longer hand down information from parents to children. There is so much to be learned from our past.

      7. A good way to start — once you have most certainly identified a wild food source — is to make just one substitution to a civilized recipe. Add just one wild food source, or from the garden.

        ID just one weed, in your lawn or growing the cracks. Try to find all the uses for just one little plant, without writing an entire book, for just one thing! You might be surprised to find yourself surrounded by a wealth of resources.

        There is no need to wait for teotwaki, to benefit from it.

      8. Thanks for this! I’ll have to get the book to add to the few I already have 🙂 Knowing what you can forage to eat and what you can use for medicine are very important things. As of now, I only know the uses and edibility of maybe half of the wild greenery on my property; the rest are still a mystery 🙁

      9. hemlock is a real man killer and every once in a while some one gets killed by it. Its hollow stems make great straws for drinks kids think and they die. You have to tell kids what is what in poisonous plants because they will experiment on their own and some times die as a result

        • One plant people grow called oleander will kill you. It is pretty but deadly.
          I read once of a bunch of people having a weenie roast. Stuck the hot dogs on it. Ate them and died.
          I never grew that one.
          It is mainly a subtropical plant,but can be grown in many places.
          Simulate the climate and you can grow many different plants.
          I love my neem tree.

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