31 Days: Apocalypse, Now ~ Day 25 :: Catastrophe Plants

metalorbburiedfernKCCExtNLNH29Sept2018Welcome to day 25 of 31 Days of Apocalypse, Now, a month of posts about apocalypse, revelation, uncovering what’s been hidden. Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may only peripherally seem related. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They’ll all be listed here, as they are posted.


Yes, of course there are lists of plants to survive a catastrophic disaster — as Aubrey Wallace puts it, “real disasters happen. Even without nuclear war, climate change, or ebola, Apocalyptica is one volcano eruption, earthquake, or hurricane away” — just as there is a doomsday vault of plant seeds to be accessed after the impending disaster.


If you survive the “apocalypse” in North America, look for these edible plants, which you have hopefully already learned how to identify; almost all of these are growing in my yard, and the rest except the wild rice are within a few miles of it — let’s hope our near-annihilation doesn’t occur in snow-and-ice-covered winter:

Sphagnum moss (Sphagnum spp.): “There’s a reason why bog mummies don’t decompose! Sphagnum moss has antibacterial and antifungal properties and can help prevent wounds from becoming infected. It is also highly absorbent and can be used as an emergency bandage for zombie bites.” At your nearest bog.

red sphagnum moss at the bog … you might be able to hunt some insects in the pitcher plant, too, and I think I see cranberry leaves — it’s an edible trifecta!

Heal all (Prunella vulgaris): Use it as a poultice on wounds.

Heal all aka Self-Heal (Prunella vulgaris) in my yard, June 2017

Willow (Salix spp.): Tea from the bark contains an aspirin-like substance, and you can use the pliable branches and young trunks to make all sort of handy things.

willow catkin in my yard, May 2018

Paper birch (Betula papyrifera): Make canoes to evade mutant pigs.

paper birch bark, Sutton, NH, Nov. 2016

Cattails (Typha spp.): Eat them raw (if young) or cooked, make flour from them, use the fluff as insulation.

cattails nearby, May 2014

Wild Red Raspberry (Rubus idaeus): The Manitoba Museum actually has a “collection of plants that have been bombarded with gamma rays from the old Whiteshell Nuclear Research Establishment. And the clear winner is: Wild Red Raspberry. This plant actually increased in abundance when other plants withered and died!” Who knew?

raspberries growing in wild spot in my yard, July 2015

Wild Rice (Zizania spp.): But be aware that collecting and threshing it labour-intensive. But what else do you have to do once TV, shops, work, and the gym are destroyed?

non-wild rice paddies in Plymouth, NH, Sept. 2014

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): Edible and medicinal. Make coffee from it!

dandelion, northern rail trail, Andover, NH, June 2017

Burdock (Arctium lappa): Prickly, but the roots are apparently good when cooked.

common burdock flourishing at the back door, Aug. 2017

Lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album): Eat it raw like lettuce or spinach. I think I have some in the yard but no photos of it.

(Source: Top 10 Plants for the Apocalypse: Part 1 and Part 2, Dr. Diana Robson, Curator of Botany, Manitoba Museum, Canada)


Some survival foods at Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse, which suggests way to prepare and cook these plants, include Dead nettle (Lamium purpureum), and mentioned in the same article are henbit, mint, and stinging nettles; burdock root (again), especially from first-year plants; bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare), or really any thistle: “A personal favorite is to collect the flowerheads before they’ve totally opened and to peel off the thorny outer skin. These are then boiled. Once done, the flavor is similar to artichokes (which are also members of the thistle family). I like slicing the cooked flowerheads and dipping them in mayonnaise;” wild onions; and the mallow plant, including common mallow (Malva neglecta), which I happen to know grows wild right across from the cattail marsh near me. Can be eaten raw or cooked, the whole plant, and it’s also medicinal.

thistle, near the local bog, Aug. 2014 (with opiliones, daddy-long-legs)


If you happen to live in the UK, “Foraging a Post-Apocalyptic Dinner Is Worth the Nettle Stings and Wet Feet” by Lauren Razavi (6 May 2015 in Munchies) might be eye-opening. Andrew Price, bushcraft expert and foraging enthusiast, and Kate Hawarth,  herbalist, offer tips during a survival and foraging class in South Wales. As Razavi writes,

The first lesson of foraging seems to be that the cuisine of a post-apocalyptic world involves a lot of foliage. We pick primroses, dandelion leaves, wood sorrel, and a handful of other things from the roughage, all of which can be eaten raw and used to make wild salad. Hawarth the herbalist knows what’s good to dry or infuse, so we pull up nettles, burdock roots, and dandelions to use for tea-making too. There are a lot more weeds involved than I had bargained for.

wood sorrel, local trail, Sept. 2014

Other foraged foods include wild garlic, mussels, periwinkles (sea snails), and seaweed  — some prepared with white wine and cream, not foraged.


For a fun take on foraging through the zombie apocalypse — with teaching guide and flashcards! — try Zombie Gardening: A Plant Foraging Guide by Adam Kessel, with “unique and humorous field notes about the identification of edible plants and the ongoing struggles of living in a post zombie world.” It sounds quite practical, really:

But through all this terror, there are silent advocates for the survival of the willing. Only the ones that walk softly with purpose will see them. They are the plants that have been growing in the alleys, sidewalks, vacant lots, and backyards. They were here before the outbreak and they will be here long after. …  These small advocates for your survival will remain untouched and uninfected. This book will help you to better understand your neighborhood and all the botanical secrets that it holds, which are vital to your survival.


Ask a Prepper has a list of 10 Trees Every Survivalist Should Know and Why. They’re Mulberries (Morus spp.), with berries and shoots for eating and medicinal purposes; Basswood/Linden (Tilia spp.) — you can eat the leaves, drink the sap, eat the flowers or make it into tea (but not too much if you have heart issues); Willow (Salix spp.), mentioned earlier, and here their use as a rooting hormone is noted; Walnuts (Juglans spp.), delicious nuts and brown dye; Oaks (Quercus spp.) for the acorns; Pine (Pinus spp.), to make tea from the needles, pitch from the resin for waterproofing, and pine tar as a wood preservative; White Birch (Betula papyrifera) again, for the sap, the leaves, the shoots, the catkins, and the bark; Cherries (Prunus spp.) for the fruit, bark extract, and green dye from leaves; Hackberry (Celtis spp.) for the fruit and seed; and Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos), with a high-protein seed, a sweet seedpod, and hard rot-resistant wood.

basswood (Tilia) sapling, along the northern rail trail in Andover, NH, Aug. 2017


As for the best survival crops (annuals), preppers (and some permaculturists) recommend these, either because they are hardy, store well for months without electricity, and/or are high in nutrition/calories: beans (fresh and dried), corn, winter squash, potatoes (including sweet potatoes), carrots, cabbage, kale, garlic, and some herbs (which can be dried and used in winter).

partial garlic harvest, Aug. 2018

You might also check out the book Notes from The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times (2010) by Carol Deppe (my notes on Resilient Gardener). She focuses on growing five crops: potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and (duck) eggs.

If you think the apocalypse will arrive with a whimper and not a bang, you could also check out the book, How to Survive the Apocalypse: Growing Food in a Changing Climate: Lessons from Desert Farmers on Adapting to Climate Uncertainty (2013) by Gary Paul Nabhan (Introduction). It’s not just about which plants to choose but how to manage water, soil, wind, heat, and pollination challenges.


For those who don’t just want to survive the end times but do it in style, Bon Appetit tells you how to “Eat — and Eat Well — After the Zombie Apocalypse (23 Oct 2013). Tagline: The End of Days doesn’t have to mean the End of Dining. That’s comforting. Sort of. Survival expert Shane Hobel explains how to “keep your post-apocalyptic cooking standards high.” Hobel’s Mountain Scout Survival School teaches students “to make rock-climbing quality rope, and fishing spears, and string for bows and arrows, and to hunt and trap. Each of these skills lightens the load a little bit. Soon you’re not just surviving, but you’re living.” And Autumn is a great time for an apocalypse: “Acorns are dropping; walnuts, chestnuts, and pine nuts are here. The squirrels are plump and juicy. … . Just two days ago I took a deer with my bow and arrow. And I cooked up a backstrap filet with crushed dried wild berries and a hazelnut reduction. Everything was collected from the landscape.” Some other plant foods Hobel mentions are sorrel, sassafras, and pine pitch.

try to get the acorns before someone else does


I mentioned in the intro a doomsday vault of plant seeds. There are actually more than 1,000 known seed banks, collaboratives, and exchanges around the world.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is called the “doomsday vault.” It’s “a secure seed bank on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen near Longyearbyen in the remote Arctic Svalbard archipelago, about 1,300 kilometres (810 mi) from the North Pole. … The seed vault is an attempt to ensure against the loss of seeds in other genebanks during large-scale regional or global crises” (Wikipedia) Because the seeds are stored in permafrost conditions (about -18C), they are well-preserved and Svalbard “acts as a sort of insurance policy for other seed banks around the world, only accessing the seeds if the original is destroyed. The Seed Vault can hold up to 2.25 billion seeds in total, equaling 500 seeds of some 4.5 million crop varieties. Priority for space in the vault is given to seeds that can ensure food production and sustainable agriculture, and the collection is primarily composed of seeds from developing countries” (AgPro)

“Life After Apocalypse: 8 Seed Banks Saving Up for the Future” (Web Urbanist, May 2015) offers info on a handful of the seedbanks.

Featured image is crabapples and acorns, Newbury, NH, Nov. 2016.

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