The Survival Guide to Identifying Leaves

The plant kingdom is vast and has a lot to offer to the human race. Whether you are a kid or an adult, the magnificent plant kingdom is a great place to spend time with. But do you know about the flora of the region?

Nature can provide you with almost anything, provided you know where and how to look. Identifying the trees and plants can help you survive practically any ordeal considering you don’t eat something off beam. Leaves are different in orientation. Identifying plants can be a matter of survival! When lost in the woods, plants are beneficial for us in several ways. They provide you food and medicines in situations of survival besides supplying you with weapons.

Let us look at different types of leaves and plants and their characteristics.

Edible Plants

Many of us don’t like leafy plants and vegetables. However, the fact is that when lost in the woods without any food and water, it is those green plants and vegetables that come to our rescue. Identifying edible plants can be tricky as the majority of them are edible. But don’t be fooled by leaves that look like common edibles. You have to be conscious and picky when it comes to having plants in food — one false mouthful can lead to accidental poisoning.

Some of the edibles plants are as follows-

Blue Violets

Blue violets are plants that exist in shady spots. These heart-shaped leaves taste the best. The entire plant is edible.


Burdock’s roots are edible and can be eaten raw or cooked. The roots of the burdock plant will be about the size of a carrot. You can dig around the plant using your hands, a rock, or a digging stick.

Wild Onion

Always make sure to double-check a plant’s identity through the smell that they carry. Wild onions growing in forests are available in loads and certainly make a great source of food.

Pine Tree Needles & Inner Bark

The needles of pine trees are rich in Vitamin C. They can be nibbled on and spat out right after swallowing it. The barks have a slightly bitter taste but make an easy meal.

Medicinal Plants

The correct use of plants can provide relief and potentially save your life. While using plants for medicinal purposes, affirmative identification of the plants is vital for food.

Let us look at some of the medicinal leaves and plants.


Cannabis exists in varying forms, and its health benefits are ever-growing. With the legalization of cannabis in many states, it is now widely used for medical treatment.

People can now easily grow cannabis plants with auto-flowering feminized seeds if they live in a place where it’s legal to grow for personal use. Cannabis is palmately, or digitately compound leaves having serrate leaflets. It gradually increases to about thirteen leaflets per leaf (usually seven or nine), determined by the growing conditions and variety. So if you are wondering where to buy cannabis seeds in 2021?

Then most cannabis seed banks have an online shop, which means you can go straight to the source to purchase your cannabis seeds.


Plantains are broad edible leaves like spinach, and one can add its seeds to the soup to thicken it. Besides being edible, plantains have some recognized medicinal properties. On getting stung or bit by a bee or ant, you can chew up the leaf and apply it to the bite.


Gingko is amongst one of the oldest homeopathic plants and one of the oldest tree species.

The fan-shaped leaves of Ginkgo are distinct, flat, and irregularly notched with deep grooves in the middle. The leaves are a vital herb in Chinese medicine and are popularly used to create capsules, tablets, and extracts. One of the best-known benefits of the ginkgo plant is its ability to boost brain health.


Echinacea is a pretty coneflower and grows in moist to dry prairies and open-wooded areas native to North America. It has a thin, tapered leaf shape with varied colors and has been a medicine for centuries.

It is generally used to treat the common cold, flu, infections, and healing wounds.

Poisonous Plants

Plants are also deadly!

They poison one on contact, through ingestion, absorption, or by inhalation. This means that plants cause painful skin irritations upon contact, internal poisoning when consumed, and skin absorption or inhalation can poison the respiratory system.  Let us look at some of the poisonous leaves and plants.

Poison Hemlock

It mostly exists in wet swamps or moist wetlands, wet meadows, ditches, and stream banks.

The Poison Hemlock may grow up to 2.5 meters high and has a smooth, hollow stem (purple or red-striped or mottled), with small white flowers. Be cautious, and do not confuse it with wild carrot; because even a small amount may result in death.

Poison Ivy and Poison Oak

Poison ivy and poison oak found in almost any habitat in Northern America can cause severe contact dermatitis. Both have alternate compound leaves with three smooth or serrated leaflets. Poison ivy grows mostly as a vine alongside the ground or climbing through its red feeder roots, while poison oak grows similar to a bush.

Stinging Nettle

Stinging Nettle leaves are finely toothed and tapered at the ends and contain hair on the leaves’ underside and stems. These heart-shaped hairy plants are also known for their brightly colored, yellow, or pink flowers.

Use gloves when you touch them as a mere touch on its hair can release a poisonous stinging chemical.

Castor Bean, Castor-oil Plant, and Palma Christi

Castor bean, castor-oil plant, and palma christi exist in tropical and temperate regions and are poisonous to eat. Don’t mistake the seeds for a bean-like food. The castor bean is typically a semi-woody plant with large, alternate, star-like leaves grown into a tree with small and inconspicuous flowers and fruits grown in clusters at its tops.

Wild Mushrooms

 Mushrooms might be your favorite. But wild mushrooms can turn out to be the tragic end of your story. Never eat mushrooms in a survival situation!

How do you distinguish edible plants?

  • Leaf Shape and Margin: Leaf shapes can vary from elliptical, lance-shaped, egg-shaped, wedge-shaped, triangular, oblong, and long-pointed to even top-shaped.
  • Leaf Arrangements: Standard leaf arrangements are compound, simple, opposite, alternate, and basal rosette.
  • Root Structures: Root structures of plants are the tuber, taproot, bulb, clove, corm, crown, and rhizome.

Universal Edibility (Test)

Identification of plants before consuming them is crucial. It is essential to determine their edibility and poisonous properties. When in doubt, take the Universal Edibility Test to determine which plants you can supposedly have in your food and which you need to avoid.


Identification of plants – whether cultivated or wild, is only the key to the safe use of these plants in survival situations. Always be on the look-out for familiar foods and plants that you know are safe to eat and avoid fortuitous poisoning.

Moreover, live off-the-land whenever possible.




Jeff Campbell

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