When you think about the desert, you probably imagine a barren, dry and seemingly endless open field with tumbleweed rolling in the burning sun. There are very few plants and even fewer animals that can thrive in such harsh circumstances.


In a SHTF situation, you might have to travel through remote, unwelcoming environments in order to survive. You might have no choice but to live off the land at one point, should your provisions finish or be compromised. Knowing what to look for could be an important skill that could very well save your life.

The most important thing you need to know is that not every plant or bug can be eaten. A harsh environment also means that whatever life form has adapted to it will be rougher, more prone to survival. Some of the things you might consider eating out of desperation are actually poisonous and you might wound up dead.

This might be a good time to consider including a booklet of edible and poisonous desert life to your bug out bag. You don’t want to rely on memory alone for such important matters.

There are 540 edible plants in the Sonoran Desert that have helped natives survive and thrive for thousands of years. One of the main concerns in the desert is water. You can live for 3 weeks with little to no food, but after only 24 hours without water, your bodily functions start to shut down from dehydration.

As a general rule, don’t eat unless you have water. Eating will make your body ask for even more water. Luckily there are many ways in which you can get some form of water or hydration from desert plants. You will be glad to hear that all cactus fruits are edible. Although some might not taste as good, you can safely eat them. They also are a good source of water and nutrients.

#1 Prickly Pear Cactus

Some of the best you could find are the prickly pear cacti, which are about 85% water and have a lot of sugar and fibers. You can also boil or eat the light green, spiky leaves raw. The dark pink fruits are edible and quite tasty.

#2 Saguaro Cactus

There are a lot of them in the desert. They can live over 200 years and can grow up to 45 feet in height. In early spring, especially between May and June, they offer edible yellow flower and large pink and red fruit. Even if they offer no flowers or fruits, you could still use the spongy, fibrous interior that holds water for long periods of time. You could extract the water from it and even eat it for sustenance.

#3 Desert Christmas Cactus

This cactus only grows up to 2 feet tall and looks more like a shrub or a bush. You can scrape the spines off its little red berries using a knife before eating them. They taste very nice and are a good source of vitamins.

#4 Chia Sage

You want to eat the seeds of this plant. They are very nutritious and provide plenty of energy. This short plant with dark purple flowers and textured leaves is used as seasoning and can also be eaten raw. It grows up to 2 feet tall and all of it is edible.

#5 Agave

Agave is entirely edible. It looks similar to aloe, its nuance varying from blue to bright or dark green. You can eat the leaves, flowers, stalks and seeds as long as they are not too dry.

#6 Pinyon Pine

This pine tree’s seeds are edible. They are known as pine nuts, taste good and are packed with nutrients. You can also make glue out of their pitch. They’re not too difficult to recognize. They look like a pine tree growing in a round bushy shape, very different from the rather pyramid shape of a Christmas tree.

#7 Mesquite

These plants produce pods similar to beans. If you come across them, you’d best dry and grind them to flour. You can then mix the flour with water and eat it straight away or cook it.

#8 Cholla Cactus

Although they don’t look very friendly, their flowers and seeds are edible and very nutritious. Gathering them might be difficult or tricky since they are quite bushy and covered in spikes, so be very careful.

#9 Yucca

It’s easy to recognize a Yucca tree by its spiky leaves fanning to form a round desert plant. The plant bears fruit that can be grilled or eaten raw. If you really have to you could also eat the leaves raw. However make sure you remove the outer skin first. The best way to eat the leaves would be by boiling them. The roots contain a substance which can become toxic in large quantities. You could eat some raw if you really don’t have a choice, however boiling them will make them safe to eat.

Edible or not?!

Don’t eat plants that have a milky sap, they’re poisonous. Avoid eating red beans and always try to boil plants before eating them. Before eating anything, if you have the slightest doubt over whether or not to eat it, test it. Rub some on your skin and wait for 15 minutes. If nothing happens, rub some on your lips and give it another 15 minutes.

If nothing happens, hold some of it in your mouth for 15 minutes. If you’re alright, chew it and keep it in your mouth for 15 minutes. Unless you feel stings, burns or itches, swallow it and give it 12 hours. Although the process is long, it’s also as safe as possible.

You don’t want to take any chances when it comes to your health and this is the safest way to see if anything is edible.

Have you made your desert bug out plan yet? How do you plan on feeding off the desert? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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