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Episode 69 S2-34

Wild Foraging In the Desert of North America


Special Guest:

Without Land Ch 34

James E. Hart

The Without Land adventure continues as the team attempts to secure food and water in the desert environment they are stranded in. Here to discuss the realities of wild foraging in the desert is James E. Hart, author of Urban & Wilderness Survival, Emergency Preparedness.

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One of the first things you want to look for when wild foraging in the desert are cottonwood trees. The cottonwoods are not a food source but they are a good indicator that water may be near by. If you can see the cottonwoods, head there. There may not be not be any water when you get there but dig down to find the water. You may only find damp soil or you may get water that seeps up from the ground. Set a solar still up over the damp soil. James feels that in the desert any water is usually worth the effort of securing it but don't over do the size of your still. Keep it small, only about 2ft across, to save energy.


A solar still is a condensation application method of securing water. The sun creates condensation and setting up a solar still is a way of capturing it. Dig a hole in wet sand and put plastic over that. Weight down the middle with a small weight and put a cup under the plastic where the plastic dips because of the weight. The water will evaporate onto the plastic, run down the plastic and then drip into your cup. When you have collected enough water to drink and you are not planning on moving to a new location, carefully take out your cup and then replace it when water is removed. You can also put leaves under the plastic to create another water source. It is true that your urine can also work as a water source. The evaporation process will purify the water.


Another benefit of locating cottonwood trees is that animals will frequent this area. Small animals like lizards and snakes will be drawn to the water. If you sit still with a forked or sharpened stick you can gig these small animals as a food source. Large water pools by the cottonwoods may also attract larger animals like deer or antelope. If you can secure a large meat source eat as much as possible without overeating and try to preserve the rest to the best of your ability. You can cook it, hang it to dry or cure it.


Ephedrine Plant


There are not as many edible plants to forage in the desert. There is a desert Ephedrine plant that will give you stamina but it is not great for sustainability. You can find Juniper Berries on Juniper Pines. As well as pine nuts and needles from Pinion Pines.


James points out that no one person could know every plant in every ecosystem in the world. A good book, your own backyard, and a desire to study the plants in your area is a great place to start. Then start researching the surrounding areas or areas you may be bugging out to. The plants may vary in look and variety from one area to the next.



Pinion Pine

Make sure you include a plant id book in your bug out bag! You may also want to include protein bars or minty hard candies.


The scoop on cactus plants is that a lot of them are very dangerous to eat and will make you sick.  There are a few kinds that are edible. James referred to a cactus that looks like a beaver tail but he also instructs each one of us to do our own homework and learn what is safe and what isn't. When you do find an edible variety, you must remove the spines and cook it before you eat it. If you ever attempt to drink juice from a cactus James says, "you better have a good book and be sure you know what you are looking at."

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Without Land Ch 34

James E. Hart

A veteran of 2 tours of duty in Viet Nam, James began his survival training at the age of 7 when he was stranded in the Mojave Desert for 7 hours without food or water during a family move in 1954. Since then he has been through the scouting program where he attained Life scout, served as Scoutmaster, Assistant Scoutmaster, Venture Advisor, and earned the Badden Powell Award. An avid outdoorsman, he has winter camped in Utah and northern Quebec, Canada, snowshoed in upstate New York, Utah and Quebec, and camped in the Mojave Desert of California, the Uintah Mountains of Utah, and the Piney Woods of East Texas, among numerous other locations. James has traveled and been through 42 of the 50 states of the US. Three provinces of Canada, sailed the Pacific Ocean, and crossed the Equator and 35 countries from jungles of South America to the Himalayas of Nepal.


Having earned an Associates of Photography Degree from Houston Community College, he has beautifully captured many of his travels with his camera.


Now retired from a career with the Trinity River Authority of Texas, James resides in Dallas, TX, where he lectures on Wilderness and Survival Training. He is the author of SWET Survival & Wilderness Experience Training, Urban & Wilderness Emergency Planning, 35 other booklets on wilderness training, monthly articles for Survival Life Magazine, and a column and articles for The Garland Messenger Newspaper. James also does workshops and speaking engagements.

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