Can You Eat Tree Bark to Survive? (What You Need to Know)


Tree bark is abundant in many regions that you could find yourself in a survival situation. Since it is so plentiful, I wanted to know if this was a legitimate source of calories. I looked into the matter and this is what I learned from experts on the topic.

Most types of tree bark can be eaten by humans and is an excellent source of calories in a survival situation. However, you have to avoid poisonous varieties such as Cherry, Pacific Yew, or Eucalyptus trees.

The rest of the article will discuss what kinds of tree bark to look for and how to harvest and consume it.

Calories in Tree Bark

Tree bark is plentiful in many environments and is a quick source of calories if you know where to look.

Tree bark provides about 500-600 calories a pound which is quite nutritionally dense for a plant that you can forage relatively simply. Cambium, the edible part of tree bark, contains digestible starches, sugar, vitamins, and minerals alongside a rather impressive amount of fiber to keep things moving.

Common Trees With Edible Tree Bark

  1. Pine Trees are evergreen coniferous trees that are one of the most commonly harvested sources of tree bark and are abundant in many environments. They are easily identified by their pine needles and pine cones.
  2. Birch trees are a thin-leaved deciduous tree that grows in temperate climates. Their bark is characteristically thin and often separate into papery plates with color that differs by species. Birch bark is typically a bit sweeter and has a more favorable texture than other edible types of tree bark.
  3. Slippery Elm is a hardwood tree characterized by its “slippery” inner bark. Also called red elm, gray elm, or soft elm, this tree is common in North America and has inner bark commonly used in medicine treating illnesses ranging from sore throats to hemorrhoids.

Trees With Inedible or Poisonous Tree Bark

  1. Wild Cherry Trees are toxic in all parts of the tree except the fruit and then only when the fruit is ripe. The tree bark, seeds, and leaves all contain cyanogenic glycosides. You can recognize these trees through their bunches of white flowers and, of course, their fruit.
  2. Pacific Yew Trees contain an alkaloid toxin that causes cardiac issues. Ingesting any part of the plant is toxic to both humans and animals. This tree typically grows to thirty feet in height and can be recognized by its thin scaly bark, distinctive red berries, thin leaves, and seed cones.
  3. Eucalyptus Trees encompass over 700 species of tree that are found all over the world. The fragrant oil that makes eucalyptus trees smell so nice causes illness when ingested. Eucalyptus trees have peeling bark and range from red to rainbow-colored and are easily identified by their fragrance.

How Do You Harvest Tree Bark?

To harvest tree bark, you need to remove the grey outer bark and the greener middle layer of bark to get down to the nutritious inner layer called cambium. The edible inner layer is a bit rubbery and white or cream-colored. Be careful not to go too far, or you might be biting into hard, inedible wood.

How Do You Eat Tree Bark?

There are several ways to consume tree bark, but the most common ways are to:

  • Boil it
  • Fry it
  • Make bark flour
  • Eat it raw

How to Boil Tree Bark

Boiling Tree Bark is a good option if you have access to a pot and can get some freshwater boiling over a fire. Take the bark, cut or shred it into thin strips, and pop them in to make a thin soup and something akin to pasta. Cooking it breaks down some of the tough fibers and makes it easier to eat.

How to Fry Tree Bark

Frying Tree Bark requires a few tablespoons of oil or some other form of fat and a frying pan. Take strips of the bark and pop it into a frying pan with a layer of oil for a few minutes on each side, and you get something with the texture of jerky. Cooking it in this fashion makes a texture and flavor similar to potato chips.

How to Make Tree Bark Flour

Making Tree Bark Flour is a bit more involved as you have to try the bark over a fire and grind it into a powder. If you want to channel your primitive side or are in a survival situation, you can pound it with a couple of rocks. If you do have a food processor or blender handle, that is a much easier option. Tree bark powder can be used to add nutrition to any wild game you’ve caught or to make a basic bread or cookie. Tree bark bread and cookies have been gaining popularity in recent years and have been a part of traditional food in Sweden and in Native American cultures for centuries.

Eating Tree Bark Raw

Eating it raw might give you a boost of calories to quell a rumbling stomach, but it will not be the most efficient way to get the calories into your body. However, if you are without time or supplies, it might be your only option. Be prepared for a serious jaw workout and spit out the fibers that you cannot grind down and eat.

What Does Tree Bark Taste Like?

Tree bark tastes wildly different depending on the species of tree. For our purposes, we can go over the most commonly available tree barks, pine, birch, and slippery elm.

  • Birch bark is a little bit sweeter than many other varieties of edible tree bark and is often used as a flavoring accent due to its taste which is similar to wintergreen. Turned into a bark flour and used in baking, it can add interesting flavor accents and add nutrition to bread and cookies.
  • Pine bark is the most commonly used bark available for foraging in the wilderness and is one of the most widespread barks that is cooked and consumed. Pine bark is very chewy and bland when raw and still quite dull when it is cooked. Depending on what part of the inner bark layer you prepare, you could end up with some resinous flavoring. To mitigate that flavor, slice it in half and only consume the innermost layer of the cambium.
  • Slippery elm bark was once used as a traditional medicine supplement in teas and poultices, and now, in modern times, it is found in powder and pill form. Slippery elm bark has a nutty, earthy flavor and can be used to make a thin gruel to take advantage of its medicinal properties.

Related Questions

Do people eat tree bark outside of a survival situation? Tree bark is used as a flavoring accent. The most pervasive use of tree park as a seasoning is cinnamon which is simply ground up and dried inner bark of a cassia tree.

Does tree bark get used for anything else? Tree bark is used in traditional medicine, the most popular and well-known of which is slippery elm which can be used in many medicinal applications from lozenges to help with coughs to treat diarrhea.

For more, don’t miss Can You Eat Tree Leaves? | 7 Types That Are Edible.

Jim James

Hey, I'm Jim and the author of this website. I have always been interested in survival, fishing, camping, and anything in nature. In fact, while growing up I spent more time on the water than on land! I am also a best-selling author and have a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. I hope you find value in the articles on this website. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or input!

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