Can You Eat Tree Bark to Survive? What Does It Taste Like?


Tree Bark

Tree bark is abundant in many regions that you could find yourself in a survival situation. Since it is so abundant I wanted to know if this was a legitimate source of calories so I did some research to find out.

Most tree bark is a safe and nutritious form of food that humans can find in the wilderness and is an excellent source of calories in a survival situation. You just have to be careful not to choose one of the poisonous varieties such as Cherry, Pacific Yew, or Eucalyptus trees.

Now that you know that tree bark can be consumed in a survival situation let’s discuss what kinds of tree bark and the how and why you should harvest and consume it.

Why Would You Want to Eat 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

  • 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.
  • 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 tree barks.
  • Slippery Elm is a hardwood tree characterized by it’s “slippery” inner bark. Also called red elm, gray elm, or soft elm, this tree is common in North America and has inner bark that is commonly used in medicine treating illness ranging from sore throats to hemorrhoids.

Trees With Inedible or Poisonous Tree Bark

  • 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 its fruit.
  • Pacific Yew Trees contain an alkaloid toxin which 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 and distinctive red berries, thin leaves, and seed cones.
  • 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 cause 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?

Once you have identified the tree with edible bark that you plan to harvest 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. Harvest the inner layer, but 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.

Boiling Tree Bark is a good option if you have access to a pot and can get some fresh water boiling over a fire. Take the bark and 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.

Frying Tree Bark requires a few table spoons 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.

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 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 breads 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 it raw might give you a boost of calories to quell a rumbling stomach but it is not going to 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 to spit out the fibers that you aren’t able to 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 edible tree barks 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 provide added nutrition to breads 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 it is raw and still quite bland when it is cooked. Depending on what part of the inner bark layer you prepare you could end up with some resinous flavoring. In order to mitigate that flavor slice it in half and only consume the innermost layer of the cambium.

Slippery elm bark is 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 it’s 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 a treatment for diarrhea.

Jim James

Jim James spent most of his childhood outdoors fishing on lakes in his area. Due to his scouting background, he has always been interested in survival, camping, and the outdoors in general. Jim is a best-selling author and has a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. He lives with his family in Charlotte, NC.

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