Could You Survive in the Wild for 5 Days? These Two Men Had To…

We’ve all heard stories of people who survived for several days or more in the wild before being rescued.

Including the one a few years back that occurred on the rugged Downey Creek Trail in Washington state.

Two hikers – 64-year-old Marshall “Buster” Cabe and 59-year-old David James – had planned on a nice five-day hike. Along the way, they took a chance on what they hoped was a shortcut. It wasn’t.

Instead, it resulted in them getting lost. They were both running out of food. James had another problem. He lost gear in a fire. Including his sleeping bag and a shoe. While he stayed put, Buster set out to try to find help. 

Surviving on berries and bugs

Along his journey, Buster knew he’d have to eat to maintain his strength. But what? His only choices were berries and bugs, including ants.

“I ate blueberries,” Buster said. “They’ve got more energy than the red ones. Blue huckleberries, I ate them. And I ate some ants.”

The ants were not as bad-tasting as Buster thought they’d be. And he appreciated the fact that they provided some much-needed protein.

But after being rescued, he offered a warning for anyone caught in the same type of situation. “(Ants) taste like SweeTarts,” he said. “Except they’ll bite you in the tongue, so eat them fast.”

Most of us know that some berries are nutritious and others are poisonous. But which are which? Here are a few tips in case you need to survive on them. 

Nutritious berries

Some berries are perfectly fine to eat and healthy for you. They can keep you going until you find your way to shelter. 

Partridgeberries are dark red – similar to cranberries – and very tart. They contain plenty of natural pectin, which is used as a setting agent in jams and jellies. 

Manzanita berries are silvery-green and oval-shaped. These berries have long been used to make cider. Their less-than-ideal taste can be overcome by grinding them and using the powdered fruit. 

Wintergreen berries are red, while their leaves are dark green and waxy. The berries are safe to eat. One outdoors author even recommends using them to make ice cream and muffins. 

Blueberries in the wild are a godsend, especially during blueberry season. They are naturally resistant to many native pests and diseases. 

Strawberries in the wild are both nutritious and delicious. They are a great source of Vitamins B, C, and E. You can safely eat all the parts of a strawberry, including the leaves.

Berries to avoid

Now let’s take a look at a few berries you definitely don’t want to consume:

Holly berries contain an alkaloid called theobromine. Eating a few probably won’t hurt you. But if you eat a bunch of them, you could become ill. 

Ivy berries are poisonous if eaten in quantities. Fortunately, they taste bitter so it’s unlikely anyone would eat too many unless they were starving.

Yew berries are not harmful by themselves, but their seeds are poisonous. The seeds contain alkaloids called taxanes. These seeds have been known to cause sudden death.

Mistletoe is best left hanging above you around the holidays. Its pink and white berries are poisonous. Some who have eaten a bunch of mistletoe have suffered convulsions, blurred vision, stomach cramps, and diarrhea.

Jerusalem cherry is a beautiful plant, but its berries contain a toxin that can cause gastric problems and vomiting.

Winter provides a different challenge 

Despite the challenge they faced while lost in the wilderness, Buster and David had one thing going for them. It was summertime. They didn’t have to worry about freezing to death before finding food.

If you get lost or have to bug out during winter and find yourself in a wilderness setting, it will be more difficult. Once you’ve built a shelter, you’ll be looking for food.

Again, some winter plants are safe to consume, but some aren’t. This is where a field guide would come in handy.

Such as Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods. Or The Scout’s Guide to Wild Edibles: Learn How to Forage, Prepare & Eat 40 Wild Foods.

Edible winter plants

If you don’t have a guide handy, try to remember these three edible winter plants:

Rose hips have bright red fruits containing an average of 8 to 12 pale yellow seeds per fruit. Rose hips are tangy and sweet, and a good source of Vitamins C and E.

Persimmon produces a fruit that tastes delicious if it’s ripe and terrible if it isn’t. Ironically, the better it looks, the worse it tastes. The key is to wait until it’s wrinkled and gooey. It tastes sweet and contains Vitamin C.

Barberries should be pulled carefully from thorny branches. These immune system-boosting berries can be eaten raw or steeped in hot water to make a tea.

Other edible winter plants that don’t contain berries or fruits include cattail rootstock, pinecone nuts, wild onion tops and bulbs, maple syrup from maple trees, chickweed leaves and stems, mullein leaves, chicory leaves, hickory nuts, acorns, and black walnuts. 

But you can’t really go wrong with berries, as long as you know which ones are safe.


  • Jean - December 10, 2023

    How about dandelions? They are often considered invasive weeds in the Americas. The greens are edible, and they are recognizable by most people. The roots can make aa cure-all according to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped.

  • Keith Sallee - December 07, 2023

    Thank you for this informative post. I will be keeping it for future reading and knowledge of what berries to eat or not to eat.
    Thanks Again

Leave a comment

*Required Fields