Living off the land in the city…questionable tips for the zombie apocalypse

Springtime is upon us and the garden is finally getting going. I live in a cold climate so it takes awhile for spring to come around. By this time I’m going a little crazy trying to put things I’ve grown into our meals. While some herbs are ready to eat, it’s still pretty slim pickings.

Suffice it say that those in Northern climates should all hope that a zombie apocalypse does not occur earlier than peak-harvest season. I’ve watched Walking Dead so I know these things can happen suddenly and without warning. Fending off zombies is certainly a concern, but there is also the daily challenge of keeping your mortal vessel intact and healthy. No easy task. What can you eat when you can’t go to the supermarket? Well, let’s assume you raid the suburban landscape first. Two easily recognized edibles at this time of year are going to be rhubarb and dandelions. You’re welcome.

Let’s start with rhubarb first. A good number of people find rhubarb too tart to make much use of. Well, suck it up, there are zombies! If you grew up in a place with rhubarb, you were probably told repeatedly not to eat the leaves. They are indeed poisonous if ingested in high quantities due to oxalic acid.

Rhubarb! You might have this tart treat growing in your back  alley.

Rhubarb! You might have this tart treat growing in your back alley.

Symptoms of Oxalic Acid Poisoning:

  “ one might experience weakness, burning in the mouth, death from cardiovascular collapse; on the respiratory system – difficulty breathing; on the eyes, ears, nose, and throat – burning in the throat; one the gastrointestinal system – abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea; and on the nervous system – Convulsions, coma.”

If you experience these symptoms, please stop eating the rhubarb. Clearly you have had quite enough. But on the plus side, oxalic acid can clean your motor or your stained wood (…no, that wasn’t a euphemism). Check it out here if you don’t believe me.

In all seriousness, oxalic acid is a product found in spinach, kale, parsley, beets and a long list of things that you probably eat regularly. Safe to say, you don’t have to be overly alarmed at ingesting a bit of oxalic acid. Still, if you’re ever curious regarding the edibility of a plant species you can consult Plants for a Future database.

Of course, rhubarb is great in pie or a sauce with vanilla ice cream. But those desserts might not be top priority during a zombie apocalypse. I had heard that rhubarb was good in savoury dishes, including accompanying meats, such as pork and chicken. I figure it will bring a sweet-and-sour flavour, which I’m really quite a fan of. I find this simple recipe online and I’m a go. It even calls for parsley and thyme, which are the only two things I have thriving in the garden.

Side dish? Oh, there’s dandelions! Aside from the issue that *someone* seems to be providing lawn maintenance during the zombie apocalypses in TV depictions, I think it’s safe to say that during a real zombie apocalypse we can expect some pretty solid dandelion harvesting.


No shortage of them on my property sans zombies. I’ve been keeping our lawn au natural for years and just digging them out by hand so I figure mine are fairly free of pollutants. I’ve developed the nifty trick of paying my kids $5 to get of all my dandelions. With the bonus that I will show them how to cook them so they are prepared in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Is that not totally fun? NO? Well, they needed a break from their electronic devices in any case.

Dandelions. All the goodness of lettuce with half the taste!

Dandelions. All the goodness of lettuce with half the taste!

I’ll say this…the kids enjoy the harvesting and they’re quite interested to learn that things they’ve been walking by every day are edible in the same way as what they find in the grocery store. I think that’s rather splendid. I launch into diatribes about how rhubarb is in the same family as buckwheat and dandelions are in the same family as sunflowers, lettuce, and artichokes. But other than a few bland, polite smiles, these facts do not appear to amuse them. Cutting things and digging things does and I leave them to it.

Our rhubarb harvest!

Our rhubarb harvest!

Dandelion has glycosides together with other alkaloids, terpenoids, etc. Of course even you’re daintiest abrosia is going to have a slew of things that sound nasty if you’re going to go about labelling them like that. You can call sugar dihydroxy-2,5-bis(hydroxymethyl)oxolan-2-yl oxy-6-(hydroxymethyl)oxane-3,4,5-triol, if you’re determined to make it downright toxic.

More intriguing, however, is that Asteraceae, of which dandelions are card-carrying members, has some rather unique chemical properties,

 “Even common garden lettuce contains alkaloids that are comparable to opium alkaloids; and the sap of wild lettuces has long been used, as opiates are to this day, to ease severe pain.”

Say what?

Well, who can’t use an opiate now and then I say*. I mean, if this zombie apocalypse food, these little tidbits can come in handy.

  • *Disclaimer: I’m freaking kidding. Most lettuce species produce lactucarium, which shouldn’t be used for the purposes of intoxication. It only provides mild sensation of euphoria so it’s hardly worth the bother. Whatever gets you eating salads I guess.

Chemicals aside, I was still 99.9% sure I wasn’t poisoning the family with this brew (or making them high) with the numerous reports of edibility in this species. However, it often reported how bitter they are and my nibble of a raw leaf tells me they’re not kidding. I find this recipe that seems like it has ample masking agents.

Soaking the dandelions in salt water to remove the bitterness. mmmm...doesn't that look  good? No, it really doesn't.

Soaking the dandelions in salt water to remove the bitterness. mmmm…doesn’t that look good? No, it really doesn’t.

The rhubarb chicken recipe was actually okaaayy…I would suggest for next time less rhubarb…as in cut it to zero.

Rhubarb chicken...needs...less rhubarb I think

Rhubarb chicken…needs…less rhubarb I think

It wasn’t bad…it’s just that the tanginess of the rhubarb didn’t seem to bring anything to the taste table. There was no happy mingling of flavours. But the chicken was tender.

The dandelions?…ahem, generally I’m a backer of eating local and seeing the value of our backyard biodiversity…but I’ll be waiting for the zombie apocalypse before I’m making dandelions a big part of my diet.

The reviews from the kids:

“Yucky!” from the six-year old.

“Dandelion greens a no-go and the chicken quite tart” from the 11-year old.

In short, this was pretty much a fail. Considering the Western diet doesn’t incorporate a lot of Polygonaceae, it was a dish that brought considerable diversity to the table. Of questionable merit in this case, I’ll concede…

Lots of diversity in this dinner...too bad it tastes awful!

Lots of diversity in this dinner…too bad it tastes awful!

As you can see, things are going to start looking pretty bleak for the few survivors when the zombies come. I’m a biodiversity scientist and clearly not a chef! I can tell you what’s edible but it will be up to the capable pros like Happiness by the Acre and Galloway Wild Foods to make things tasty. When the zombies come, stay close to them.






4 thoughts on “Living off the land in the city…questionable tips for the zombie apocalypse

  1. Dandelion leaves are less bitter if they are blanched; cover plants with a pot or black plastic (anything to restrict light) a couple of weeks before you eat them. That requires some meal planning though 🙂 I’d not have bothered with the flower heads and stems though, I find them too bitter no matter what you do to them.

    Also I think there’s an error in that chicken recipe, it should include some sugar (which the recipe below it does) to counter balance the acidity of the rhubarb.

  2. Well Jana, when my mother was about your kid’s age, she also got paid to pick dandelions. However, her father made wine out of the leaves. A much better use of the plant I must say.
    Also, I think she got a nickle for a bucket full. Inflation strikes again.

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