While it is not necessarily something that most people would look to chow down on, there are actually a number of trees in the forest that contain edible tree bark. Admittedly, under normal circumstances, tree bark is not a common food source. And removing bark from the trees in your yard for a snack could actually harm them. In survival situations out in the wild, however, it can be a life-saver, especially when it’s particularly cold outside and there are limited food options available.
Sustainable Food Source?
The edible tree bark of certain trees may not show up on the menu in your favorite restaurant, but several types of bark do contain enough nutrients to keep you alive in a pinch.
Would eating the bark of these trees be a strong plan if you were planning to try to survive for longer than a few days? Not likely, but if you were to eat the bark and combine it with other edible items, like berries and assorted plant-based protein, you might be okay for a while. Not to mention that you would have the opportunity to hunt and gather animal meat to supplement anything else you found to eat in the wild, including edible tree bark.
That said, edible tree bark can be consumed regardless of the weather conditions and time constraints that make eating many other outdoor food sources a trickier proposition. You might have to worry about food sources like berries and animal meats spoiling.
Situationally, though, some edible tree bark may not be enough to sustain you in and of itself, but could still be harvested, eaten, and digested regularly if one chose to do so. This is not universal, as some edible tree bark is better than others nutritionally and some barks taste better than others, but those that can be eaten are generally edible even outside of emergency situations.
So while nobody is likely to suggest that you begin ingesting edible tree bark as part of your regular diet, and you undoubtedly would prefer even something as simple as McDonald’s or Burger King in your stomach, here are five options for food in the form of edible tree bark to be consumed in the event that you find yourself in a desperate situation, such as lost in the forests of Oregon.
The pine tree is well-known for having edible tree bark, though the bark’s flavor can be overpoweringly bitter. The inner bark is wide and easy to gather for eating. However, some species of pine may have minor toxins in them, so if at all possible, it would be best if you research pine before going into the woods so that you are well-versed in which ones are safe to eat.
For example, white pine is very common in certain sections of the United States, so knowing whether it contains edible tree bark that won’t make you sick would be an excellent idea. In answer: white pine is a safe-to-eat tree bark.
Keep in mind, unless you are desperate, you should not eat bark on a pine that is not already dying, because most of the edible tree bark is on the lower trunk and cutting through that could badly damage the rest of the tree. As for the calories the bark contains, that is something for which you will have to consult a nutritionist, as some places on the web have estimates, but nobody seems to have definitive answers.
The good news is that if you find yourself needing to eat tree bark, and you wind up near an elm tree, you may be in for a pleasant surprise. The tree bark on elm is said to taste somewhat sweet, in direct opposition to the taste of a pine tree’s bark.
The elm’s bark contains a gelatin-like substance, and that substance thickens when mixed with water, making it look a little like mucous, which could, understandably, look somewhat disgusting to some people. However, while the gelatin-like substance may not look appetizing, it does likely contain a fair amount of sugar, which makes it both tastier and more caloric than most would imagine.
Of all the edible tree bark, the eastern hemlock is one of the most intriguing because it is well-known that the needles are used to make some of the more popular teas on the market. So it stands to reason that the bark of the tree might taste reasonably good.
However, the taste of the tree bark is actually quite bitter, and unlike elm, there’s not much in the way of sweetness to it. The taste and texture make it likely that the eastern hemlock doesn’t contain a lot of sugar or starch in its tree bark.
The bad news here is that the taste of the tree bark in a spruce is bitter and strong, much like the taste of a pine. The good news is that spruce bark has no discernable aftertaste, is easy to gather, and isn’t difficult to chew. The other unintended benefit of the spruce’s bark not being sweet at all is that it’s not as bad for your health as some of the trees with bark that contains more sugars and starches.
What immediately gets noticed about the bark of a black birch is that it has a wintergreen fragrance, which is used to flavor birch beer. If you think the bark of a black birch tastes good because it’s used to flavor beer, you are actually correct.
That’s the good news about the bark of a black birch, but the bad news is that’s not easy to gather and it’s very tough to chew. The black birch certainly has a sweeter taste than the elm, pine, and spruce, though, so the calories it contains are likely to be significantly higher.
While you won’t want to unnecessarily peel the bark from the trees in your yard, you might notice bark peeling or flaking on its own. Before you grab a fork and dig in, note that this could be a sign of an unhealthy tree. If this is a concern, contact an arborist, such as the professionals at Mr. Tree, and have your trees checked for disease or damage.