Here is a question that has probably crossed your mind before while waiting in a long line or whiling away the time before an appointment: If you were in a survival situation, starving, like really starving, could you eat grass if you had no other choice? It is a surprisingly compelling question that seems simple enough. After all, other mammals eat grasses and survive on it, why couldn’t we do the same thing?
Even better, grass is one of the most abundant forms of vegetation there is, growing all over the world and in virtually every single climate. This is a question that needs an answer!
Can you eat grass to survive? No, you shouldn’t eat grass and a survival situation no matter how hungry you get. Human digestive systems can’t deal with the amount of cellulose in grass. You are likely to get sick if you eat it in a great quantity. Grass contains virtually nothing in the way of genuine nutrition. At best, you could only fill your belly, and perhaps stave off hunger.
But there are a couple of exceptions to this, even though the exceptions merely prove the rule. We will dig a little deeper into this topic below.
Grass is for Livestock, Not for People
Mammals that survive on a diet of grass all have specially-adapted digestive systems that can process this minimally nutritious plant life.
Take cows, for instance, which have multiple stomachs able to deal with and break down the tough, hardy cellulose that is present in grass and capable of extracting what nutrients can be had.
You should consider that the average cow has to eat over 30 pounds of grass or similar plant matter each and every day; that should inform you of how little nutrition is had from it.
Now, most grasses are not inherently poisonous, and you can consume them. But just because something is edible does not make it food. If you eat any quantity of grass you are very likely to get sick, just like your dog or cat sometimes chows down on the green stuff.
But let us say you were able to get a proper meal of nothing but grass and keep it down. What would happen? Not much, assuming you did not throw up as mentioned. Eventually you’d have a bowel movement that will consist of virtually nothing else but “unprocessed” grass.
What’s worse, grasses also contain hard elements that are tough on your teeth, such as silica. Spend any amount of time eating grass in great quantity and you’re going to burn through the enamel of your chompers quickly.
Additionally, consider that pretty much any kind of grass you will find anywhere is, by nature, constantly underfoot for man and beast alike. This means it will be walked on, defecated on, urinated on, and generally just plain filthy. Not the most appetizing comestible around!
In short, it is feasible that one could fill up on grass in order to, possibly, tamp down hunger pangs but that is all.
Does Cooking Help?
Unfortunately no. Cooking will help soften the grass making it easier to chew and allow it to pass through your digestive tract easier than it would if it were raw, but it does nothing to break down the cellulose in any meaningful way.
It is the cellulose content that is the problem right alongside grasses’ nearly total lack of nutrition for humans.
So you could cook grass in order to make it easier to eat, and potentially more palatable, but it would do nothing to solve the root of the problem: grasses are just not for people to eat.
If you are a goat, cow or some other grass-eater, lucky you- one of your favorite foods is around in great abundance- but it will do nothing to help a human in a survival situation.
Edge Cases: Edible Grasses and Grass Seeds
Okay, for whatever reason you are starving, surrounded by nothing but various varieties of grasses, and have to glean some nutrition from it come hell or high water, or else you’ll die.
Or perhaps you are just one of these super survivor types completely dedicated to making use of every, single natural resource around you no matter how specialized, unlikely or niche the application is. Fair enough.
Grass has a variety of uses, but we are concerned with caloric intake for the purposes of this article. If you keep an eye out, you might find grass that is sprouting seed heads for reproduction.
The grass seeds themselves actually have more nutritional value, however minuscule, than the blades of grass itself.
You must take care however since there are several varieties of grass seed that are toxic if uncooked or otherwise treated, even though the grass blades themselves are not.
Also keep an eye out for any grass seeds that appear fuzzy or obviously hosting a growth, since this indicates the presence of a mold that could make you sick or even have fatal consequences. Seeds that are green, brown or tan are usually safe bets.
Also it is worth mentioning that there are a few species of grass that are both edible and nutritional.
Some of them even serve as staples in various parts of the world or as more or less common ingredients here in the West. Among these especially edible grasses are included barley grass, various varieties of wheatgrass and alfalfa.
A thorough discussion and analysis of these grasses is beyond the confines of this article, but you should take the time to familiarize yourself with them if they are endemic to your area.
There is no solution if you really just want to eat grass unless you were able to find one of the edible and nutritious variants mentioned above, and then prepare it properly. However, there are many other plants that often grow right alongside grasses that are edible and nutritious.
A much better use of your time, effort and energy is learning what these plants are, where you can find how to safely harvest them, and prepare them for consumption.
You should never eat grass in a survival situation no matter how hungry you get! At its very best, you might knock down your hunger pangs a little bit assuming you do not get sick. At worst, you’re wasting time, and could potentially come down with a grave or even fatal illness.
The human digestive system lacks the necessary multi-chamber stomachs that other mammalian herbivores have specifically for digesting and dealing with cellulose present and grasses. The bottom line is that grass is simply not an option as a survival food even in extremis.
Tom Marlowe grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, He has the experience in helping civilian shooters figure out what firearms work best for them.