Looking for the Wndsn store? This way, please.

Feature: The Dirty Dozen (an Ubiquitous Set of Plants, Found Worldwide)


Take a guess what is the topic that brings the most engagement in the Wndsn Expedition Team Telegram. Pens and flashlights do steady work in the chat. Everyone has a favorite Swiss Army Knife or searching for the best all-round torch, but even those topics do not bring the level of engagement that one beloved topic does. Can you guess? Planting and plants. Whether it is regarding our home gardens and gardening tips, or survival strategies in the wild, plants are a hot topic in the chat.

Pictures taken randomly in Berlin. From top left, clockwise: Plantago, Taraxacum, Rosa, Amaranthus.

Pictures taken randomly in Berlin. From top left, clockwise: Plantago, Taraxacum, Rosa, Amaranthus.

Plant identification in your locality is a worthwhile topic to learn both for enjoyment while hiking but also for survival strategies if you are ever caught outside in unsavory circumstances. This latter topic is the focus of this article.

Please note: Plant identification requires expert and knowledgeable guidance, so it is important you find an experienced teacher in your locality. As local knowledge is of extreme importance in the discussion and understanding of plant identification, it is a bit difficult to talk about it in particular within a world-wide chat.

Wndsn Expedition Team member @Widhalmt suggested the works by German biologist and survival expert, Johannes Vogel. In particular, his book "Pflanzliche Notnahrung: Survivalwissen für Extremsituationen" talks about the "Dirty Dozen" -- twelve plant types that are found world-wide and no matter where you are, they can provide nutrition. This includes every species of each plant, and even more importantly, they are difficult to confuse with other plants once you are familiar with the ones available in your region.

As @Vogel's works are in German only, we are presenting these twelve types in Latin, German, and in English.

Latin Genus/Species English Common Name Deutscher Name
Urtica spec. Stinging Nettle Brennnesseln
Amaranthus spec. Pigweed Fuchsschwänze
Chenopodium spec. / Atriplex spec. Goosefoot/Saltbush, Orache Gänsefüsse
Arctium Burdock Kletten
Taraxacum / Leontodon spec. Dandelion Löwenzahn
Oenothera biennis Evening Primrose Gemeine Nachtkerzen
Typha latifolia, Typha minima Broadleaf Cattail, Bulrush, Common Bulrush, Common Cattail, Cat-o'-nine-tails, Great Reedmace, Cooper's reed, Cumbungi Rohrkolben, Kanonenputzer, Lampenputzer, Schlotfeger, Schmackedutsche, Bumskeule, Pompesel, Bullerbesen
Rosa canina Dog Rose Hundsrose, Heckenrose, Heiderose, Hagrose
Phragmites australis Common Reed Schilfrohr, Schilf
Impatiens glandulifera, Impatiens noli-tangere and about 850 more Policeman's helmet, Bobby tops, Copper tops, Himalayan balsam, Kiss-me-on-the-mountain, Ornamental jewelweed / Touch-me-not, Yellow Balsam, Jewelweed, Western Touch-me-not or Wild Balsam Springkräuter, Drüsiges Springkraut, Indisches Springkraut, Rotes Springkraut, Himalaya-Balsamine, Bauernorchidee, Riesenbalsamine / Großes Springkraut, Echtes Springkraut, Rühr-mich-nicht-an, Wald-Springkraut, Altweiberzorn
Lemna / Lemna gibba Duckweeds / Gibbous duckweed, Swollen duckweed, or fat duckweed Wasserlinsen / Bucklige Wasserlinsen
Plantago Plantain (but not the plantain that we all know and eat from the Caribbean), Fleawort Wegerich, Breitwegerich

Pro tip

Don't use a word translator for plant names, they differ wildly between languages and the translation may describe a completely different (and hence unsafe) plant. You can use Wikipedia to "translate" plant names between languages. Look up the plant in your language, then go to the 'other languages' section and find the language(s) you need. Still, double and triple check to make sure you really have the correct translation and name for the right plant.

It is important to note that not all of these plants are “off the grid, live off the land” type plants. Some are for a day or two in worst-case scenarios. In a few cases, varieties may be somewhat poisonous, but in high-risk environments it is one of the lower risk items that one will encounter. And in this case, they need to be cooked or otherwise processed before they can be eaten.

In particular, all of the Lemna and Impatiens plants, the roots of the Taraxacum, the saplings of the Typha, and some aspects of the Rosa plants need some form of removal, treatment, or cooking in order to be edible. Therefore, please do your research about the various species in your area before you need to take a bite. With that said, a dandelion/rose hip/amaranth salad sounds quite tasty for lunch.

No matter where you are in the world, if you are outside you will very likely run into one of these plants and when your life is at risk, having this type of knowledge can reduce one vector of danger.

Feedback, suggestions, questions?

Write us at: info [at] wndsn [dot] com

Shop Wndsn Telemeters