12 Survival Hacks Using Just Leaves

Nature provides an abundance of tools and resources if you just know where to look.  Today, I’m discussing just one of them – LEAVES.  You’re not going to believe all of the survival functions you can do with just LEAVES and a little bit of know-how.  No matter the season, leaves can provide you with some kind of a solution.  Nature is freaking amazing!

LEAF SURVIVAL HACK # 1: ROPE

Yes, you can make usable cordage from leaves!  The leaves you’ll want for this particular task are fibrous ones such as those from Yucca or Cattail.  I’ve found that dead yucca and cattail leaves work best but they’ll work when green in a pinch.  Below is a photo of a Yucca plant and then also a coil of yucca leaf rope that I made.

yucca

yucca-rope

The technique used to fashion usable cordage from fibrous natural materials is called the Reverse Wrap.  It’s an awesome survival skill – so cool that I filmed a short video to show you exactly how to do it.  Watch the video below:

 

LEAF SURVIVAL HACK # 2: NATURE’S TIN FOIL

burdock-tin-foil

Have you ever wrapped food in tin foil and cooked it in the coals of a fire.  When we were kids, Mom would wrap up some ground beef, onions, potatoes and carrots in tin foil and cook them in the coals of a fire.  She called them Hobo Dinners.  I’ve never found a tin-foil tree in the woods but I’ve found a leaf that works just as good – BURDOCK.  Food wrapped in three layers of burdock leaves cooks just as good as any tin foil I’ve ever used.  Look how huge the leaves of burdock can get.

burdock-plant

I’ve cooked fish, quail and rabbit in burdock leaves and it never fails to produce a delicious juicy meal.  Check out this quail and potatoes we cooked in burdock leaves during a SurviVacation II last summer.  We tied it up with Basswood Bark.  Mmmmmm, my mouth’s watering just thinking about it.  That same day I also used a burdock leaf as an improvised container to hold some freshly picked raspberries.cooked-quail

eggs-potatoes

burdock-picking-bucket

 

LEAF SURVIVAL HACK # 3: INSOLES

mullein-on-boots

That’s right – SHOE INSOLES!  Need some extra cushion to help prevent blisters?  How about some extra cushion that is also antibacterial?  Look for a mullein plant.  It’s very distinct, you can’t miss it.  The leaves are thick, durable and fuzzy.

mullein

Not only do they make excellent improvised shoe insoles that will reduce foot odor but they also are your go-to natural source for toilet paper.  They are also an excellent substitute for paper towel and are very absorptive.  I use them as napkins all the time.

mullein-leaf-insoles

 

 LEAF SURVIVAL HACK # 4: INSULATION

leaf-insulation

Whether from the cold ground or the air around you, leaves are nature’s perfect insulative material for creating dead air space below and around you.  One of the most effective cold weather shelters is a Debris Hut and it’s made almost entirely of leaves.  The leaves capture dead air space which acts as a barrier to the cold.  They help keep warm air (body heat) in and cold air out.  As the cool temps come, Mother Nature drops all the insulation you could ever need to the forest floor.  She’s nice that way.

corn-husks

Until his mid-twenties, my Dad slept on what’s called a Shuck Bed.  This is literally a mattress stuffed with dried corn husks.  He recalls it being a little lumpy, but functional.  It hasn’t been that long ago that people used natural vegetation insulation for sleeping purposes.

 

LEAF SURVIVAL HACK # 5: SHINGLES

skunk-cabbage-shingles

 

grass-roof

Yes, leaves are not only insulation but shingles as well.  Large leaves from plants like burdock and skunk cabbage can be used to shingle a lean-to in a matter of minutes.  Leafy branches can be used the same way.  Remember to start from the bottom and work your way up, just like you would shingle a house.  This overlapping pattern prevents rain from seeping through.  Below I used a full burdock plant to protect jerky on a drying rack from a light drizzle.

burdock-shingles

LEAF SURVIVAL HACK # 6: HARVESTING WATER

burdock-water-collection

With a little creativity, you can use leaves to direct and harvest water.  Rain water is the easiest form of fresh drinking water in the wild if you can get enough of it.  Arranging leaves to harvest rain can gather exponentially more if you do it right.  Look at them as nature’s little mini-tarps.

 

LEAF SURVIVAL HACK # 7: KITCHEN WARE

From plates to bowls, leaves can be repurposed in all types of different functional ways.  I use basswood leaves for plates and napkins all the time.  They’re edible, durable and environmentally safe!  Below is a shot of a basswood leaf for reference:

basswood

 

I cooked some biscuits in orange peels the other day and used basswood leaves as a plate on the ground.

basswood-leaf-plate

The burdock leaf below is lining a hole in the ground and makes an excellent quickie bowl.  I’ve even eaten cereal out of this exact set up before.

burdock-vessel

 

LEAF SURVIVAL HACK # 8: MEDICATED BANDAGES

plantain

You’ve probably got plantain growing in your back yard right now.  Did you know it has built in antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and is the perfect remedy for minor cuts, bee stings, stinging nettle and scrapes?  Just chew up a leaf, place it on the wound and use another plantain leave to hold it in place.  Plantain has earned the nickname “BANDAID PLANT”  for a reason.  The fibers in the leaves make durable bandages.

plantain-medicine

plantain-bandage

 

LEAF SURVIVAL HACK # 9: DISTILLED WATER

Leaves transpire water all day long – called transpiration.  It is possible to magnify and capture that water transpiration using clear plastic.  Nonpoisonous vegetation placed in a ground pit solar still or live leaves tied off in a clear plastic bag can put out a surprising amount of water in full sun.  It’s not the fastest and most efficient way of getting water but it’s an option nonetheless.

solar-still

transpiration-bag

transpiration

 

LEAF SURVIVAL HACK # 10: FIRE TINDER

Dry leaves make excellent fire tinder and have constituted many a tinder bundle for me over the years.  Some dried leaves, such as from the sage plant(shown below), smolder very well and can be used to carry an ember across long distances.

s-tinder

 

LEAF SURVIVAL HACK # 11: MATS, WALLS, BASKETS, DOORS and ROOFING

cattail

Leaves from a variety of plants can be woven into about anything you can image, from baskets to shelter walls.  Cattail leaves were used extensively by Native American Indians as a universal weaving material.  This blog (http://sustainablelivingproject.blogspot.com/2012/09/woven-cattail-mats.html) has a great cattail weaving tutorial and used a woven cattail mat to dry summer fruits and berries.  What an awesome idea!

cattail-mat

Cattail leaves were also used to weave hats, shoes, clothing, chair seats, fishing nets, duck decoys and children’s toys.  It is an amazingly durable weaving material.

 

LEAF SURVIVAL HACK # 12: FOOD

I can’t even list all of the wild plant leaves that are edible.  I’ve eaten leaves raw, baked, roasted, dried and often use them as wraps instead of tortillas.  One of the my favorite wild meals is shredded bluegill mixed with yellow wood sorrel and wrapped in basswood leaves.  I also love young basswood leaves, dandelion greens and wood sorrel mixed in a salad with a little olive oil and vinegar.  Below is dandelion and yellow wood sorrel – both of which you probably have in your back yard.

dandelion

 

wood-sorrel

I also regularly enjoy a variety of bush teas, including pine needle tea, staghorn sumac tea and stinging nettle tea.  There’s tea around every corner in the wilderness!

pine-needle-tea

What other survival uses for LEAVES can YOU think of????

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,

creek-stewart-logo

Comments

  1. if you use leaves for anything to do with cooking or water, make sure they are not poisonous leaves.

  2. Tekeah Harris says:

    One thing I didn’t find on your list was skin protection e.g. hats, visors, make shift sleeves and pant legs.
    Fantastic blog! inspiring me to learn about plants native to my state.

  3. Thomas Leue says:

    I don't need to do this yet, but it sounds great to practice anyway.

  4. Gregory Shaw says:

    Mullien tea is a flu killer.

  5. cory says:

    I use skunk cabbage leaves as rags to clean dirty oily hands of oil and grease following truck repairs, works very well and the cabbage is abundant within feet of where the trucks are parked.

    Is burdock the same as skunk cabbage, they look similar to me.

    Thank you.

  6. great post, very informative. I ponder why the opposite
    specialists of this sector don’t understand this.
    You should continue your writing. I’m sure, you’ve a great readers’ base already!

  7. Other common edible leaves include lambs quarters, purslane, mint, & coltsfoot. Teaberry is nice to chew, and new growth on greenbrier is fabulous. Agreed – so many to mention!

  8. Nicolette DuBois says:

    Wow – I can’t believe I happened to see “Fat Men in the Woods” a few nights ago and got turned onto all the info you have to offer and so happily share. I lived in the back country of WV for a few decades, learned to eat wild things, cook on wood, carry water from the creek, walk in the dark in the woods. I lived on less than $3000 per year for over 10 years and studied medicinal herbs. I learned various crafts such as basket making, weaving, pottery, beading, how to build a tipi, clothes, blankets. My life and my house are devoted to the study of Native American and Indigenous People, and I continue to enjoy programs like “Mark & Ollie”. So you can imagine how thrilled I am to find you as a new source on how to live on the planet. Although I am an accountant and have to work and live in a box, I am a natural being tied to the Earth and am always seeking ways to enhance my knowledge of the natural world around me. Thank you so much, Creek, for being a good teacher and sentient being! You are an inspiration!