I’ve had several people talk to me about Christopher Candless after they have either read the book or watched the movie Into The Wild. People will often say something about how careful you have to be to not be poisoned by wild edibles. I think I feel a bit like Sam Thayer on this topic. There are some pretty severe problems with the book and movie and one should keep in mind that the truth is very seldom told in movies. The same can be said for fictional novels and Into The Wild is just that. It is not a report of the facts. It is fiction based on one persons theory.
Recently a friend sent me a link to an article written on this topic once again trying to prove the theory that Chris was poisoned and that is how he died. I feel it is important to take all factors into account when looking at this and any similar issues. The main thing I want to get across is that you can safely eat a lot of things from the wild if you just educate yourself and you should not be fearful of learning these things. There are a lot of good resources out there to help teach the topic and when you combine all the options for a proper education (books, resources and field experience) you can safely enjoy much from the wild.
Here are my thoughts:
I’d say there are several factors that killed Chris.
- He was very small to begin with (Small stature, no reserves)
- He went to one of the most barren places on earth (Foolishness)
- He lacked the proper skills and knowledge to eat properly (He’d never been to this location and had mainly just book learning)
- He had a limited diet (His choice of location limited his caloric intake)
- Already weak and on a limited diet he ate mainly one thing that has potential in large quantities to make a weak person sick (The poisoning suggested will only effect a person near death already)
The recent article tried to tie his death to a poisoning that was seen in death camps during the Holocaust. The problem with this idea is that while he was sick enough already because of his foolish choices his account does not follow what was documented for Lathyrism. I sent my thoughts to Samuel Thayer and asked for his take and he replied with the following which I received permission to post:
I need to post a thorough reply to this. But your assessment is pretty accurate, in my opinion.
Lathyrism only affects people who are starving, so this info doesn’t change that assessment. The presence of the protein that causes lathyrism is not strong evidence at all–I eat three differeent wild plants known to contain that protein, and several more are domesticated and regularly eaten by hundreds of millions of people.
There are also some serious reasons to doubt the symptoms pointing to lathyrism: Chris was walking around 5 weeks after the supposed paralysis event, yet the paralysis from lathyrism is permanent and irreversible. Second, the time elapsed between consumption and onset of symptoms was not sufficient for the disease to develop, according to everything I can find about lathyrism.
Lathyrism is not a new idea. All people who teach about wild edibles should be aware of the disease and its basic requirements. That Krakauer didn’t think of this somewhat irrelevant idea right away indicates his ignorance.
Mullein is a very common plant in Utah and the western States. It is not a plant that I would classify as an edible but it does have some beneficial uses. I have read a lot about it being valuable for breathing problems including asthma. My beautiful little girl suffers from breathing issues often and we are thinking it may be asthma. I have been researching more about herbal and natural remedies for asthma and two that I have found that I can make myself is Lobelia and Mullein. Lobelia is a hard one for us to get to grow at our house but if I just want to make a tincture I don’t have to keep it growing do I? I can just cut it and save for later.
There are many herbal remedies and helpful plants for breathing problems.
Mullein is something I can find easily close to home and in fact I found a picture I took with my precious daughter right next to this helpful plant. Little did I know at the time that it may be the very thing that can help her get a good night’s sleep. I’ll be trying this out carefully to see how I can help her. I don’t think I need to worry about complications honestly because I can hardly get her to take infusions or anything remotely resembling medicine.
This is one plant that is worth further research. there are many more like it and I encourage you to research what you are learning about. Do you have any other tips for mullein or other plants that are not necessarily edible but useful? Please post below.
I have read a lot of books to learn what I know about Wild Edibles. One thing I will say is while the books are valuable and will teach you a lot there is nothing like being in the field. You will only really learn the plants and become comfortable with them when you get out in the field so do as much hiking and research as you can but finding a good book resource is also extremely helpful. This post is to give a little bit of insight on the books I have found most helpful.
Anything by Samuel Thayer is excellent. He has a site and a couple books. Sam goes into great detail about his experience which started in his childhood. His insights are extremely helpful because he lives it. He is not just regurgitating material he has read like so many authors. I try to emulate this in what I do. I want to experience it and then share the details with you. I really like his writing style as well.
I also have found John Kallas very insightful. I have his book on Kindle. Like Sam, he also gives great detail and he lives it. He is not just repeating things but is giving great insights from experience.I have many other books but nothing that is as complete or detailed like these guys.
I do have one of Petersons field guides for basic ID but it is only for basic beginning information. If you can find resources on wildflowers that is a good idea as many are edible or the roots are edible. If you get something that will ID the plants for you then you can research each you find to determine if they are edible or not.
I do have a page on my site for books but I have yet to do a complete review on each that I have used in my research. Perhaps one of these days there will be more about those I have found. One tip I would give is avoid any books that use the word complete in the title. There is no such thing.