Leeches for Survival
Dire circumstances may prompt us to do things and try things that ordinarily we would not consider doing. But even though circumstances may warrant doing unusual things, we still need to have an understanding as to what would be beneficial and what has more hazards than health benefits. Food is an important resource when you find yourself in circumstances that require you to use your survival skills!
Simply knowing what you can and can’t eat sometimes is not enough. Some wilderness foods hold dangers for the unwary and can only be eaten in a certain way or after being prepared in a certain way.
Leeches are prevalent in many parts of the world and can be eaten for survival. Eating live leeches can be done, but they pose a danger if they are not chewed thoroughly. The best way to eat leeches is to grind them into a paste and fry them in a little oil or butter.
While necessity may force us to consider eating things that would normally make us gag, the drive to survive is often enough for us to overcome our squeamish mindset and do what the situation calls for in order to survive!
Eating leeches is one of those things that only the need for survival would drive us to eat. There are some tricks to making a meal of this disgusting little creature, though, and some dangers to be aware of.
What Are Leeches?
Leeches are part of the worm family, but where most other worms are vegetarian or consumers of decaying material, the leech feeds exclusively on the blood of mammals.
They have a soft, segmented body and resemble slugs in their appearance. Leeches can extend and contract their bodies, which are extremely elastic so that they can swell to accommodate the blood they suck from their victims.
Leeches have a mouth at the end of their proboscis, which has sharp teeth to be able to slice through the skin. A chemical contained in their saliva acts as a blood thinner to prevent the blood from clotting at the site of their bite.
Their saliva also contains an anesthetic that numbs your skin so that you do not feel as they bite into your skin to get access to the blood vessels.
Leeches gorge themselves when they find a victim and can take on board up to ten times their body weight in mammal blood at a single feeding.
Where Are Leeches Found?
The reason leeches are a useful survival food is because they are found pretty much everywhere on earth. They flourish on every continent, mostly in tropical and sub-tropical regions.
Many people think that leeches are only found in the water, but there are species of leeches that live in the sea and leeches that live entirely on land.
One would expect to only get leeches while wading through a pond in the tropics, but in some locations, you can pick up leeches simply walking through thick vegetation.
So if you find yourself in an area where there are leeches, you will find them attached to your skin at some point, and often many of them at one time!
Leeches are active hunters and can track their victims by shadows, disturbance of the water, the heat your body gives off, and also the scent of sweat and bodily oils.
Land-based leeches sit on the edges of foliage, such as grasses and leaves, and they are alerted to your presence by the carbon dioxide that you naturally breathe out. This allows them to prepare themselves to latch onto you as you walk by. They will often latch onto your clothing and then crawl around until they find a piece of exposed skin where they can attach themselves and begin feeding.
The Dangers Of Eating Leeches
Leeches attach themselves to the bodies of their victims and clamp down with their sharp cutting teeth. This makes them rather difficult to remove.
Leeches have been known to attach themselves to extraordinary places in the human body. They have been found in people’s noses, ears, and even urinary tracts.
The leeches’ tendency to latch onto inconvenient parts of the human anatomy is what makes them hazardous to eat when they are alive.
If you eat a live leech and try to swallow it, it can latch onto the back of your throat and start to suck your blood. If it is in an area where you cannot reach it and pull it out, it will swell and balloon as it gorges on your blood, and it could swell to the point of blocking your airway.
This is a life-threatening situation and can cause you to suffocate and die if you cannot get the leech out before it blocks your airway completely.
How To Eat Leeches For Survival
Eating leeches is never going to be a pleasant prospect, and if you have no other option, you can eat leeches live and raw.
As we have mentioned, however, you need to be cautious when eating live leeches. You need to keep them in your mouth and chew them thoroughly to kill them in your mouth before they go down your throat while they are still alive.
Even chewing them can have challenges because they will constantly be trying to fasten themselves to the inside of your mouth.
Eating them raw will also challenge your gag reflex to the maximum. As you crush them in your mouth, your mouth will be filled with the blood that was contained in the leech.
My philosophy about eating creepy crawlies for survival is if I am going to do it, I want to make it as tasty as possible to mitigate the gross factor!
While a plate full of leeches is never going to taste like a rump steak, you can take measures to make them taste better and not have to face the risks or unpleasant act of eating them alive.
Leeches can be crushed up and fried over a fire, which not only cooks them, ensuring that they are dead, but will definitely improve the taste. Cooking them will also give you the opportunity to add flavor in the form of wild greens that you can forage for that will enhance or disguise the flavor and distract you from the fact that you are eating leeches!
The manner in which you get to eat your leech dinner will be mostly determined by your bushcraft skills. If you do not have the bushcraft skills to forage for edible plants or to light a fire without matches, a lighter, or other conventional means, then your options will be limited.
In this case, you will be chewing on some raw, live leeches and hoping your chew them enough before they have the opportunity to chew on you!
What Nutrition Do You Get From A Leech
The main nutritional value that is available from a leech would be protein. If the leech has recently had a meal, there would be other nutritional value from the blood inside it in the form of iron and other minerals.
There is very little in the way of carbohydrate or other energy value that you would gain from eating a leech, so the main reason for eating leeches would be to keep you going in the short term. They could be considered a quick survival snack while you bring your survival skills to bear and figure out another source of nutrition in the wilderness that you find yourself in.
Hopefully, whatever else you find would be a little more agreeable to the palate so that you can suspend your leech eating activities!
Eating a live leech is definitely possible but needs to be done with caution. They will need to be chewed well before being swallowed to prevent them from latching onto the back of your throat and causing you a problem.
The ability to make a fire will help you to cook them and make them a more palatable meal with greens and herbs that you can forage for.
Essentially, eating leeches should be an extreme case action when you have no other option available to you. If your bushcraft is at a good level, you should be able to find a more substantial and beneficial meal in the environment where leeches live.