OUTDOOR BASICS

Edible Snails: How to Survive in the Wild by Eating Them

Mark Foster
Written by Mark Foster

Did you know that France consumes 40-60 thousand tons of escargot each year? Edible snails or escargot are considered as delicacy not just in France but in many parts of the world. Many people find it weird to eat snails but can get over the initial fear.

Snail meat is a good source of Vitamin E, magnesium and is virtually fat-free, carbohydrate-free and sugar-free. They just might mean the difference in your chances for survival when you’re caught out in the wilderness with nothing to eat.

See also: Eating Scorpions: Is It Really Safe?

So let’s get into why you should consider adding snails to the menu on your next camping trip or hiking excursion.

Reasons To Eat Snails

During camping or backpacking, it is normal to bring limited supplies of food. In fact, some backpackers and campers prefer to hunt for fresh supplies of food. Depending on where you are, there are berries, fruit, fish and wild game. Another good source of energy is snails which are plentiful where there is greenery.

snail soup

Here are some reasons to eat snails in the wild:

Low-Calorie, High-Protein

Unless they are drenched in butter, snails are a low-calorie and high protein food source. Protein is very important when you’re hiking or backpacking because it is needed to repair the muscles you strained during your trip. Many people think that seafood has sufficient protein, but snails actually have more

Iron

Snails are also rich in iron. Campers and backpackers engaged in many different camping or hiking activities need iron to carry red blood cells and energy around the body.  A diet lacking in iron could lead to fatigue which can be problematic if you’re miles away from civilization.

exhausted hiker

Vitamin B12

The body needs Vitamin B12 to release energy from the food we eat, to process folic acid and to make red blood cells. Vitamin B12 is often called the energy vitamin and is crucial to prevent early onset of exhaustion when enjoying time in the wilderness.

 Magnesium

Camping sites and backpacking sites are usually miles away from the nearest town. People with high blood pressure can benefit from eating snails in the wild as it helps to regulate it and alleviate some of its symptoms, such as headaches, shortness of breath, and nosebleeds.

nosebleed camper

Selenium

Our bodies don’t need a lot of selenium but it is required to keep the immune system healthy. Snails contain selenium which also helps protect against cell damage and minimize your chances of getting sick while you’re out roughing it in the woods.

Omega-3

Another good news for the heart as snails are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. This helps to protect against heart disease as they contain levels higher than those in seafood. Omega-3 is also good at keeping the joints lubricated so that you’ll minimize any damage to your joints and bones if you overexert yourself.

Great On The Skin

If you accidentally run out of healing ointment in the wild, snail slime is great on the skin. Snail farm workers in Chile noticed that their hands were smooth and wounds healed quickly. Scientists say that this is because of Helix Aspersia Muller, a substance snails secrete to regenerate their skin and shells.

snail on face

It is rich in glycolic acid for removing dead skin cells, collagen and elastin for skin structure, allantoin for regeneration and a mixture of vitamins and minerals for anti-inflammation. Escargot has a healthy dose of vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates and fat. Even snail slime has benefits like treating minor wounds.

However, you can’t just scoop them from the nearest vegetation and eat them up. You need to know which species are edible so that you can consume them safely in the wilderness. If you’re not bringing along live snails during your camping or backpacking trip, here is a list of edible snail species.

Edible Snail Species

Not all snails are consumed for eating. Some of them are raised for other reasons like the use of their slime in cosmetics. To start your snail farm correctly, you need to know which snail species are edible. When people say “escargot”, they are usually talking about Helix aspersa, the small gray snail or Helix pomatia, the Roman snail. However, many other snail species are eaten.

Helix aspersa

Or as the French say “petit gris”. To us they are the “small grey snails,” are usually around 30 to 45 mm across and have 4-5 whorls in an adult. They are native to the Mediterranean Sea and the coast of Spain but can now be found in the US, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Latin America.

helix aspersa

They find it easier to adapt to different climate and conditions, which gives them a good range and makes them easy to farm. Its favorite foods are fruit trees, vegetables and flowers. To identify Helix aspersa, check out the shell if it is spherical in shape. It should have a short spire while the surface feels wrinkled.

This species is usually pale brown or yellow in color, with a shell that is yellow/cream-colored with brown stripes. Shell width is usually 25 – 40 mm. They favor places with temperate climates like forests, meadows and farm land.

Helix pomatia

Also known as “Roman snail,” “apple snail” or “lunar” is typically 45 mm across the shell and is a native of Europe. The snail is referred to as “escargot par excellence” because it is bigger in size compared to H. aspersa and has better flavor and taste.

helix pomatia

Look for them in bushes, hedges or forest rims in soil rich in lime. Avoid areas of the forest where there is direct sunlight. They also prefer areas with high humidity and low temperature. Some snails have been found as high as 2100 meters above sea level in the Alps.

See also: Edible Snakes: Tasty Meals from Scaly Predators

To find these snails, look for creamy/light brown shells with dark brown bands across them. The opening of the shell should have a white edges. The snail itself should have two pairs of tentacles on the head.

Otala lactea

More commonly known as “vineyard snail” in some parts “milk snail,” and “Spanish snail”. It can be distinguished by its reddish brown spirals and can grow up to 35 mm in diameter. It can be recognized by the depressed shell.

otala snail

The navel of the otala shell is also visible. Shells of the species are strongly colored and have various patterns of dots and stripes, with the lip of the opening being a dark brown, almost black colour. They are active at night and favor rocky or bushy heath lands.

Iberus alonensis

Or as the Spanish calls it “serrana” is typically around 30mm in length. Its large size makes it an attractive species for human consumption, and has been part of the human diet since the days of the Ancient Romans. They prefer to live in limestone areas, under rocks or the crevices of plants and shrubs.

Iberus snail

The Iberus alonensis is actually classified a near threatened species with overharvesting as the main threat. Its shell usually has around 4 whorls with white and brown patterns, and is quite flat.

Cepaea nemoralis

Or the “groove snail” is originally from Central Europe but can now be found in many states in the US like California, Tennessee and Massachusetts. It can also be found in Canada and likes to live anywhere from wooded areas to dunes.

cepaea snail

Cepaea hortensis

Also known as the “white-lipped snail” is easily recognizable because of its dark stripes. Originally a native of Western Europe, they can now be found in many states of the US. They like to estivate on tree trunks, woodlands with full canopy cover and shrubs.

hortensis snail

They are quite small at just 20mm across the shell and many people say that they don’t taste very good.
Cepaea nemoralis or groove snail can easily be identified by brown, orange, olive or yellow colored shells. They usually have around 5 spiral stripes which can coalesce.

Check out the dark brown lip of the shell in an adult snail. The body of the snail itself is usually a greenish-grey that becomes more yellow towards the foot.

Helix aperta

Helix aperta or green garden snails like shrub lands, fields, gardens and woodlands. The shell of this species is olive green in color and the last whorl is usually larger than the others. The shell is around 22–28 mm. Originally from France, Italy, the Mediterranean, it can now be found in states like California and Louisiana.

aperta Snail

To identify, look for shells that have 4 whorls that are rapidly increasing, with a base color of greenish to olive brown. There should be no bands or stripes, and the shell should be semi-translucent.

Theba pisana

Also known as the “banded snail” is considered as a garden pest in California as it can destroy a garden in 24 hours.
This snail has a opaque shell that is quite tough and slightly flattened. It’s an ivory-yellow in color, with unequal brown stripes that are sometimes interrupted with dots and lines.

theba snails

Helix lucorum

Can be found in Turkey, Yugoslavia and around the Black Sea. The shell is about 35-60 mm across, and 25-45 mm tall.The best time to look for these snails is during the night and after a rainfall.

lucorum snail

It has a very light-colored shell that is similar to the Helix pomatia (“Roman snail”), but it has larger, more rounded whorls. It has large brown bands along the shell that seem to melt together, covering up the original white of the shell underneath.

Eobania vermiculata

Or “xona” is originally from the Mediterranean but can now be found in Louisiana and Texas. It’s also called the “chocolate banded snail” because of the dark rings that follow the patterns of the whorls.

eobania snails

Otala punctata

This species originally hails from Spain, thereby obtaining the name “Spanish snail.” Its appearance is similar to the milk snail, but the opening of the shell is less strongly coloured. They’re typically found in agricultural areas along coasts, including the Balearic Islands, Northwest Algeria, and Coast Blanca.

otala snail

Sphincterochila candidissima

Also known as Leucochroa candidisima or “cargol mongeta,” and “cargol jueu” grows to around 20mm. It’s difficult to miss these snails, as they have stark white shells and very dark bodies. They live mostly in Italy.

Snails on branch

Achatina fulica

Are giant African snails that can grow up to 326 mm or 1’ 3/4” in length. They are considered as serious agricultural pests in the US. There are efforts to eradicate this species due to the damage and fecal material they create.

fulica snails

The USDA has banned the possession and importation of this species including other Achatina species. However, their large size makes them an ideal meal if you’re really hungry, and can be found in almost every country of the world.

Where To Find Escargot

In the wilderness, most snails can be found in areas that are damp, wet or mossy. Your search for them does require patience, as snails have many predators, including hedgehogs, ground beetles and leeches. In emergency situations or if you have a craving for snails, they can be found in the wild and cooked so that you can enjoy them during camping or backpacking trips. Here are some tips to follow if you want to find wild escargot:

Optimum Time

To catch snails for eating, know the optimum time that snails are active. Most snail species are nocturnal because they dry out when it’s too hot. Snails look for food when it’s dark so you will have better luck finding them during night time. They also enjoy moisture, so you can look for them after a heavy rainfall.

snail in the rain

Check Snail Habitats

Snails live in many different places in the wilderness. Since they don’t like sunlight, look for damp dark or shaded areas. If there is not much shade available, some snails like to burrow to keep cool and avoid sunlight. Look for them under rock and forest debris, planks or fallen wood on the ground, and damp weedy areas.

Look For Slime Trails

Another way to find snails in the wild is to look for slime trails. This is a good trick if you’re having difficulty finding  snails. Slime trails looks silvery and are left behind by snails on dry surfaces. Check for slime in rocks, dirt or vertical surfaces like trees.

trails trails

Catching Snails

If you’re lucky, you can simply pluck a good number of snails in the wild and get them ready for cooking. However, if you’re unlucky you might need to lure out snails so that you can catch them. To lure snails effectively:

  • Identify areas that snails might inhabit.
  • Water or dampen the area with water in the late afternoon or early evening
  • Return later when it is fully dark and follow the slime trails.

catching snails

Now that you’ve caught some snails, you need to know how to prepare them before eating.

Preparing Snails for Consumption

When you’re in the wild, you have access to limited ingredients and ways to prepare snails unless, of course, you’ve planned ahead and brought the necessary ingredients. No matter how you want to cook them you need to prepare snails that you’ve caught in the wild. Follow these steps to enjoy fresh snails.

  1. When hunting for snails, be sure to bring along a glass or wooden container to put them in. you also need to punch a couple of air holes so that the snails can breathe. Snails are best consumed when they are active so do your best to keep them alive for a couple of days.
  2. You need to purge your snails for a few days before they can be eaten. The process empties their digestive system so that you don’t eat grit or their droppings. Do not give them food or water for at least 48 hours before eating. Before this you can feed them lettuce or fruit to fatten them up a bit.
  3. To prepare them for cooking, remove the membrane from the shell opening. Soak the shells in enough water to cover them and add 1/2-cup salt or 1/4-cup vinegar for every 50 snails.
  4. The mucus will turn the water white so make sure to change it several times during the 4-hour soaking period.
  5. Rinse several times until no mucus remains.
  6. Put the snails in cold water and bring it to a boil; cook for at least 8 minutes.
  7. After boiling, drain the water and plunge the snails in cold water.
  8. Drain the water and pick the snails from their shell using a needle or small fork. Remove intestines and cut off all the black parts.

preparing snails

Some people prefer to cut off the head, tail and cartilage gristle. You are now ready to prepare your snails according to any recipe you may have on hand.

Conclusion

Snails can be a pest or a source of protein depending on your perspective. Capturing snails while camping or backpacking can give you and your companions a varied diet and new recipes to try out.

They can also provide additional energy when you need it most. Snails are very wide spread and can be your go-to food in a survival situation. You can collect all the snails you can and then store them until they are ready to cook. Identifying edible snails in the wild can help improve your chances of survival while waiting to be rescued.

Edible Snails

Sharpen your survival skill by identifying snails in your garden and compare them with snails you find in the wild to know which species are edible. See our guide to how to survive in the woods for more information.

What do you think? Are snails going to be included in recipes you want to try while camping? Tell us in your comments below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Foster

Mark Foster

Mark Foster loves to push his limits when it comes to survival in the wilderness. He might go for a 30-days adventure without any food or equipment except for a survival kit and a knife. We should mention that his survival kit has 122 items in it, so he know what he is doing. Mark is working on his book to share with the world all his experience gained during those brave adventures.