Can You Eat Dirt? The Answer Might Surprise You!

The human body is an incredible organic machine, it is capable of metabolizing and extracting nutrients from just about anything. Even those grasshoppers you see and hear in your backyard, are considered a delicacy in some parts of Cambodia, and the Philippians.

Even their more decidedly disgusting cousin, the cockroach, is considered as a new healthy food in China, for their aging demographic.

But those are believable right? Bugs might be slightly disgusting but it is feasible, right? Well, try to wrap your head around the idea that maybe the thing beneath our feet could be just as edible.

It might be crazy, but yes! You can technically eat dirt. Although it has no real caloric value to you, other than a stopgap between eating actual food and starvation. However, another component of dirt can be eaten to help stave off hunger pangs, and potentially survive a little longer, and that is clay.

It might seem insane to consider that the dirt under our feet is potentially something that could be even remotely beneficial to your health, and for a time it was usually considered by science and medicine to be not beneficial. Interesting there is a pattern of people craving earth, or eating dirt is known far back as (460-377 BC).

This information was mentioned in the medical textbooks of Hippocrates of Kos, known as the founding father of medical science. In his series “Oevres Complètes” volume 8, “‘If a pregnant woman feels the desire to eat earth or charcoal and then eats them, the child will show signs of these things”.

This historic precedent also correlates with today’s scientific research as according to the site ScienceDaily, in an article written by the “University of Chicago Press Journals”, it has been found that while there are not many nutrients to dirt, consuming it might actually have medical applications.

While it’s mineral composition can be useful, it is not enough to act as a meal. However, it has been found to be actually beneficial in bolstering internal defenses, against parasites and pathogens.

If you must eat dirt, out of curiosity, you might consider dirt that is food grade. Click here to get it from Amazon.

Different Kinds of Dirt

Common Topsoil- Contains sand, silt, and clay, at different ratios. There are also organic particles, called humus (usually made up of decomposing plant matter.). This type of soil is the most common on earth and can be refined to create clay.

Sand- Made up of silicone and quartz, and contains little to no nutritional value. This type of soil is bad for your health, as your teeth would become scratched and the enamel would break down, as well as causing internal damage that could lead to vomiting, diarrhea…etc. You cannot refine this type of topsoil into clay. The only real use for sand is a stand-in anti-constipation medicine and a very crude one at that.

Volcanic Soil- While only found in regions in the vicinity of a Volcano, this soil is nutrient rich for plants. But that is pretty much it, as the volcanic soil has large amounts of ash and even if you were to refine it, there is still a chance that eating it can cause constipation and even damage your stomach lining if eaten.

How To Clean Dirt To Extract Clay

Clay is fairly easy to extract and refine from the common topsoil. To begin you need to gather an amount of dirt and put it in a container that can be easily filled with water. After filling the container with water, let it sit and allow for the sediment to fall to the bottom. The water the remains after this step should be carefully poured into another container.

The leftover mixture of dirt should then be filled with water and poured into another container at least 5 times. After this has been done, leave the mixture to sit for 24 hours, which leaves more than enough time for the clay to settle to the bottom of the container.

After that, pour out the water and add the clay on top of a cloth and type up the amount of clay to dry. Keep this cloth bag outside for 3 to 4 days, and as the moisture leaves, hardened clay will be left over.

This leftover clay could be boiled once again, or washed with clean water once again to ensure that there are no more impurities.

Why Pregnant Women Crave Dirt (Or More Specifically, Clay)

From a historical standpoint, clay or dirt eating has been known to be done by our ancestor’s mothers. This type of eating is still practiced today and is in many 3rd world countries without access to vitamins and minerals. While dirt is much easier to find, it is not as effective in providing assistance to the body. That is where the byproduct of dirt comes in, clay!

Clay is usually found near riverbeds as the clay is easy to refine and easy to find. From then on the clay is usually consumed during the first trimester, and often persist until the third.

This craving can occur throughout the pregnancy and is usually tied to a “taste” or “craving” for it. Although there is a biological reason behind this of clay and topsoil craving is two-fold; as mentioned before calcium and magnesium is important for a strong baby, but clay also acts as an antibacterial as it stimulates your flora in the stomach and small intestines.

The Difference Between Geophagia and Pica

You might be familiar with the phenomenon that this article discusses, just under a different name; geophagia. Geophagia is the obsession or craving to eat dirt, or earthy like substances. Common topsoil is eaten the most, sand is the second most eaten, and those with a finer palette usually look for clay to eat.

Geophagia seems to manifest in people in poor areas, such as places in Africa and other third world countries. Of this third world country demographic, most of those afflicted with geophagia tend to be pregnant. It has also been stated in various research journals that geophagia is correlated with the need for certain minerals such as iron and nitrates.

Geophagia is dangerous, as often times those who find themselves afflicted by this, often report constipation, vomiting, internal inflammation, infection and more. The danger can be even worse for those who eat dirt from areas that have foreign contaminates. This could include lead all the way up to trace radioactive materials.

Pica is slightly different from geophagia, where instead of craving earthen items, the craving extends much farther beyond. For example, those with pica tend to eat wooden, plastic, cloth, metallic, or glass materials.

These types of cravings are dangerous and it is not unheard of for people to suffer from intestinal blockage, internal bleeding, nausea, vomiting, and a plethora of other issues. Pica tends to effect people of all ages, and from all demographics. However there is a trend found in  children under the age of 12, and in places with low literacy, and little to no economic development.

The Health Benefits

Clay is usually found by riverbeds or by “cleaning” dirt from your backyard. The clay itself can;  cleanse the liver, colon and skin, balance bacteria in the digestive tract, improve nutrient assimilation; and strengthening the immune system.

Clay is able to accomplish all of this due to its chemical composition. The chemical composition of clay causes it to bond with several heavy metals that cause damage to the human body such as lead.

It also has trace minerals such as calcium and magnesium, which are known to help your bones and muscles from cramping up. Clay can also be used as a salve for irritated skin or dry skin.

The Health Dangers

While eating clay is useful, there are still dangers to be found. Too much of a good thing is something you should take to heart, as people around the world tend to grow addicted to eating clay and can experience constipation, vomiting, internal inflammation, infection and more.

Dirt is not healthy to eat without first ensuring that the dirt has been cleaned as per above if you were to eat a large amount of dirt any one time you would be gambling with the possibility of contracting bacteria and parasites.

Where Earth, Dirt, and Clay Are Still Eaten Today

Some parts of the world still eat clay, both out of necessity and for recreation. Unsurprisingly this geophagia is done in many 3rd world countries, and almost all of them are found in Africa. Economically Africa is one of the poorest nations on Earth, and due to that food shortages and famine is rampant.

Villages usually employ the act of eating clay patties or straight up dirt bricks in order to stave off hunger pains. While not dangerous at first, there have been reports done, such as the one found herein, “A study conducted in Tanzania by Kawai et al (2009) showed that among 971 human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-positive pregnant women in Tanzania, 29% of them, regularly consumed soil. Pica (non-food substances) is common and remains an important clue to underlying iron deficiency. The ingestion of toxic substances may have serious consequences. It needs to be recognized, and an underlying cause sought and treated. Geophagia is a good indicator of iron deficiency, yet often go unrecognized.

There are two case studies found in the case report, the first is of a 19-year-old woman, and her intake of soil during her pregnancy. The Woman had somehow developed a need to smell and eat dirt almost every day.

This went on until the 3-month mark in which she stopped, and commented that after she ate and smelled the dirt she would feel full and satisfied. In spite of all of this, she was able to bring her child to full term and was born completely healthy.

The next case study was a 55-year-old woman, that ate red bricks, commonly used for building houses in the area. She has consumed this red brick for 15 years and it is not related to pregnancy.

The woman eats small amounts of the brick twice to three times a week. She has had various health issues throughout her life such as, “She used to complain abdominal pain and off and on loose motions. She had bladder stones…There was history of anemia, and confirmed by presence of koinychia. She is having joint pains, and nails are shriveled and look ugly.”

The case study concludes that while there is a danger from eating excess amounts of earth, there are problems that arise from long-term consumption such as intestinal obstruction and gut perforation.

It also easy to infer that this type of behavior is done due to living conditions and lack of education. This is supported as studies on geophagia and pica take place in poorer parts of the world, in which literacy rates are low, and there are little resources.

Final Thoughts

With today’s science and studies, we have found out There are many reasons behind the strange behaviors done in this day and age. For example, children who eat glue tend to do so for

There are some reasons behind the cravings we have on a daily basis. Whether it be looking for a bag of chips to supplement sodium, or looking for a piece of fruit to get your sugar levels up. Dirt or more specifically clay must have been effective for our ancestors, as many women of today say they have a taste for it.

If after reading this, and has peaked your curiosity, click here to get a food grade quality dirt from Amazon.

Related Questions

Can You Survive On Insects?

Yes, and there are multiple options for you to eat. All of them are easy to find and even easier to prepare. Although be careful as these bugs should be boiled and cleaned beforehand. Be sure to keep in mind that insects almost exclusively provide protein, if trying to survive long term be on the lookout for greens to provide any nutrients you might be lacking.

Ants- These can be found easily, and caught with even less than a thought. You can put them in a container of water and once you have enough to cook, be sure to boil them as their poison will become inactive. The can be eaten all or just the body.

Grasshoppers- This bug is one of the few you can find without too much effort, put them in a water container and boil them. You can eat them whole, or just the legs.

Earthworms- This bug is an easy catch, and is perfect for a quick bite. They need to be prepared beforehand by removing the excrement from the inside and ensuring that the worms are boiled.

Wood Lice- This species of bug is very easy to find and when touched or prodded they roll up in a ball. These can be collected by just rolling over rocks and logs. To prepare just be sure to cook them before eating them, as there are nematodes that live in the Wood Lice.

Is Mud Dangerous to Drink?

Yes, but you must have the mud cleaned beforehand. Muddy water tends to be a breeding ground for bacteria, viruses, and parasites. The only way for you to drink the water is to have the water be either filtered or separated from the sediment and silt. It would be ideal to avoid this type of water though, as most homemade filters might have trouble sifting through the sediment and dirt. 

It is still possible though, just be sure to take the water settled on the surface of a mud pile, boil the water, and strain them through a clean shirt or cloth until completely clear.

What Kind of Parasites Live In Dirt?

There are three different types of parasites that can be found in dirt; round worms, whip worms, and hookworms. 

Round Worms- This worm is found in soil, water, or food that has been contaminated with human feces. Roundworms will go through different parts of the body dependent on the stage of life that it is at. According to ,”HealthLine Red” the life cycle of this parasite is as follows; 

  • Swallowed eggs first hatch in the intestine.
  • The larvae then move through your bloodstream to your lungs.
  • After maturing, the roundworms leave your lungs and travel to your throat.
  • You’ll either cough up or swallow the roundworms in your throat. The worms that are swallowed will travel back to your intestine.
  • Once they’re back in your intestine, the worms will mate and lay more eggs.
  • The cycle continues. Some eggs are excreted through your feces. Other eggs hatch and return to the lungs.

Symptoms can include anything from nausea, weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting, coughing up blood, coughing up worms. This is one of the few parasites that can be fatal if left unchecked as the lung and large intestine can be damaged to the point of no return. Be sure to check into the doctor if any of the symptoms occur. 

Whip Worms- This type of worm is found by ingesting or coming in contact with; food, water or dirt that has become contaminated with feces containing whip worm eggs. These worms are dangerous to deal with if left alone, as they will survive in your small intestine until they mature, then they will go over to the large intestine. Anemia, infections in the appendix and colon, rectal prolapse (In which part of your large intestine protrudes from your rectum), and potential delayed growth or cognitive development. 

Hook Worms- This species of worms spread by tiny hook like eggs that latch on to your foot when you walk through dirt or grass barefoot. Hook worms are not fatal but are incredibly annoying to deal with, and can lead to anemia if left untreated. They will take root in your small intestine, and grow from there. You will experience vomiting, dizziness, lack of energy, and become pale. This can be treated with modern medicine, and is very rarely fatal. 

Recent Posts