[Pictured: A giant African land snail (Lissachatina fulica), they get up to about a POUND!]
Before you say, “Okay, Survival Gal has LOST it!” keep in mind that VERY often what we think of as “gross” is sometimes considered a familiar delicacy in other countries, even common every-day food. It all comes down to the culture you’re familiar with. Even the practice of eating horses, hamsters, cats and dogs is not unusual in some places around the world.
Basically, any land snail is edible. Although I don’t know any land snails that are poisonous, saltwater snails, slugs and mollusks are a different subject. You don’t have to go to France to eat snails, you can eat the typical brown garden snail in your backyard. But as always, do some research.
In France, there are only two specific species eaten as escargot. In England, all species are considered edible. And the giant African snail can not only be found in Africa (Nigria), but in Florida (an invasive species), though the giant African snail (sometimes kept as a pet), is big enough to need gutting.
While some land snails may taste bad (i.e. the tiger snail, anguispira alternata), and some are too small to make the effort worthwhile (less than 1/8 inch or 3 mm), the best type commonly eaten as “escargots” is from Burgundy, France, which the French call "Très Gros" or "escargot de Bourgogne" (the Roman snail, or helix pomatia). But despite their traditional association with Burgundy, 95% of these actually come from places in Eastern Europe such as Russia and Poland. The giant variety also exists in the Amazon Basin and even Hawaii, unfortunately (achatina fulica).
Some of them have been introduced into the United States, but most of them are considered pests. For example, here in California, the common garden snail (helix aspersa), is the most commonly eaten land snail species, and is very abundant in California (also, cepaea nemoralis), but there are others all over the country.
Slugs are just snails without shells and can also be eaten, HOWEVER, while some people around the world may eat some slugs raw, and may also use them as an anesthetic, my advice is do NOT, Ever, eat snails or slugs raw! They can carry parasites and even give you meningitis if you don’t cook them correctly. I would even NOT recommend handling them with bare hands then touch your eyes, lips or mouth or allow them to touch any open cuts. You may not become infected with anything, but WHY would you take the chance?!?
It’s not so much that any type of snail may be toxic, if they’re even big enough to bother collecting, the main worry is what THEY may have eaten. Snails (and slugs) can carry pathogens (giant African snails can carry rat lungworm which may cause meningitis in humans if handled or not prepared well). The key to making them safe is to clean AND cook well!!!
You’d need a clean sealable container with a few air holes, and something like a carrot, lettuce or cornmeal, etc. for them to eat so you can purge them of anything they may have eaten.
First, gather-up the little critters. Like worms and slugs, they can most readily be found after a rain. When it comes to things like insects, worms, and snails, etc. or anything that has consumed dirt or rotting matter, it helps if you purge/detox your food.
Drop them into your container with a little water and and let them pass their poop for at LEAST a day or two (clean the container before the next step).
Then drop in their clean food. Things tend to taste like what they’ve eaten, so iceberg lettuce is fine, but won’t change the taste much, but a carrot or cornmeal may make them more tasty. After about two days, when their poop turns color (if you feed them a carrot, the poop will turn orange, if you feed them corn meal, yellowish) they’re ready to clean.
Now the goal is to wash them until they’re no longer slimy (yes, the same goes for slugs!). If the snail is big enough to gut, cut them lengthwise and remove the guts (the parts inside the shell) and clean by scrubbing the bodies with salt, or wash with lemon/lime juice or vinegar, up to you, people have different styles of preparation. Keep the foot (the part they move around on). If you boil, do so until the slime is gone with a change of water or two.
At this point, you can fry/saute in butter/fat/oil for about 3 or 4 minutes or boil/simmer for about 15 minutes. If you want to cook in the shell, scrub the shell well first. Whether it’s animals or insects, COOK – YOUR – FOOD – WELL!!
The meat is a little chewy, think small clams, or if they're the giant kind, like meaty scallops. It's good in stews, but like most mild meats, the dish gets its taste mainly from the way its prepared, so serve in a creamy stew, with rice, deep-fried and breaded with a dipping sauce, as appetizers by themselves or on crackers, or get more creative with chopped bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, etc. Be creative! YUMMM! 😉