You are hungry. You don’t have any food and are in a survival situation. All around are plants, flowers, and trees. You reach for that leaf. Stop! Did you do the universal edibility test to see if that plant is safe to eat?
Eat plants only as a last resort in any survival scenario. Remember, you can survive for three weeks without food.
4 Things You Must Do Before Using the Universal Edibility Test
You do not decide to eat plants unless your food supply is almost done and you haven’t eaten anything in two weeks.
Before looking for edible plants to test and eat, make sure you do the following:
- Ration your food source, if available.
- Eat insects
- Have a reserve of drinking water
- Know how to induce vomiting if the plant you eat is poisonous.
What to Avoid When You Look for Edible Plants
Avoid all mushrooms!
Many are deadly, whether the mushrooms are on the ground or on trees. Mushrooms are not plants or animals; they are in their own kingdom, fungi, yeast, and molds. There is no test to determine if they are poisonous or safe. Mushrooms are not worth the risk of eating.
Avoid plants that signal they are poisonous.
Some poisonous plants taste and smell inedible, but luckily, other poisonous plants give us signs that we should not eat them.
- An almond scent or pear scent
- A bitter taste
- Grain heads with pink or black spurs
- Groups of three leaves
- Milky sap
- Seeds, beans, or bulbs inside pods
- Thorns, spines, or hairs
- White berries or yellow berries
What to Look for When Selecting a Plant for the Universal Edibility Test
Look for a plentiful plant.
There should be enough of the plant to have an abundant supply if it is edible.
Look to see what animals are eating.
There is no guarantee that if animals eat the plant, it is safe for you to eat, but this helps narrow down which plant to test.
Look for familiar plants.
Look for familiar edible plants. Looking closely, you may recognize plants from the grocery store’s produce aisle.
Do not eat any unfamiliar berries unless you are 100% sure that the berry is edible. You may be risking illness, even death.
Every plant you consider eating in the wild should be tested according to the plant edibility. Some poisonous plants look similar to edible ones.
Plants that look like the following common edible plants are an excellent place to start.
• Wild onion
Don’t forget to look for seaweed.
Seaweed is an edible plant source if you get it fresh from the ocean. Do not use seaweed that has washed up on the shore.
When you wade out into the sea and harvest some fresh seaweed, you will have a good food source of minerals and vitamin C.
Common edible seaweeds are:
• Irish moss
Can You Trust the Universal Edibility Test?
Who created the plant edibility test? The Universal Edibility Test comes from the United States Army Survival Field Manual, ATP 3-50.21; this specifies what to do when testing unknown plants for possible consumption.
The Plant Edibility Test is found under the section labeled plant. You can get this publication on the Federation of American Scientists’ website by searching for “survival.”
Steps to Test for Universal Plant Edibility
When testing unknown plants, remember that the test takes 24 hours to complete and only tests one part of the plant at a time.
1. Separate the plant into its different components.
These include the flower, leaves, stems, and roots.
Take a small part of the plant you are considering eating. Look at it. If it is brightly colored, discolored, or looks old. Do not eat it.
If the sap is milky when you break the stem, discard it. Continue if the sap is not milky.
2. Smell it.
If a moldy or musty scent comes from the plant, discard it.
Also, if there is a scent of almond or pear from almond or pear, avoid it; cyanide is present.
3. Do a skin contact test.
Crush the part of the plant you would like to eat and rub the juice on a sensitive area of your skin: the elbow, palm, forearm, or the inside bend of your arm.
Leave it here for several hours. Do you notice signs of redness, swelling, or burning or soreness? Avoid eating if you do.
4. Put a small part of the plant on the outer lip and inner part of your lip
If there is tingling or swelling, rinse your mouth out with water.
5. Chew a small piece of the plant to get the juices, then spit it out.
Is there a tingling, swelling, or other adverse reactions?
If not, continue testing. If yes, stop here.
6. Eat a small piece of the plant, then wait for six hours.
Do not eat any other food.
If the plant passed all the edibility test steps, you could be reasonably sure that the plant is safe to eat but only consumes small amounts.
Keep in Mind When Using the Universal Edibility Test
When you are down to your last food source and have not eaten in two weeks, knowing how to implement the edibility test adding plants to your diet is a must-have survival skill.
If you are unsure the plant is edible and did not test it, do not eat it!
The next time you go food shopping, practice using the universal edibility test on an edible plant from the supermarket.