It’s always best to consult a good manual to aid in identifying what plant species are safe to eat, but in a survival situation, you may not have the luxury. The question of edibility can be particularly problematic for would-be survivalists for a variety of reasons:
- The edibility of plants can differ depending upon the time of year. Some plants become more poisonous at different times of the year.
- Not all edible plants provide much nourishment – the act of gathering and preparing the plants may burn more calories than they actually provide.
- The fine hairs of some nourishing plants can irritate the mouth and need to be dealt with.
- In some plants, only certain parts may be edible.
- Certain plant species look very similar; it’s obviously crucial not to confuse an edible plant with a poisonous one!
The Edibility Test
In a survival situation, this test provides safe measures to discover the edibility of specific plants. If in doubt, don’t eat it. Consumption of a harmful plant can lead to anything from mild discomfort to death. In the past, Poison Hemlock has been responsible for killing people who mistook it for wild parsnips or wild carrots. This method should only be followed in emergency survival situations. Don’t take any unnecessary risks. There could be poisonous plants that pass the test, but still harm you.
It’s important not to consume anything else for at least eight hours prior to this test, aside from water. This ensures that the test is valid.
1) Carefully separate, or crush the leaves of a plant.
2) Smell the plant for strong odours. If it smells bad or similar to almonds and peaches, then discard it.
3) Test for contact poisoning by rubbing the juice from the sample on the inside of your elbow. Wait twenty minutes to see if there is a reaction.
4) Before putting the sample in your mouth, place it on your lips for five seconds. If there is no irritation after twenty minutes, then repeat the process on the top of your tongue, and underneath.
5) If no irritation or other unpleasant sensations occur, then swallow a small piece and wait eight hours. If there are no reactions, then that part of the plant is safe to consume.
Potentially Poisonous Plants
To avoid potentially harmful plants, avoid the ones which share these characteristics:
- An almond or peach scent, particularly when broken up or crushed.
- White or discoloured sap – any plant containing this is likely to be poisonous, and should be avoided.
- Seeds, beans or bulbs inside.
- Ones with foliage similar to carrots, dill and parsnips.
- Fine hairs or spines – these can also irritate the mouth and gullet.
- Shiny leaves.
- Show signs of mildew or fungus growth