There are many plants, bushes, and trees throughout the world that are edible. Tasting or swallowing even a small portion of some can cause severe discomfort, allergies, internal disorders, and even death. If you are not able to identify a plant, bush, berry, or tree with 100% certainty then seek help from someone who is experienced. Always apply the Universal Edibility Test because you may have an external or internal allergic reaction. (This test is NOT for fungi!)
If you are not accustomed to eating wild edibles keep in mind that large portions of wild edible food on an empty stomach may cause diarrhea, nausea, or cramping. Even after testing wild edible food eat it in moderation.
When out foraging, if you are not with an experienced forager and have some reservations then be sure to avoid potentially poisonous plants. Stay away from any wild or unknown plants that have:
- Beans, bulbs, or seeds inside pods.
- Milky or discoloured sap.
- Bitter or soapy taste.
- Spines, fine hairs, or thorns.
- Dill, carrot, parsnip, or parsley-like foliage.
- Almond-scent in woody parts and leaves.
- Grain heads with pink, purplish, or black spurs.
- Three-leaved growth pattern.
Some plants, bushes, and trees may be edible yet they meet the criteria of potentially being poisonous; it is best to be safe than sorry until you are able to identify it with 100% certainty or have a professional identify it for you. An example of an edible plant yet poisonous is pokeweed; if prepared incorrectly or carelessly it can make you very ill, or worse, kill you. However, when picked and prepared properly it is perhaps one of the most delicious plants of all. Never touch pokeweed unless some with experience has taught you how.
Universal Edibility Test
- Test only one part of a potential food plant at a time.
- Separate the plant into basic components – leaves, stems, roots, buds, and flowers.
Smell the food for strong or acid odours. Remember, smell alone does not indicate a plant is edible or inedible.
- Do not eat for 8 hours before starting the test.
- During the eight hours you abstain from eating, test for contact poisoning by placing a piece of the plant part you are testing on the inside of your elbow or wrist. Usually 15 minutes is enough time to allow for a reaction.
- During the test period, take nothing by mouth except purified water and the plant part you are testing.
- Select a small portion of a single part and prepare it the way you plan to eat it.
- Before placing the prepared plant part in your mouth, touch a small portion (a pinch) to the outer surface of your lip to test for burning or itching,
- If after 3 minutes there is no reaction on your lip, place the plant part on your tongue, holding it there for 15 minutes.
- If there is no reaction, thoroughly chew a pinch and hold it in your mouth for 15 minutes. Do not swallow.
- If no burning, itching, numbing, stinging, or other irritation occurs during the 15 minutes, swallow the food.
- Wait 8 hours. If any ill effects occur during this period, induce vomiting and drink a lot of water.
- If no ill effects occur, eat 1/4 cup of the same plant part prepared the same way. Wait another 8 hours. If no effects occur, the plant part as prepared is safe for eating.
The Universal Edibility Test appears in the SAS Survival Handbook written by John “Lofty” Wiseman.
There is not a doubt this test is time-intensive but ultimately all wild food educators must share this information to ensure no one becomes ill or worse, loses their life. As adults eating foraged foods is really no different than when we introduce “foods” to our young children. We always test one food at a time to ensure our child has no reaction to that food.
Be sure to test new plants as described in the Universal Edibility Test so you can enjoy the vast amount of free food that surrounds us!