You would think with mankind’s history of foraging there would be a universal edibility test of some sort to prevent you from accidentally poisoning yourself. I mean pre-historic man didn’t have a handy guidebook to refer to listing edible and non-edible plants and obviously they didn’t all die from food poisoning. How did they do it?
Before investigating a universal edibility test it’s important to review the basics and that begins with the Rule of Three. 3 hours without protection from the cold, 3 days without water, then 3 weeks without food, will result in death. Although your stomach may disagree, food is the last on the priority list.
Hypothermia is the number one killer of people lost and stranded in the wilderness and it doesn’t have to be in an arctic environment. It may be a pleasant day, but as nightfall approaches the temperatures could plummet to dangerous levels. If you begin to feel chilly as dark approaches it is imperative to find shelter or warm clothing immediately as you may be in dire danger.
Locating or being able to create an ample source of drinkable water is the next priority. The general rule is you can survive for 3 days, but profuse sweating, even high stress levels, can hasten that 3 day rule. In reality you probably have 2 days, because by the third day you will be lethargic, experience hallucinations, and be disoriented. A very poor physical and mental condition to be in while searching for your only salvation from death.
Once we accomplish our goals of obtaining shelter and water, we now turn our attention to learning and implementing the universal edibility test. You won’t have to memorize this step because your stomach will gnaw unmercifully at you. Although you may have 3 weeks before catastrophic consequences, you will begin to feel lightheaded, easily fatigued and possibly dizzy after 48 hours without eating. These symptoms lead to poor judgment and erratic thinking. It’s important to locate food as soon as possible.
Warnings to adhere to: Although the universal edibility test utilized by the U.S Army and other branches of the military, will be our benchmark, there are obvious choices we should eliminate immediately. Remember many plants are not nutritional, impossible to eat, such as thorny or tough, but others are toxic which could make you sick. Illnesses range from mild to violent vomiting and diarrhea, to organ failure, coma and death. Let’s rule out some of the obvious for a number of reasons.
Availability: Should you come upon a possible food source, check for how much is available growing in the area. Not to seem like a choosy beggar, but why endure the time and risk of utilizing the universal edibility test for a mere meal. If there is not enough of the vegetation growing to supply at least two meals, by pass it. Make a mental note of its location, as circumstances may change and one meal may sound pretty good, but its a waste of time and energy to begin small. You’re wasting valuable time that could be spent searching for an abundant food source.
Avoid eating all mushrooms or fungi: I realize some mushrooms are very tasty morsels, but unless you are an expert horticulturist stay away from them. I know some of you regularly hunt mushrooms for personal consumption and for selling, but don’t risk it. The mushroom you know in your normal habitat may look like a very toxic mushroom in the area you are now stranded in. An honest mistake could result in death. The big problem with mushrooms and fungi is they do not meet the qualifications for the universal edibility test. The toxicity of the mushroom affects your nervous system and those effects may not display themselves until several days later at which time there’s no treatment or cure.
Beware and avoid plants growing in a polluted environment: Don’t consider plants growing along the roadside, especially a main road. This applies even to plants you may know are normally safe to eat. Why? The roadside is contaminated with exhaust, oils, antifreeze and other chemicals, and the plants will absorb these toxins … thus becoming toxic themselves. The same rules apply for any plants growing near a polluted water source that is brackish, murky, stagnant or just plain smells. Remember the adage “You are what you eat.” Same applies to plant life. If they absorb toxins … they become toxic.
Stay away from rot: Anything that is rotting, moldy or squishy (like last stage before full blown rotting) stay away from. Similar to mushrooms mold has exceptions, like blue cheese, but for the most part mold is a deadly enemy. Most biological weapons intended to kill are created from a particular mold spore.
General No-Nos: Avoid these types of indicators:
Beans, bulbs or seeds inside a pod;
Milky or discolored sap;
Thorny, fine hair spines;
Any plant that has the odor of almonds … run. It contains cyanide;
Plants with shiny or groups of three or to be avoided;
Most red berries as they are normally toxic and only birds can safely eat them;
Life Saving Tip
Boiling plants may reduce the bitter taste but will not eliminate poisonous toxins. Boiling will not make the plant safe to eat.
Universal Edibility Test
It should go without saying, use common sense when beginning the universal edibility test, adhere to the above stated precautions. May sound silly but… you must have fasted for at least 8 hours before beginning. You don’t want a reaction that something you already ate gives you to appear to be the result of the tested plant.
Gathering your potential food source, divide it into sections as each section must be tested individually. For instance the leaves may be poisonous but the stem and roots may be edible. In this situation you don’t want to void any potential food source prematurely. Separate the plant into leaves, stem and roots.
One last thing. The universal edibility test is an excruciatingly slow process, but is mandatory in order to insure the safety of the plant. Chill out and resist the urge to suddenly gorge yourself.
If you have several different types of plants to test set up a procedure to use. In other words, always test the leaves first, stem second, then roots. You don’t want to forget if you tested a particular piece of plant.
Skin Contact Test: Crush up one part of the plant, the leaves for instance, and rub it on the inside of your wrist or elbow for 15 minutes. Wait for 8 hours, in which time you may not eat anything only drink water, and watch for any negative reactions. Should any redness, burning, bumps or itching present themselves … discard the plant parts.
If after 8 hours there are no negative symptoms, continue to step 2, which is hold the plant parts against your closed lips for 3 minutes. Should you experience any unusual tingling, burning, itching or any other “not right” feeling … discard the plant parts.
If there is no negative lip reaction, continue with the universal edibility test by placing the plant part on your tongue for 15 minutes. Again you are looking to see if you experience any tingling, burning, itching or odd sensations. If you do, spit the plant out and thoroughly rinse your mouth out with water. A bad taste does not necessarily mean the plant is not edible, but if in doubt discard it.
Chew Test: Moving right along with our universal edibility test, with no negative results you can now thoroughly chew the plant, but do not swallow it. (It is all but impossible to not swallow the saliva, but you can spit it out if you desire) Hold it in your mouth for 15 minutes, waiting for any negative symptoms. Should anything unusual display itself, spit it out and thoroughly rinse your mouth with water. If everything appears to be alright, swallow the chewed contents of the plant, chase with water if you want.
If you begin to feel nausea or any other ill effects, like sweating or trembling, you must induce vomiting in order to empty the stomach of the chewed up plant. Stick your fingers down your throat, do whatever is necessary but induce vomiting, then flush your system by drinking lots of water. Should everything appear normal, wait 8 hours to insure no ill effects, water allowed, no other food.
The Big Bite: The last stage of the universal edibility test is the “big bite.” Prepare a ¼ to ½ cup of the tested plant part and eat it. Wait the traditional 8 hours, taking all the previous precautions, and if there are no ill effects … it’s safe to eat.
Remember, only the portion of plant you tested has passed the universal edibility test, all other portions, the stem and roots, must go through the same rigorous testing methods before being deemed safe to eat. Most wild edible plants, although safe to eat, become more bitter tasting as they mature. Boiling the plants will reduce this bitterness, but it may take more than once. As you can now see going through this testing for a small amount of plants may not be worth the time. You now have acquired the knowledge necessary to perform the universal edibility test and are on your way to a feast.
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