Edible plants exist everywhere, and can provide you with the nutrients and calories you need to survive to supplement your diet or when food from hunting and fishing are unavailable. Plants are valuable sources of food because they are widely available and easy to procure.
There are many varieties of plants in the wilderness to choose from but you must be careful about what you ingest as not all plants are beneficial and some can be dangerously poisonous. Never eat plants that you come across unless you are certain you can positively identify them.
It’s a good idea to learn about the most popular plants that grow wild in your area or places you may be traveling to. If you do ever do find yourself in need of survival food you will at least have some idea of what is OK to eat and what is potentially harmful. Carrying a small field guide with pictures to identify plants with you when you go hiking or to put in your survival kit is an excellent idea. In North America, a great book for identifying edible and poisonous plants that I personally recommend is The Forager’s Harvest.
If you find yourself in an unexpected situation in which you must survive and have not had a chance to learn about the plant life in the region, here are some things to consider when trying to find beneficial wild edibles and to avoid poisonous ones. If you have even the slightest doubt about a plant’s edibility, apply these rules before eating any portion of it.
- Test only one part of the plant at a time. Separate the plant into its basic components; leaves, stems, roots, buds and flowers.
- Perform a contact test to see how your skin reacts to the plants. Crush the different parts of the plants and rub them on your skin. If you have a reaction such as hives or redness, you probably wouldn’t want to eat it.
- Touch a small portion of the plant to the outer surface of your lip and test for any burning or itching. If after a few minutes there is no reaction to your lip, place the plant part on your tongue, holding it for 15 minutes. Again if there is no reaction start to chew the material but do not swallow it until you are sure there is no reaction like burning, itching, numbing or stinging.
- Wait 8 hours to see if you have any ill effects. If you do, induce vomiting and drink plenty of water. If you feel fine then eat only a small portion and wait another 8 hours just to be sure.
It’s also important to remember that some plants may be edible when cooked but not when raw. You may have to apply the above rules separately to the same plant in its raw and cooked state.