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Universal Edibility Test

When you are in a survival situation food is a priority, but it is one of your last priorities. A person can go weeks without eating. It is therefore important to verify the edibility of anything you ingest. Most people are not trained botanists so it is important for the layperson to learn the important steps to help identify edible plants.

There is no substitute for plant knowledge. It is important to learn as many of the edible plants in your area as possible. That way when and if you find yourself in a survival situation, you have a foundation of knowledge to fall back on. If you are forced to try new plants, it is important that you know the procedure for, and follow the steps of the Universal Edibility Test. While the test is time consuming, it is important to follow it to the letter before ingesting an unknown plant. We first begin by breaking the plant down into it's various components; leaves, stems, fruit, flowers, seeds, and roots. Each part of a plant must be tested individually, as some plants have parts which are edible, and parts which are not. It is also important to know that some parts of the plant may only be edible at certain times during the year. It is important to know that certain parts of plants are more nutritious than others. It is the wise survivalist who starts out by testing these plant parts first. The most nutritious parts of the plant tend to be the bulbs, rhizomes, and tubers. These are closely followed by fruit and nuts, and then finally by the flowers, leaves, and stems.

The universal edibility test requires breaking down the parts of a plant and testing them individually over a period of 24 hours. In a survival situation, you don't want to go through this trouble if there isn't a lot of the plant you're testing. If there are only a few sprigs of what you think might be the colorful and edible borage, it won't help you much even if you find that it is the cucumber-like herb. Find something near you that's growing in abundance. To prepare for the test, don't eat or drink anything but water for at least eight hours beforehand. If you're lost or stranded in the wild without any food, this should be pretty easy to accomplish. Now it's test time:

Separate - Because only some parts of the plant may be edible, separate it into its five basic parts. These are the leaves, roots, stems, buds and flowers. There may not be buds or flowers. Check out the parts for worms or insects -- you want a clean and fresh plant. Evidence of parasites or worms is a good sign that it's rotting. If you find them, discard the plant and get another of the same variety or choose a different one.

Contact - First you need to perform a contact test. If it's not good for your skin, it's not good for your belly. Crush only one of the plant parts and rub it on the outside of your bottom lip. Now wait for 8 minutes. If you have a reaction at the point of contact, then you don't want to continue with this part of the plant. A burning sensation, redness, welts and bumps are all bad signs. If there is no topical reaction after eight minutes, move along to the next step.

Cook - Some toxic plants become edible after they're boiled, so get out your apron and start cooking. Your goal is to test it how you would eat it, so if you don't have any means to boil the plant part, test it raw. Once you've boiled it, or if you're going raw, take the plant part and hold it to your lip for three minutes. If you feel any kind of burning or tingling sensation, remove the piece from your lip and start over with a new part. If there's no reaction, press on.

Taste - Pop the same part in your mouth and hold it on your tongue for another 15 minutes. If you experience anything unpleasant, spit it out and wash your mouth with water. Do not swallow any saliva or plant juice. You are looking for a similar burning or tingling as you did on your lip. It may not taste great, but that doesn't mean it's toxic. If you experience no adverse reactions, proceed to the next step.

Chew - After you've held the piece of plant on your tongue for 15 minutes with no adverse reaction, chew it thoroughly and hold it in your mouth for another 15 minutes. Do not swallow any of the plant, saliva, or plant juice; It is very important to ensure that none of the juices run down your throat. Once again, if you feel any kind of burning, tingling or numbness spit it out and rinse with water.

Swallow - If you make it through step five, you'll have a pretty soggy piece of plant in your mouth. At the end of the 15 minutes, you need to swallow that soggy piece. Now comes more waiting. Don't eat anything for eight hours. You can drink water, but no more plant or any other kind of food. If you feel nauseous, you need to induce vomiting and drink a lot of water. If you feel fine during the eight-hour waiting period, proceed to the next step.

Sample - Now it is time to eat a little. Gather roughly one quarter cup of the exact same part of the same plant and prepare it in the same way you did in step three. Eat the plant and wait another eight hours. If you feel sick, follow the same steps as above. You can drink water during the waiting period, but as always, refrain from eating anything else.

If you make it through this final waiting period and you feel fine then you have proven that this one part of this one plant is safe to eat if prepared in the same way. In order to determine if the other parts of the plant are safe to eat, you need to perform the same test on those parts. It's a time-consuming process, but if you're in a survival situation, it might just save your life. Try to multi-task during the waiting periods, gather wood, build your shelter, hunt or fish for food, find water and signal for help.

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Revised: 09/26/16 Living Afield