Eating even a tiny bite of a toxic plant can cause extreme gastrointestinal problems, or even death. Survival experts devised this test to determine a plant’s edibility. When in doubt, follow these steps before chowing down. It’s a slow process, but necessary. (Warning: This is for emergencies only. Plan A should always be to positively identify everything you eat.)
- Separate the plant into its various parts—roots, stems, leaves, buds, and flowers. Focus on only one piece of the plant at a time.
- Smell it. A strong, unpleasant odor is a bad sign.
- Test for contact poisoning by placing a piece of the plant on your inner elbow or wrist for a few minutes. If your skin burns, itches, feels numb, or breaks out in a rash, don’t eat the plant.
- If the plant passes the skin test, prepare a small portion the way you plan to eat it (boiling is always a good bet).
- Before taking a bite, touch the plant to your lips to test for burning or itching. If there’s no reaction after 15 minutes, take a small bite, chew it, and hold it in your mouth for 15 minutes. If the plant tastes very bitter or soapy, spit it out.
- If there’s no reaction in your mouth, swallow the bite and wait several hours. If there’s no ill effect, you can assume this part of the plant is edible. Repeat the test for other parts of the plant; some plants have both edible and inedible parts.
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