Identify Safe and Edible Plants in a Survival Situation

Edited by Nerissa Avisado, Lynn, Eng, Rebecca M. and 1 other

You're out in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles from civilization. You've consumed your last Twinkie and you're down to your last gulp of water. The future looks terribly dim - unless you know how to recognize and identify some safe and edible plants, there is no hope you'll survive.

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Preparedness is still the number one skill anyone can have to increase their chances of survival in a situation such as this. Being lost or left behind is the last thing on your mind when you're having a blast on your outdoor adventure with your family or friends, but it can happen. And when it does, do you have what it takes to stay calm and collected? You have to, because the moment you panic, you lose. The ability to stay focused is the difference between life and death.

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How to Test a Plant and How to Use It

It is assumed that prior to hiking or going out on a wilderness adventure you have thoroughly researched your surroundings, the dangers and perils you may encounter, and the safe and edible plants you can eat native to that area, should the need arise. Then again, you can never be 100 percent sure about a plant's safety because there are thousands of poisonous lookalikes out there, so extreme caution is necessary.

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Prior to the Procedure

  1. 1
    Set aside 24 hours
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    The only way to do this right is to set aside 24 hours so you don't skip any of the steps, but something that's not easy to do when hunger and exhaustion have set in. It is therefore recommended that you do this as early as possible after the onset of your ordeal.
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  2. 2
    Identify the most plentiful plants
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    The first thing you want to do is check out the plant's abundance to make it worth your while and ensure that you can live solely on that plant alone without having to repeat the same test over and over again.
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  3. 3
    Eat and fast
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    Fasting is necessary because you will not be able to distinguish if it's poisonous or not if you're also ingesting something else with it. Do this eight hours prior to the test, drinking only purified water in the process.
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  4. 4
    Stay away from the obvious
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    Before testing your chosen plants for edibility, veer away from plants that have tell-tale signs of poison.  
    1. If it doesn't look good or feel good, it probably isn't.
    2. Those with fungi, insects, worms or parasites must also be avoided.
    3. The same thing goes with those that look like garlic, mushrooms, onions, and parsley. They look edible, but so do their poisonous lookalikes.
    4. Don't go for plants with sticky liquid sap either. One exception to this rule is the dandelion. Though it has white, sticky sap, dandelion plants are not only edible, but very nutritious. The added bonus with a dandelion is that almost anyone who has a lawn can identify these pesky weeds. When in any survival situation if you can find plants that you already know are edible, it is wise to make use of them when possible.
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  5. 5
    Often the things that look most delicious, are the most poison
    .
    Belladonna, for example.
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  6. 6
    What's everything else eating
    ?
    If the birds are eating the berries, there's a good chance you can too. If leaves have insect bites, there is at least the comfort in knowing they consider this plant food. You should be more wary of a plant that nothing has tried to eat.
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Test It

Now that you're through learning the basics, you can now get to the process for testing the plants.

  1. 1
    What you need to know about fasting
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    Fast for eight hours before doing the procedure. Do not ingest anything aside from purified water, nor take anything while performing this.
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  2. 2
    Test the individual parts
    .
    Do this by breaking it down to its basic components. Just because one part is poisonous does not mean the whole thing must be thrown away. Do this correctly by testing its parts one by one like the roots, stems, leaves, flowers.
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  3. 3
    How to choose
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    Choose the biggest section to test out so it will be worth your time and effort, all the while making sure it is not infested with deadly parasites.
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  4. 4
    Smell the part for strong odors
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    While this does not completely distinguish it from what's poisonous or not, you're better off avoiding plants with acidic odors.
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  5. 5
    Test for skin irritation
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    If during the process of handling you've already experienced itching or inflammation, try getting another one; if not, you can move on. Take a small portion and rub it gently inside your elbow. The plant is usually safe if irritation does not occur within 15 minutes. In the event, however, that it happens within your eight-hour food abstinence, throw it away because it can be deadly.
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  6. 6
    Try it raw
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    The best way to test the plant is to eat it raw; this way you can survive on this even when you're on the go. You also have the option of cooking it because some poisonous plants become edible when cooked properly.
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  7. 7
    Take your time
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    Don't eat the plant right away, but rather test it on your lips by taking a small portion to touch the surface and wait. If after four minutes no reaction occurs like a burning sensation, you're free to move on. The next target is your tongue. Hold it in your mouth for 15 minutes and again wait for the reaction. If nothing happens, you can start chewing. Get a small amount of the plant and chew but don't swallow yet. If you don't feel any burning, stinging, etc., you can ingest it.
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  8. 8
    The long waiting hours
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    Now here's the challenging part - waiting. Whether you like it or not, you need to wait for eight hours after ingesting before you can go on eating or drinking anything aside from your purified water.
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  9. 9
    The final test
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    After eight hours have passed and you're still wide awake, breathing, it's time to make the final test. Eat about a handful and again, wait for another eight hours without ingesting anything except your purified water. Still, if no reaction occurs, it's safe to eat that part of the plant. Remember, you need to test each part of the plant individually to determine if it is a safe and edible plant.
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Contact Dermatitis

  1. 1
    What to do when contact dermatitis develops
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    Despite extreme caution there are times that contact may not be avoided.
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    1. Soap and water. Once you see signs of itching, reddening, swelling and inflammation, wash the affected skin area with soap and water, provided you have some in your pack.
    2. Sand. If you're out of soap or water, you can use sand instead, but make sure blisters have not developed yet, as this will worsen the condition and probably cause infection.
    3. Tannic Acid Dry the affected area thoroughly and rub it with a tannic acid solution you can find from oak bark.
    4. Remember: The most common culprits for contact dermatitis are poison ivy, poison sumac, poison oak, trumpet vine and cowhage.
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If Poisoning Occurs

What to do when ingestion poisoning occurs.

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  1. 1
    Be prepared
    .
    It's best to go fully equipped and prepared when planning to be outdoors, whether for short or long periods of time. Make sure you have sufficient supplies to increase your chances of survival in case you find yourself in a life or death situation:
    • Food
    • Water
    • First Aid Kit
    • Emergency tools. and water, a first aid kit and emergency tools
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  2. 2
    Be aware and alert to the signs and symptoms of swallowing poisonous plants
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    You cannot expect to know what to do if you've ingested poison, if you are not even aware of its symptoms. Watch out for the following:
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    1. Nausea
    2. Vomiting
    3. Drowsiness
    4. Skin irritation
    5. Impaired vision
    6. Arrhythmia
    7. Upset stomach
    8. Trembling, and convulsions.
    9. In more serious cases, a heart attack may occur, or death.
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  3. 3
    Remember
    :
    Stay away from the most dangerous and common causes of poisoning due to plants:  
    1. Chinaberry.
    2. Lantana.
    3. Oleander.
    4. Physic Nut.
    5. Castor Bean (even touching these, and putting fingers in your mouth can kill
    6. Death Camas
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  4. 4
    Take it out fast
    .
    When you experience ingestion poisoning such as nausea, dizziness, diarrhea, vomiting, or abdominal cramps, try getting it out of your system right away.  
    1. Induce vomiting by tickling the back of your throat.
    2. Dilution is another alternative. Dilute the ingested poison by drinking lots of water or milk, if available.
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Make mental note, however, that in worst-case scenarios, your chances of surviving are still pretty good, as long as you stay cool, calm, collected, and have the presence of mind to identify safe and edible plants in a survival situation. Learn about distinguishing and safely testing plants; it will be your key to survival.

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If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.

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Article Info

Categories : Safety

Recent edits by: Rebecca M., Eng, Lynn

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