The U.S. military survival manuals are a treasure trove of information for anyone who spends time outdoors. Whether you need to plan a bug-out bag, treat injuries, build a snare, or even prepare yourself mentally for the rigors of solo survival, these manuals are packed with tried-and-true methods and advice. Previously, we showed you how to build an efficient Dakota fire pit using the U.S.M.C. Survival Manual—check it out if you haven’t already.

Today, we’re going to delve into identifying edible plants using a technique called the Universal Edibility Test. This method is found in the U.S. Army Survival Manual, and can help you identify plants that are safe to eat if you run out of other options. But first, a warning: the only way to avoid accidental poisoning with 100% certainty is to eat ONLY the plants you can positively identify. Use this technique at your own risk.

So, without further ado, here is the Universal Edibility Test from the U.S. Army Survival Manual:

  1. Test only one part of a potential food plant at a time.
  2. Separate the plant into its basic components -leaves, stems, roots, buds, and flowers.
  3. Smell the food for strong or acid odors. Remember, smell alone does not indicate a plant is edible or inedible.
  4. Do not eat for 8 hours before starting the test.
  5. During the 8 hours you abstain from eating, test for contact poisoning by placing a piece of the plant part you are testing on the inside of your elbow or wrist. Usually 15 minutes is enough time to allow for a reaction.
  6. During the test period, take nothing by mouth except purified water and the plant part you are testing.
  7. Select a small portion of a single part and prepare it the way you plan to eat it.
  8. Before placing the prepared plant part in your mouth, touch a small portion (a pinch) to the outer surface of your lip to test for burning or itching.
  9. If after 3 minutes there is no reaction on your lip, place the plant part on your tongue, holding it there for 15 minutes.
  10. If there is no reaction, thoroughly chew a pinch and hold it in your mouth for 15 minutes. Do not swallow.
  11. If no burning, itching, numbing, stinging, or other irritation occurs during the 15 minutes. swallow the food.
  12. Wait 8 hours. If any ill effects occur during this period. induce vomiting and drink a lot of water.
  13. If no ill effects occur, eat 0.25 cup of the same plant part prepared the same way. Wait another 8 hours. If no ill effects occur, the plant part as prepared is safe for eating.

CAUTION: Test all parts of the plant for edibility, as some plants have both edible and inedible parts. Do not assume that a part that proved edible when cooked is also edible when raw. Test the part raw to ensure edibility before eating raw. The same part or plant may produce varying reactions in different individuals.

For more information on edible plants, check out Chapter 9 of the U.S. Army Survival Manual, embedded below via Google Books.

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