How to Test if a Plant Is Edible

Two Methods:Testing for EdibilityKnowing What to Look For

Drastic times call for drastic measures. If you ever find yourself stranded in the wilderness without food, you'll have to figure out how to feed yourself. Many plants in the wild are edible, but many are also poisonous. See Step 1 and beyond to learn how to determine whether plants you find can be eaten safely.

Method 1
Testing for Edibility

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    Avoid ever having to use this method without careful planning. Some plants can be deadly, and even if you follow these guidelines perfectly, there is always a chance that a plant will make you seriously ill.
    • Prepare yourself for wilderness outings by learning about the local flora and fauna, and carry a guidebook or taxonomic key to help you identify plants.
    • Even if you are unprepared and cannot find food you know to be safe remember that, depending on your activity level, the human body can go for days without food, and you're better off being hungry than being poisoned.
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    Find a plant that is plentiful. You don't want to go through the rigorous process of testing a plant if there's not a lot of it to eat.
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    Abstain from eating or drinking anything but purified water for 8 hours before the test. (If you have to use this method, this step will probably be unavoidable.)
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    Separate the plant into parts. Some plants have edible parts and poisonous parts. In order to test if a plant is edible, you must separate it into the leaf, stem, and root and test each part separately for edibility.
    • After you have separated the plant into parts, inspect each part you are preparing for parasites. If you encounter worms or small insects inside the plant, discontinue the test with that sample and consider seeking a different sample of the same plant. Evidence of worms, parasites or insects indicates that the plant is rotten, especially if the organism has vacated the plant.
    • Many parts of plants are only edible during certain seasons (for example, acorns collected after the fall are usually rotten). If you find grubs inside the plant, the plant is rotting, but the grubs are edible and contain high amounts of protein (although they taste sour and are gritty).
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    Find out if the plant is contact-poisonous. A contact-poisonous plant is one that causes a reaction merely by touching your skin. Rub the selected plant part on the inside of your elbow or wrist. Crush it so that the sap touches your skin, and hold it there for 15 minutes. If the plant causes a reaction in the next 8 hours, do not continue testing that part of that plant.
    • Do this with each part of the plant until you find a part that isn't contact-poisonous.
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    Cook a small portion of the plant part. Some plants are poisonous only when raw, so it's a good idea to cook the plant part you are testing if possible. If you can't cook the plant or if you don't anticipate that you will be able to cook it in the future, just test it raw.
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    Test the plant in your mouth. This portion of the test is where things get dangerous, so proceed very slowly and carefully. Take the following steps to test the plant in your mouth:
    • Hold a small portion of the prepared plant part against your lip for 3 minutes. Do not put the plant in your mouth. If you notice any burning, tingling, or other reaction, discontinue testing.
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    • Place another small portion of the plant part on your tongue. Hold the plant on your tongue without chewing for 15 minutes. Discontinue testing if you notice any reaction.
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    • Chew the plant and hold it in your mouth for 15 minutes. Chew the plant well, and do not swallow. Discontinue testing if you notice any reaction.
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    • Swallow the small portion of the plant.
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    Wait 8 hours. Do not eat or drink anything during this period except purified water. If you feel sick, immediately induce vomiting and drink plenty of water. If activated charcoal is available, take that with the water. Discontinue testing if you experience any adverse reaction.
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    Eat 1/4 cup of the same kind of plant part prepared the same way. It is critical that you use exactly the same part of exactly the same kind of plant, and that you prepare it in exactly the same way as you did the initial sample.
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    Wait an additional 8 hours. Abstain from any other food except purified water. Induce vomiting immediately as above if you should feel ill. If no reaction has occurred, you may assume only that particular part of the plant is safe to eat, and only as prepared during the test.
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    Begin a new test if the plant part you have chosen fails any of the tests. If the first plant part you choose appears contact-poisonous, you may immediately test a new plant on your other arm or behind your knee. If the plant causes a reaction before you have swallowed it, wait until the symptoms have disappeared before testing a new plant. If you have an adverse reaction after you've swallowed the plant, wait until symptoms have disappeared and start a new test. Although there may be edible parts of the plant you initially chose, it is preferable to move on to a different plant for subsequent tests.
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    Do a gradual test if you have other food sources. If you are in a situation where you have access to other sources of safe food, you can incorporate this test into your diet more gradually by splitting it up into 3 stages, and using your 8 hours of normal sleep as the 8 hours of the pre-test for each stage. Again, this should only be used if you are in a survival situation (e.g. your existing food rations are running low, and you need to start testing another source before your current one is depleted) or if you cannot find documentation for a particular plant and are willing to undergo the risks (poisoning and death) involved.
    • Wake up and do the contact-poisonous part of the test. After 8 hours, eat a normal meal (not of the plant under test).
    • Next morning, complete the test up to swallowing a single piece. After 8 hours, assuming you are still alive and well, eat a normal meal again.
    • Eat the full sample of the plant under test on the 3rd morning. After 8 hours, celebrate life and the adding of a new edible plant to your experience by eating a nice meal.
    • Don't disregard any other steps, or tips, or warnings; this alternative method is only to save your body from the stress of 24 hours of fasting. This method also enables you to continually test new plants in your area without going hungry for more than 16 hours a day, and only 8 hours on the final day, assuming 1/4 cup of the food can sustain you.

Method 2
Knowing What to Look For

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    Know the signs of a poisonous plant. Some plants that are poisonous look, smell and taste completely edible, but others provide signs that they aren't to be eaten by humans. Avoiding plants with these qualities might cause you to miss out on a plant that's actually edible, but it's much better to play it safe. Stay away from plants with the following characteristics:[1]
    • White berries.
    • Milky sap.
    • An almond scent.
    • Seeds, beans or bulbs inside pods.
    • Thorns, spines or hairs.
    • A bitter taste.
    • Grain heads with pink or black spurs.
    • Groups of three leaves.
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    Look for recognizable edible plants. If you know what you're looking for, you're likely to find some plants that you recognize from the produce aisle of the grocery store. Do not eat any unfamiliar berries that you see unless you are 100% sure that the berry is edible unless you are willing to risk illness and death. Every plant you encounter in the wild should be tested according to the above method since some poisonous plants look very similar to edible ones. However, plants that look like the following common edible plants are a good place to start:[2]
    • Blueberries
    • Blackberries
    • Dandelion
    • Asparagus
    • Strawberries
    • Wild onion
    • Persimmon
    • Chestnut
    • Bananas
    • Mangos
    • Coconuts
    • Papaya
    • Taro
    • Cactus
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    Don't forget seaweed. Seaweed is a nutritious plant source that is edible as long as it's harvested fresh from the ocean. Don't attempt to eat seaweed that has washed up on the shore. If you can wade out a bit and harvest some fresh seaweed, you'll have a good food source that provides minerals and vitamin C. These common seaweeds are edible:[3]
    • Kelp
    • Green seaweed
    • Irish moss
    • Dulse
    • Laver


  • Cook underground plant parts if at all possible, to kill bacteria and fungus.
  • If you see an animal eating a plant, do not assume the plant is safe for humans. Some things that are poisonous to humans may have no effect on animals.
  • Avoid plant bulbs unless they have the familiar onion or garlic smell.
  • Aggregate berries (such as blackberries and raspberries) are usually safe to eat. (Although in some places where blackberries are considered a pest, they may have been sprayed with herbicides.) One notable exception to this rule is a white berry that grows only in Alaska.
  • Peel ripe tropical fruits and eat raw. If you must eat an unripe fruit, cook it first. Follow all other test guidelines with these fruits unless you know the plant to be edible.
  • The guidelines in this article, particularly in the Warnings section, may rule out some edible plants, but these warnings are included to help you avoid some of the most common poisonous plants.
  • Keep a similar piece of the plant you ate and put it in your pocket. This will help rescuers identify it when you are found.


  • Avoid mushrooms or other fungi. While many fungi are edible, there are many that are deadly, and if you are untrained they can be very difficult to tell apart even after you have tested one.
  • Avoid Holly berries which are red and juicy these are highly toxic except to birds.
  • Avoid plants with shiny leaves.
  • Avoid plants with milky sap (You should not eat dandelion stems, but all other parts are edible).
  • Avoid plants with umbrella-shaped flowers.
  • Testing plants can be dangerous. These steps should only be attempted in a dire emergency.
  • Once you have determined a plant is edible, take care to make sure that subsequent plants you harvest are the same plant. Many plants are similar in appearance.
  • Do not assume that a plant is safe if you see animals eating it.
  • Do not eat plants that have been penetrated by worms, insects, or parasites.
  • In general, avoid thorns or spines. If such a plant has aggregate berries, the berries are safe to eat. Other exceptions include thistles and prickly pear cacti.
  • Do not eat peach or almond pits (seeds) as they contain small amounts of cyanide.
  • Avoid plants with yellow, white or red berries.
  • Before turning to unknown plants, look around to see if there is anything else you can eat such as coconuts, meat, fish or other things. If you cannot find another edible substance, be cautious about testing plants/berries.

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