What Is The Universal Edibility Test: How To Tell If A Plant Is Edible

Person Tasting A Leaf
edibility test
(Image credit: Terri Rosa Fox)

Foraging is a fun way to enjoy the outdoors and still bring dinner home. There are many wild and native foods available in our forest, along streams and rivers, in mountain zones, and even in deserts. You just need to know what you are looking for to get a table full of nutritious goodies.

This is where the Universal Edible Plant Test comes into play. If you aren't sure what your wild food is, you should test a plant's edibility by following this guide.

How Does The Universal Edibility Test Work

What is the Universal Edibility Test and how does it work? It is a very simple, but specific, plan to ID wild plants and ascertain their safeness for eating. Basically, it is how to tell if a plant is edible. Does the Universal Edibility Test work? It is a gradual and thorough introduction of the new food that gives you a chance to check whether it is toxic or poisonous. The introductions are small and slow, so the chances of a large reaction are reduced.

The first part of testing a wild food is to divide it into edible parts. If you know what the food might be you will know, for instance, that the leaves and bulb of wild onion are edible. The berries of wild brambles and the flower of a cattail are all edible. Select healthy plant material free of damage and insects.

Pick one part of the plant and smell it. Any detection of an almond scent should be avoided as should acidic or bitter smells. Now you are ready for skin and oral contact. Start with skin to determine if any topical allergy exists. Part of the Universal Edible Plant Test is to place the plant in your mouth, but first you should have tactile contact for 15 minutes followed by an observation period. You should wait eight hours after skin contact with the plant, during which time do not eat. If any allergic reaction occurs, do not place the plant in your mouth.

How to Tell if a Plant is Edible Through Oral Contact

Finally, we get to the potentially scary part, tasting the plant. This requires several steps before the plant can be considered safe. Place part of the plant around your mouth. Discontinue if any burning or itching happens.

Next, place the plant on your tongue for 15 minutes but do not chew. If all seems well, move to the next step. If nothing happens, chew for 15 minutes but do not swallow. If everything seems good, swallow. Do not eat the food again for eight hours. Drink plenty of filtered water during this period.

Universal Edible Plant Test Reactions and What to Do

If at any time you feel nauseous after ingesting the plant, drink a lot of purified water and induce vomiting followed by plenty more water. Since the plant ingested was just a small amount, things should be fine except in rare cases. If any oral discomfort occurs later, swish with water and do not eat any more of the plant.

If nothing happens in eight hours, eat 1/4 cup (30 g.) of the plant and wait an additional eight hours. If all seems well, the plant is safe to ingest. This is an approved method to test plant edibility. The test appears in many survival and prepper guides as well as university publications on wild foraging.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article is for educational and gardening purposes only. Before using or ingesting ANY herb or plant for medicinal purposes or otherwise, please consult a physician, medical herbalist or other suitable professional for advice.

Bonnie L. Grant

Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.