How can I identify edible berries/fruit in the wide and avoid the poisonous varieties? Is there a general guideline that can be followed or is specific to each plant?
Eating berries and mushrooms is not recommended since there is no general pattern to identify poisonous ones (unless you're an expert on that topic). Even having a book with pictures of edible berries can be tricky as some poisonous ones are disguised as their edible counterparts.
Plants, on the other hand, should not be edible if the sap is milky. Milky sap often means poison. Take, for instance, Euphorbia which can look like cacti and trick you. So check the sap.
With insects it's easier. Not eating the flashy coloured, smelly or slow unwary moving ones is the rule of thumb here.
The best advice is not to unless you are very, very sure.
Having said that, and just for fun, assuming you are in a chronic survival situation with no choice, this article describes how to test if a plant is edible.
- Get a good book, with full color illustrations. I can't find a link for one, but you want quality equivalent to the Audubon full color field guides.
- Do a few field runs in the area you plan on being in with someone experienced before you try to eat the foliage.
Of course, everything depends on risk. If you've been lost for four or five days and you're starving, assuming non-bitter, non-burning = okay may seem more reasonable. However, if I'm found on the brink of starvation, I generally don't want the response personnel to also have to deal with whatever I may have poisoned myself with. Seems a lot like doubling down on death.
In general, worldwide this is very hard to predict unless you're an expert in the subject (and therefore likely wouldn't be looking for advice on this page!) There are some clues, like plants with milky sap tend to be poisonous - but applying these in a general context is almost always a bad idea since your life can depend on it.
The best you can do is to read up, get a good book etc. that focuses around the area you're hiking to - get one as specific as you can, with good, clear descriptions and pictures. This will enable you to have at least some degree of confidence - though obviously unless you're 100% sure I wouldn't risk it.
As other answers say, don't just try it.
A good negative indicator is skin irritation. I've read that particularly with berries, if you crush some berries and rub some of the juice on a patch of skin and let it sit for a while, some berries will cause irritation, which is a good indicator not to eat them! But berries that don't irritate your skin aren't necessarily safe...
Do NOT try this at home. But if your life depends on it and you can't find anything you know is edible, you can follow these instructions. Again, you may die by doing this but if the odds are you'll die anyway, you can play roulette with your life as safely as you can.
- Rub the plant on an area of your skin where the skin is thin and soft. Any itching or unpleasant feeling within an hour or two should lead to leaving the plant out of question.
- If the plant won't irritate your skin, follow the next steps only following to the next one if previous step won't lead to unpleasant feelings within 5 minutes of exposure
- Rub it a little to your lips
- Rub it a little to the side of your mouth
- Rub it a little to the tip of your tongue
- Rub it a little underneath your tongue
- Chew a small portion of it
- Swallow a small portion and wait for 5 hours
- If no unpleasant symptoms arise (pain, tickling, burps, nausea, stomach pain, cramps in abdomen or anythin else), consider the plant relatively safe to eat
There are 2 most common poisons in the plant world. Learn to detect them and ditch any plant you suspect containing them.
Smells and tastes like sweet and bitter almonds or peach.
Tastes like rhubarb or wood sorrel.
- Plants that have milk-like sap
- Plants that have red in them
- Fruits that are divided to 5 sections
- Grasses and other plants that have small spikes in them. With a magnifying glass you'll notice the spikes have a hook in them which can really mess up with your intestines
- Old and withered plants. Many plants generate hydrogen cyanide when in stress
- Full-grown ferns as they destroy vitamin B and can cause death. However, all ferns are edible as young although some species may taste awful
Learn to recognize them. The genus is largely distributed in the Northern Hemisphere, where it is found in a variety of wetland habitats. The rhizomes are edible. Evidence of preserved starch grains on grinding stones suggests they were already eaten in Europe 30,000 years ago. A small area of typha will produce you large amounts of rhizomes, food equivalent to potato. You can eat them raw but preferably boiled.
This is from a survival guild I once read.
The process will take at least 30+ hours until you can figure out if it is eatable, and even then you should not eat until you are stuffed (if everything goes right). The idea is simple stress your body at a low risk. You can't get sick when surviving.
If you find yourself in a situation where you have to find something to eat, you can:
1) Rub the juice of e.g. the berry on thin skin of your body (axilla or your arm, those areas of your body are easily affected by poison and will start itching, become swollen or whatever). If you have done that you wait for a couple of hours for the effect to happen.
Nothing happened? Good, you can move on.
2) Now put it on your lips, not in your mouth we are far from done testing!
3) Touch it with your tongue, wait again.
4) Now you can taste it, but don't eat it, you got it, wait again.
5) If nothing happened, you can now try to eat it.
This needs to be done very carefully - even if you are starving, a poison would kill you too.
Also, I don't know if it goes for mushrooms, but you can do that with berries, roots, leaves and so on.