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?

9 Answers 9


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.

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    Following up on this answer, it is unwise and dangerous to test any wild edibles unless you are absolutely certain of their species. Some mushrooms can kill you before you get back to the parking lot, others will ruin your liver or kidneys or cause unbelievable pain. If you are an expert in one region you are not is a different region, so play it safe and find one before tasting anything. Happy hunting. Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 20:18
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    @Pureferret I only know enough to be dangerous on this topic, not enough to help others be safe, which is why I never eat anything I don't bring into the wilderness. It's my recommendation that we enlist a real "wild edible" expert to improve this post. Let me know if you need some help, I'll try to track one down. Commented Jan 26, 2012 at 0:22
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    I'd downvote if I could: "Plants on the other hand should be edible if the sap is not milky" -- no way! There are plenty of poisonous plants without milky sap.
    – Jason S
    Commented Feb 1, 2012 at 3:56
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    @JasonS Completely agree, I think I know what Thomas means - milky sap can be a rough guide - but this doesn't mean that the plant is edible if the sap is clear at all!
    – berry120
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 23:37
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    Milky sap is no indicator either way: wild lettuces and common milkweed are safe; some Lactarii are poisonous, some are safe; dogbanes are not to be eaten.
    – jscs
    Commented Jul 10, 2012 at 0:13

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.

  • the article is really useful! shame I cannot favorite an answer...
    – Akabelle
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 8:03
  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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    This is a great answer! For plants (not mushrooms), there are many plants you can eat, and for many genera you can take it for granted that any species in the genus will be edible. For a given area, it really doesn't take a lot to learn a reasonable percentage of the flora, both the especially edible and the especially toxic. Commented Aug 25, 2013 at 0:07

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.


It is plant specific AFAIK.

But i heard somwhere, that if you taste poisoned berries or fruit it will taste strange - because of evolution - whoever can detect poisonous berry by taste will not eat it and will live longer :-)

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    I know from chemistry that basic compounds will often taste "soapy or bitter," but I have not heard that poison berries or fruit will taste "strange." Information on acids, bases, and taste.I would strongly recommend against taste-testing unknown foods. Take somebody with you who has already been in that area, and has harvested fruit/plants in that area, and follow their advice. When in doubt, don't eat it! Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 17:54
  • It is NOT a solution to try out on short hike, but if you are in big trouble that can be helpful
    – SergeS
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 20:24
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    Can you be more specific about "strange" or is it really a gut reaction and you need to be in tune with your body to know if something is not edible. For instance, on my cushy civilized diet, plenty of perfectly edible things taste "strange" due to modern agriculture shaping our experience.
    – bmike
    Commented Jan 31, 2012 at 21:20
  • Don't know how describe it propertly (bad english). As i kid i accidently eat some poison berry (only one - and not sou poisonous) - it tasted for me like plastic + ash
    – SergeS
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 10:43

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. Rub it a little to your lips
  4. Rub it a little to the side of your mouth
  5. Rub it a little to the tip of your tongue
  6. Rub it a little underneath your tongue
  7. Chew a small portion of it
  8. Swallow a small portion and wait for 5 hours
  9. 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.

Hydrogen cyanide

Smells and tastes like sweet and bitter almonds or peach.

Oxalic acid

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.


In the bush. You set very still at about 50 meter. Watch. Do the monkeys eat them? If so safe to eat. You can also walk up look & see if the monkeys have been into them. A good sign.

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    Not sure why this was down-voted; anyone care to suggest why? I have heard many times "Watch the birds and see if they eat it." +1
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 21:16

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!

Wait again.

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.

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