With some detailed knowledge, hikers can often find wild edible plants that are both tasty and nutritious. Caution is always prudent, however, because some wild plants have lookalikes that are poisonous, while other plants have some parts that are edible and others that should not be consumed. To learn about foraging, hikers can study field guides, do online research and attend workshops. The most important rule to always remember: Never eat a plant that you can't positively identify.
What's on the Menu
Hikers in temperate zones can dine on edible plants like arrowroot, blackberries, cattails, chicory, chestnuts, dandelions, muscadines, strawberries and wild roses. In tropical zones, nature's offerings may include bananas, cashews, coconuts, mangoes, palms and sugarcane. Desert hikers can consume agave, date palms and various species of cactus.
While some plants like berries are edible raw, others taste better after soaking, boiling or roasting. Leaves, stems and buds will have a less bitter taste if boiled until tender. Roots, tubers and nuts may be more palatable after roasting.
Individuals prone to gastric distress may want to avoid wild edible plants, and those with sensitivity to poison ivy shouldn't eat plants like mangoes and cashews that are in the same family. Do not consume wild plants with an almond-like scent, which is a telltale sign of cyanide. Use extreme care when identifying mushrooms, because some are loaded with dangerous toxins. Never eat wild fruit that has started to spoil.
Universal Edibility Test
It's best not to eat any wild plant that you cannot identify. But hungry hikers who are in dire straits can use the Universal Edibility Test to see if an unknown plant is safe to consume. Begin by fasting for at least 8 hours. During this period, place part of the plant against your skin to see if there is a reaction. To start the test, take a pinch of the plant and touch it to your lips. If no burning or itching develops after 3 minutes, place the plant on your tongue for 15 minutes and then chew it for 15 minutes without swallowing. If no irritation occurs during this period, swallow the plant. Wait 8 hours, immediately inducing vomiting if any ill effects develop. If everything is fine, consume a quarter-cup of the plant and then wait another 8 hours. If there are no ill effects by this point, consider the plant safe to eat.