I ruffle some foraging feathers with this position but I am dead set against field testing of edibility because it can kill you.
“Field testing” is running through a procedure to purportedly learn if a wild plant is edible. It’s found on a lot of survival sites and is popular with young men who don’t want to bother to learn how to forage for wild plants. In their survivalist scenario they will head for the hills with all the guns and ammo they can carry and after shooting a zoo full of animals will field test plants for edibility should they want to eat greenery now and then.
You can live a month without food, easily two weeks with little threat to life or health even under harsh conditions. That’s part of our design. Under good conditions, if you have water, you should be able to easily live three or even four weeks without food. Under medical care you can go twice as long without food.
Food is good while in the field but it is not an immediate necessity. Why after only one day or three would you risk your life over a plant you know nothing about? Several fatal plants taste great: Hemlock (leaf and root) the rosary pea get thumbs up from the deceased. Yew nuts are described as extremely delicious, just before they stop your heart. And we all know of some tasty mushrooms that will liquefy your liver. I know of at least one plant that readily passes the “field test of edibility” yet can make you permanently sick and or kill you. As they say, pick your poison. Taste is not a good indicator of toxicity. Some of these plants can kill you in 15 minutes, some will take a week, others longer. It would be ironic to survive the crisis only to die later from eating a plant you really didn’t need to eat. Some of these plants can be eaten in the emergency room and you will still die. Some have no antidote. You’re on your way out and it will not be pleasant. One mushroom makes you deathly ill then cruelly make you feel almost as good as new just before you die. In fact the clinical sign of impending death via that mushroom is after several days of illness the victim is suddenly feeling let-me-go-home better.
Even if we take death off the field testing table, you can still get sick from field testing. More so, since one can go quite a while without food why introduce illness into a situation? Plant poisoning can range from a mild headache to having your stomach ache for months, or having bloody diarrhea for weeks, or burning your throat and mouth which will make you give up food. Pick the wrong berry and your kidneys will fail and you will be on dialysis the rest of your life, if you survive. Field testing in the field is the last resort after cannibalism. You should know every plant you put in your mouth. No exceptions. Now, is there a small argument for field testing? Yes.
I did field test the controversial S. americanum, which had professional reports of edibility and toxicity. But it would be more accurate to say I kitchen tested it, and not over a few days but a few weeks. After extensive research and positive identification of the plant (and having health insurance, a hospital nearby, and no emergency to contend with) I consumed one quarter of one ripe berry. The berries are slightly bigger than a BB. The next day it was one-half a berry and so forth. I knew the plant well, had absolute identification, and over an extended period consumed incrementally larger amounts. The plant is edible and I had to prove it to myself. That is far different than eating a leaf off a plant you don’t know out in the middle of no where. That is exactly how a forest ranger in Idaho died in 1975. He sat down for a lunch with a homemade sandwich. He saw a nice looking plant nearby and put a leaf of it in his sandwich. He was dead in just over two hours. Socrates was executed by a member of the same plant family.
Plants are very powerful chemical factories. A quarter square inch piece of some flower petals can make you sick for weeks. A grain, read a speck no bigger than this asterisk * of the rosary pea can kill you. It is 1,000 times more toxic than arsenic. If you field test, never field test a plant you do not know absolutely, as well as all the warnings.
I had a reader write me and say his method of deciding if a plant was edible or not was if it tasted good he ate it and if it didn’t he didn’t. He asked me what I thought of that. I said I hoped he had good life insurance. If you do field testing in the field I hope you not only have life insurance at the time but are also not responsible for others as well.