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Edible Plants, Part 2: What NOT to Eat

Please read this series of articles together to make sense of the logic and information contained within it.  The premise article (Part 1) is an important introduction that explains the reasoning for the inclusion of food sources in an extreme survival section.  Ordinarily, the most important parts to a survival plan are derived from the basic rule of 3’s formula:

  • One can survive 3 minutes without air
  • One can survive 3 hours without protection from exposure
  • One can survive 3 days without water
  • One can survive 3 weeks without food

Use these guidelines to understand the basic risk assessment formula, and adjust accordingly to your specific needs.

In an extended survival scenario, food will become a primary concern, especially when attempting to cross large sections of land or water, which could take weeks or months before seeing someone who has the ability to enact a rescue.

What not to eat is about as important as what to eat, so this article will talk about the most dangerous wild plants that might be considered unknowingly for food.  Several of these don’t take more than a taste to kill a healthy adult.  Above all, know the area you are going into before you go, and if in doubt, DO NOT EAT!

Hemlock: Circutoxin is the reason this plant is so deadly, and it has many lookalikes in the plant world, as well as a habit for growing in areas one would ordinarily think are safe to obtain food or water from. It’s an untidy looking plant with smooth stems (green) that typically have instances of purple or red spots or even linear coloration farther down on the stem.  The root tends to look like a parsnip, but they have a foul smell, which can give it away.  Clusters of small white dirty-looking flowers and lacy looking conical or even triangle shaped leaves characterize this plant, which was once used as a poison administered to purposefully kill inmates and enemies of state in some areas of the world.

Rosary Pea: This plant contains abrin, an incredibly lethal poison to humans that can shut down the lungs, kidneys, liver, and spleen within hours if more than five micrograms are taken. Its lethality is unbelievable, with a mere two micrograms containing enough poison to kill a healthy adult. The “berries” look a lot like a ladybug at a glance, though they can sometimes be white, black, or green.  As an intact berry, they are considered harmless, but if the surface is disrupted, the resulting toxin can be deadly even on contact with an opening or cut. The leaves are bright green with a soft look, and are patterned in a modified feather pattern.

Oleander: Neriine and oleandrin make up the toxic parts of this plant, which is otherwise quite a usable and beautiful plant for things from erosion control to noise blocking, as well as other industrial usages.  It is easily considered the most dangerous plant in the United States due to its widespread presence.   It is not uncommon to find these plants in many parts of your city, including school areas, where they could come in frequent contact with children, to whom they can easily be fatal.  It can appear to be shrub-like and has erect skyward leaves of firm composure. It also has bright flowers ranging from white to orange to bright pinks and reds, with the occasional pale appearance.  Generally speaking, the color range is light pink to bright red (on the magenta scale).

Lantana: An incredibly beautiful flowering plant with a deep green leaf, its makeup contains several high-level toxins that can be fatal if ingested in any quantity.  It is predominantly abundant in South America, but it is not uncommon around other parts of the world, specifically tropical areas. It has a tendency to attract tsetse flies—a nuisance at best, and deadly at worst.  The berries are considered to be safe when fully ripe, but the rest of the plant can be incredibly dangerous upon consumption.  It’s a very bright flowering plant with deep green leaves and doesn’t like to assume a particular color scheme across its varieties. Colors can include blue, white, yellow, red, and orange, and several colors can be present on a single plant.  The leaves have a very textured surface, with slightly subdued ridges around the edge of the leaf almost reminiscent of scalloping.

Death Lily: The name pretty much says it all. An uglier version of the normal lily, this plant has a straight “stalk-like” stem which has several upward-shooting flowers that each have six petals with a green heart-like or even butterfly shaped area on each of the petals.  It can be found throughout the United States, though mostly in the Western states.

Castor Bean: While this is normally a well-used and highly commercialized food source and used in many things in the modern world, the beans are covered in a shell that contains a high concentration of ricin. Just a couple of beans can kill a child, and it would only take a few more to kill a healthy adult.  It grows in tropical areas and has leaves which look oddly somewhat like a marijuana leaf, though it can vary greatly in color saturation and overall plant appearance.  Often times the leaves are dark green and jagged on the edges, ranging from deep greens to purples and reds. The leaves tend to be glossy and may have anywhere from five to ten segments or more, although usually no more than twelve, all with jagged edges. The plant also has small yellow flowers and greenish (though often reddish and purple in color also) capsule-like pods that can contain several seeds.

For additional research purposes, please consider the following as dangerous and inedible, and do some research to determine the likelihood of such a plant growing in your location before you come in contact with them:

  • Trumpet vine
  • Jimson weed
  • Poison sumac
  • Poison oak
  • Poison ivy
  • Angel’s trumpet
  • Mala mujer
  • Rhubarb
  • Daphne
  • Strychnine
  • Renghas
  • Dumb cane
  • Manchineel
  • Chinaberry
  • Pangi
  • Deadly nightshade

This list is not all-inclusive, and these plants can be found everywhere, though they are usually just localized by the variety.  It is not impossible for one type of plant to be found in the wild even if it doesn’t grow natively in an area, so please remember to avoid concerns by avoiding plants you cannot positively identify.

Essentially, the main thing to remember is this:  Food is not as important as many other things in a survival situation; even then, if you cannot absolutely identify a potential food source as safe and usable, then you should avoid it at all costs.  Do not rely on something you read or heard and can’t quite remember when out in the wild and hungry.  Only use what you know to be usable for food.

©2011 Off the Grid News

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