An Important Lesson From U.S. Army Survival Manual FM 21-76

It’s the majesty of living where few others do…

We strolled through our pasture last night and heard the song of the wild. We were serenaded by coyotes that were as impressed by the rising moon as we were.

The pack emerged from the neighboring woodlot in search of an evening meal. Its members chirped, barked and sang to us as we did our nightly chores.

What a joy.

For coyotes, finding a meal on a cold January night is a tall task. The cold weather sends their metabolism into high gear… and yet they may work all night for just a few bites of food.

Hearing them joyously sing their song made us wonder… just how many modern-day humans could spend a week in the same environment?

We didn’t like the figure we came up with.

Common knowledge tells us that we can survive without food for about three weeks. But what most folks don’t bother to think about is what those last two weeks look like.

They are pure hell as our body and brain shut down to conserve any fuel that’s left.

After a mere 24 to 48 hours, our muscles are already degrading. And after a week without food, few folks have the energy or mental capacity to find or capture a fresh food source.

In other words, if you’re on your own and haven’t eaten in a week… you’re as good as dead.

That’s why we’re exploring a bit of critical Know-How today.

While we hope no reader will ever need the crucial knowledge below, all readers will surely agree that the ability to find edible plants in the wild is a good – and even entertaining – skill.

The Survival Test

It’s not easy to survive outdoors. In just the U.S. and Canada, there are more than 700 poisonous plants.

That’s why the Pentagon developed the “Universal Edibility Test.” You can find it in The U.S. Army Survival Manual FM 21-76.

It’s not all that difficult, but it does require careful attention and time.

It’s vital that we eat no other food during the test. Abstain from all food for eight hours prior to starting.

Then begin by identifying readily available plants. It’s no good to spend precious energy testing a plant just to realize there are few others like it in the area.

And, no matter how abundant, never eat wild mushrooms… plants with fine hairs… or plants that have a soapy taste.

When you’ve found a plant with potential, take a big whiff of it. If it smells acidic or has a strong odor, move to the next plant.

Once one passes muster, you’re ready to test its edibility. You must break the plant into its most basic components – the roots, stem, leaves, buds and flowers. One part may be edible, while another might make us quite sick.

Test all parts. And test only one part at a time.

First, rub a piece of the plant on the inside of your wrist. Wait 15 minutes. You’ll know quite quickly if the plant will cause a reaction. If it doesn’t, move on to the next step.

Cook or prepare the potential food.

Once done, put a bit of it against your lip. Wait three minutes.

If there’s no reaction, place the plant on your tongue for 15 minutes. (Nobody said this was a quick test…)

If you’re still good… chew the piece for another 15 minutes. Don’t swallow it.

If there’s no itching, burning or other irritation, you can now swallow the food.

But don’t get excited.

You must wait a full eight hours after eating the small sample piece. Only if there are no ill effects during that time can we finally dig in and eat more of the plant.

It’s a long test.

And it must be performed with each section of the plant and with each new way of preparing it (e.g., eating it raw, boiling, baking, etc.). But it can save a life.

At the very least, it’s knowledge that can impress some folks at a party.

We may never need this skill. We hope not.

But it sure feels good knowing we’d survive if we had to.

The coyotes might even let us sing along.

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