What is the worst experience you have had by trying to eat a plant that you have never known before?. Did you ever try the universal edibility test for the plants you have found before you eat them?.

Some of my colleagues have vomited because of miss-ID. The others feel the sensation of burning inside their mouth, just because they eat a piece of plant leaves they got during hiking activities in the forest.


From several discussions, I have done with colleagues from Europe about survival plants, mostly they talking about banana, bamboo, and coconut. Their conclusions are not wrong, considering that these three plants exist in almost the entire Indonesian island.

Three common plants for tropical survival

But actually, these three plants are mostly domesticated.  In the other words, we can easily found them in the civilization area.  Coconut can only be found in the lowlands.  Bamboo can be found from lowland to highland.  Wild banana is everywhere.

The abundance of edible plants

Indonesia is part of the world’s diversity center in plants and animals. This means that Indonesia has a high diversity of species.  Three plants mention earlier is originally came from Indonesia, that why we can found a lot of types from banana, bamboo, and coconut. 

Furthermore, Indonesia also becomes the origin of mangosteen, guava, starfruit, rice, rose apple, mango, durian, jackfruit, rambutan, and many others.  when we are at the center of diversity, that means we can easily find wild types of these plants in the wild.

What about if we are in the middle of nowhere, in the center of the tropical forest? what we should do?.  Just for your information, that all plants already mention above, some time does not exist in there.  Of course, the first step is just to find the wild relatives of these plants.

Delicious wild relatives species which easier to do edibility test

From my experience, we can found the wild relatives species in the forest, such as wild mangosteen, wild guava, wild rose apple, wild begonia, and many others.  The taste is delicious and when we can found them, it mean we a lucky because we can eat the original taste, before they domesticated.

But what about if the wild relatives’ species is not found?  Can we found edible plants in the Indonesian forest?.  Don’t worry.  Evergreen Indonesian forest is just like the supermarket.  We can found foods and medicines easily.  But with conditions!. We have the ability to recognize them.

How do I determine the edibility?

From a lot of information about survival plants I read previously, there is an assumption that we could not eat plants that were gummy, hairy, thorny, attractive color, bad smell. But, actually, a lot of plants that are very tasty are gummy (jackfruit and papaya), hairy (begonia, senggani), thorny (rattan, rubus), attractive colors (rubus, mangosteen), bad smell (jengkol, lamtoro, petai). 

begonia edible plant Indonesia
Wild begonia with hairy leaves

Or there is also the assumption that when the plant was eaten by birds or mammals, it means we also can eat them. As a benchmark, it is Ok.  But we should be careful actually when the fruit is eaten by monkeys.  Monkey is reckless and willing to eat everything they found.  Of course, we can eat directly if we know the plants.  But if not, better we do a universal edibility test.

Universal edibility test

The best way to learn is as I wrote before.  But in the survival condition (while hoping that none of us will be in a survival condition), we can do as already written here.

Separating plant organ for edibility test
  • Separate plant part based on its organs. Young shoots, leaves, fruit, stems, flowers, roots.  And start with a young shoot or ripe fruit to do the test.
  • Split/slice these selected these plant,  rub it part onto the back of the hand, wrist, or inner elbow, leave it for a few minutes to determine the impact.
  • If it does not cause itching, burning, numbness, then try small portions by eating them.
  • Before biting, apply the plant part to your lips to test the taste. If you sure there is no reaction after 5 minutes, take a small bite, chew, and hold it in the mouth for 15 minutes.
  • If there is no impact, then swallow the bite and wait a few hours. When there is no effect on the stomach, then the plant part can be eaten.
  • Repeat tester for other parts of the plant; some plants have an edible part, but others an inedible part.

With thousands of species in Indonesia’s forests, we will not starve because many of these plants are edible. The edibility is from plain to very delicious.  But to ensure, please do the universal edibility test first before you eat them.

Categories: Edible

Muryanto Paiman

always love to learn from nature.  Passionate on studying plants in some aspects: the DNA, Identification, propagation, and their uses


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