The key to trial and error, when it comes to figuring out what will and won’t kill you, is to not make mistakes.
I’ve been doing a pretty good job of that so far (seeing as though I’m still alive), despite numerous warnings regarding the risks of my inclination for foraging.
On my three-mile walk between my apartment and lab, I’ve identified a number of mulberry trees; since then, I’ve been stopping at every tree, to grab a few berries. Even if I don’t have time for breakfast before leaving for lab, I’m usually full by the time I finish my walk!
Now, I found a new type of berry. I’d passed the small decorative-looking trees every day, but hadn’t previously paid attention to the little round purple berries hanging from the branches. Then, one morning, I remembered a few weeks ago, seeing a woman standing under one of the trees with her dog, picking the fruits. So I approached one of the trees, pulled off a dark blue berry. It looked and felt much like a blueberry, but the tree looked nothing like a blueberry bush.
I decided to investigate further, gingerly biting into the fruit to taste the juice. It was sweet. So I was 95% sure it was safe to eat. After all we have far more taste receptors for bitter than for sweet tastes, because almost all poisons are bitter. So the fact that this berry was sweet, with not a hint of bitterness, suggested it was edible. So I ate the rest of that one berry, and continued my walk.
The next morning, having survived the previous day’s experiment, I ate a dozen or two of the berries—still suffering no ill effects. By now, I’ve added these berries (which have turned out to be juneberries—I think…) to my foraging repertoire.
I’d like to think I’d survive pretty well alone in a forest, having to subsist on berries and mushrooms and lichens. But then, as a city dweller with a fridge full of food, I can’t even imagine the high-stakes trial-and-error foraging where one has to weigh caution against hunger. So I think I’ll stick to my roadside berries, merely pretending to risk my life with every taste.