Wild Plant Species Used for Food in Regional Parks of Sicily

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A survey of wild plant species for food use in Sicily (Italy) – results of a 3-year study in four Regional Parks

Licata M, Tuttolomondo T, Leto C, et al.
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2016 Feb 9;12(1):12
PubMed PMID: 26860327
Parco Naturale Regionale delle Madonie
Parco Naturale Regionale delle Madonie (Source: Martin Teetz, Wikimedia Commons)

Investigators at Università degli Studi di Palermo conducted a study of traditional knowledge on food use of wild plant species in four regional parks of Sicily: Parco Naturale Regionale delle Madonie, Parco Naturale dei Nebrodi, Parco dell’Etna, and Parco dei monti Sicani.

Cichorium intybus
Cichorium intybus (Source: Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany, Wikimedia Commons)

The team conducted interviews with 802 people over the age of 60, who had spent their entire lives in the area and who were or had been traditional farmers. The study documented 119 wild plant species for food purposes, including Cichorium intybus, Foeniculum vulgare, Borago officinalis, and Asparagus acutifolius. Sixty-four of the species were indicated as also having medicinal properties.

The authors note an increasing importance of wild food plants as part of the Mediterranean diet:

“In an effort to highlight the importance of wild plant species in our diets, a number of studies have been carried out in recent years in the Mediterranean area documenting the nutritional and medicinal properties of these plants. Compared to cultivated a number of wild plant species have been reported to contain greater levels of fiber, to have far greater antioxidant and flavonoid levels and to contain a smaller amount of lipids. A number of studies maintain that the carbohydrate, fibre, polyphenol, protein, mineral, vitamin and ω-3 fatty acid content of various parts of the wild plants can have beneficial effects on human health. This reinforces the concept of food as medicinal, first expressed by [Hippocrates] in 400 BC. The well-documented health properties of wild food plants have also contributed to increasing their importance as a part of the Mediterranean diet.”

In their conclusion, the authors recommend further research, and urge protection of these native genetic resources and the culinary traditions linked to them:

“In terms of agriculture, it is important to highlight that given the fact that only very few of the wild plants mentioned can/could be cultivated in kitchen gardens and/or crop fields, further agronomic research on these few species is essential in order to improve knowledge on their main cultivation techniques. An important result of the research is the fact that most of the wild plants are perceived as highly useful for food/medicinal purposes and this is due to the health effects of the wild plants as reported by the informants. The protection of the native genetic resources and the culinary traditions linked to them is essential if we are to preserve the cultural heritage of the Sicilian Parks concerning the food use of wild plant species and in order to cultivate a number of species of agricultural interest. Our contribution should be not considered as exhaustive and future research is necessary in order to extend investigation to the younger generations and comment on the transmission of knowledge from the old to the new generation.”

Read the complete article at PubMed.

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