Wild Leafy Vegetables Used by Meitei, Naga, Kuki, and Pangal People of Manipur, Northeast India


Assessment of wild leafy vegetables traditionally consumed by the ethnic communities of Manipur, northeast India

Konsam S, Thongam B, Handique AK
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2016 Jan 29;12:9
PubMed Central: PMC4731935

Investigators from the Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development and Gauhati University conducted surveys at markets throughout the state of Manipur in northeastern India to document wild edible vegetables being used by indigenous communities for nutritive and therapeutic purposes.

About the study area:

Manipur in Northeastern India
Manipur in Northeastern India [Map: By Filpro (File:India grey.svg) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]

“…Manipur, one of the seven states of Northeast India that forms an integral part of the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot… is rich in both cultural and biological diversity, having populated by diverse ethnic, linguistic and religious groups including many indigenous tribes. Racially, Manipuri people are unique and have features similar to Southeast Asian. The state has four major ethnic communities – Meitei (Hindu), Naga and Kuki (Tribal communities) and Pangal (Muslim). The Meiteis are the dominant non-tribal community constituting 92% of the valley area along with the Pangal (minority group), and the five hill districts are inhabited by about 34 ethnic tribes representing 30% of the state population. They practice distinct culture and tradition and have different socio-economic features. Agriculture is the single largest occupation in Manipur and the mainstay of the state’s economy. The trade of wild vegetables provides an alternative source of income and is mainly done by women. Forests account for 67% of the total land area of this state. The tribal communities collect a large variety of edible and other useful plants from the forest and surrounding wasteland. They also sell a large variety of such plants in the local market.

Ima Keithel
Ima Keithel [Photo: By PP Yoonus (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]
The famous “Ima Keithel” (meaning “Mother’s market”) of Manipur which sells vegetables and other household items are exclusively run and controlled by women signifying their role in the society both socio-cultural and economically.”

Through interviews with indigenous plant collectors and sellers, the team documented 68 wild edible vegetables used for nutritive and therapeutic purposes, which they then assessed regarding proper exploitation, conservation, and sustainable management.

Zanthoxylum budrunga
Zanthoxylum budrunga [Photo: By Basu, Baman Das; Kirtikar, Kanhoba Ranchoddas [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]
Among the most widely used species were Euryale ferox, Chimonobambusa callosa, Ipomoea aquatica, Oenanthe javanica, Alocasia cucullata, Neptunia oleracea, Houttuynia cordata, Hedychium coronarium, Alpinia nigra, Amomum aromaticum, Eryngium foetidum, Passiflora edulis, Ficus benghalensis, and Zanthoxylum budrunga. Several species were found to be consumed mainly by the tribal communities and rarely known to other communities. These included Z. budrunga, P. edulis, Clerodendrum colebrookianum, Spilanthes paniculata, Cissus javanica, Elatostema lineolatum, Plantago erosa, Litsea cubeba, Zehneria scabra, Cyclanthera pedata, Piper pedicellatum, Solanum nigrum, Eurya acuminate, Solanum betaceum, Allium chinense, Heteropanax sp., Dysoxylum gobara, Diplanzium esculantum, Etlingera linguiformis, Derris wallichii, and Phrynium placentarium.

The authors note:

“Many more such unexplored leafy vegetables are believed to exist. There is a need for exploitation of such unexplored resources given the storehouse of traditional knowledge the tribal possessed. It will provide a way for screening newer and alternative source of nutrition.

“The present finding will be useful in the evaluation of nutritional components of high priority species for their integration into the agricultural system based on nutritive values. Further, assessing their cultivable potential and working towards developing agro-techniques can bring more potential species under domestication for conservation through sustainable use. Moreover, it will also help to understand their role in future food and nutritional security of the state. Therefore, documentation and prioritization would ensure that the highest priority species is preserved for use in crop improvement programs and contribute towards achieving the goal of food and nutritional security.”

This study – the first integrated assessment of wild leafy vegetables to be done in the region – provides a methodology to help select and preserve high-priority species for new alternative sources of nutrition.

“According to the integrated assessment, 57 out of 68 (84%) species have good to high value. These high scoring species exhibit the traits of high-quality vegetables, such as taste, appropriate edible parts, multiple edible parts, availability, abundance, easily cultivable, simple to collect and process, and so on. To increase dietary diversity and livelihood sustenance of local people, complimentary studies and further ethnobotanical studies will be conducted. The traditional knowledge and understanding of wild food plants may serve as baseline data for future research and development activities and further biotechnological intervention. A detailed evaluation of nutritional components of the potential species should be conducted for integration into the agricultural system based on their nutritive values and for the conservation of elite germplasm. Further studies should also be done to assess their cultivable potential and work towards developing propagation and agro-techniques to bring more potential wild species under domestication for sustainable utilization of natural resources. Furthermore, proper value chain development for marketing and value-addition of selected species can facilitate enough income to native communities. Documentation and conservation of highest priority species would ensure they are available for use in genetic improvements of crop species as a contribution towards food and nutritional security. Therefore, communities should engage in sustainable management and preservation of traditional knowledge of these multi-valued resources for the well-being local communities.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

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