Open Access

Wild food plants and wild edible fungi in two valleys of the Qinling Mountains (Shaanxi, central China)

Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine20139:26

DOI: 10.1186/1746-4269-9-26

Received: 31 January 2013

Accepted: 16 March 2013

Published: 15 April 2013

Abstract

Background

The aim of the study was to investigate knowledge and use of wild food plants in two mountain valleys separated by Mount Taibai – the highest peak of northern China and one of its biodiversity hotspots, each adjacent to species-rich temperate forest vegetation.

Methods

Seventy two free lists were collected among the inhabitants of two mountain valleys (36 in each). All the studied households are within walking distance of primary forest vegetation, however the valleys differed in access to urban centers: Houzhenzi is very isolated, and the Dali valley has easier access to the cities of central Shaanxi.

Results

Altogether, 185 wild food plant species and 17 fungi folk taxa were mentioned. The mean number of freelisted wild foods was very high in Houzhenzi (mean 25) and slightly lower in Dali (mean 18). An average respondent listed many species of wild vegetables, a few wild fruits and very few fungi. Age and male gender had a positive but very low effect on the number of taxa listed.

Twelve taxa of wild vegetables (Allium spp., Amaranthus spp., Caryopteris divaricata, Helwingia japonica, Matteucia struthiopteris, Pteridium aquilinum, Toona sinensis, Cardamine macrophylla, Celastrus orbiculatus, Chenopodium album, Pimpinella sp., Staphylea bumalda & S. holocarpa), two species of edible fruits (Akebia trifoliata, Schisandra sphenanthera) and none of the mushrooms were freelisted by at least half of the respondents in one or two of the valleys.

Conclusion

The high number of wild vegetables listed is due to the high cultural position of this type of food in China compared to other parts of the world, as well as the high biodiversity of the village surroundings. A very high proportion of woodland species (42%, double the number of the ruderal species used) among the listed taxa is contrary to the general stereotype that wild vegetables in Asia are mainly ruderal species.

The very low interest in wild mushroom collecting is noteworthy and is difficult to explain. It may arise from the easy access to the cultivated Auricularia and Lentinula mushrooms and very steep terrain, making foraging for fungi difficult.

Keywords

Ethnobotany Ethnomycology Wild edible plants Non-timber forest products

Introduction

Chinese culinary culture is renowned for its use of an extremely large number of ingredients. In many parts of China a large number of wild vegetables is still used, both by peasants in remote rural areas and in restaurants, particularly those located in or near national parks and other high biodiversity areas [113], making China one of the best examples of a herbophilous country [13, 14]. Since antiquity, Chinese scholars have extensively written about the food qualities of wild plants [15]. Research on the potential nutritional qualities of wild food resources and their distribution was carried out in most Chinese agricultural institutions during the 20th century. Although we know much about edible plants, which are used in various parts of China, this knowledge, due to its vast quantity, has still not been properly synthesized [16]. Comparative reviews of the use of wild food resources in different regions of China are also needed. Another interesting issue, little explored, is that of gender and age differences in the use of wild food resources (but see [11, 12]).

In the previous paper from this part of the Qinling Mountains the use of wild edible plants and fungi in one relatively isolated mountain valley of the Qinling Mountains was documented [13], giving a detailed list of wild plants used there. As many as 159 species of edible plants and 13 taxa of fungi were recorded. A large proportion of them is still used. The local population has a deep knowledge of these plants and their preparation techniques. Additionally local farmers eat (after special preparation) considerable amounts of Aconitum carmichaeli tubers, a plant regarded as one of the most toxic plants on earth [17]. The aim of this study was to compare data from that valley with the use of wild food plants in the neighbouring valley characterized by easy access to the urban centers of the Shaanxi province. We also wanted to look at age and gender differences in the use of wild plants and fungi in these two places.

Study area

The study area was located in the vicinity of the Taibai Nature Reserve, with the highest peak of northern China in the center of the reserve (Mt Taibai 3767 m a.s.l.). The nature reserve protects a highly diverse flora – from warm temperate (with subtropical elements) to alpine at the top – of over 1700 species, which constitutes approximately 60% of the Qinling range flora [18, 19] (Figure 1).
Figure 1

The location of the studied valleys.

Two valleys were chosen for the study. The first valley is located in the Heihe National Forest Park, on the southern edge of the Mount Taibai. The National Forest Park (a less strict protection regime) is the southern extension of the Taibai Nature Reserve, and mainly protects species-rich forests. The area is completely covered by ancient forest vegetation and rocky outcrops. The river Heihe valley belongs to the Houzhenzi administrative unit (town, zhen(镇)), with an area of 822 km2. It is a very isolated place, which has vehicular access to the county town of Zhouzhi (where the post-office and schools are located) only via a 2.5 h drive through a winding precipitous gorge, often blocked for days by falling rocks. Until 1962 the valley belonged to Foping county. The whole valley is inhabited by 3,500 people – ca. a thousand in the main settlement of Houzhenzi, and the rest in hamlets scattered in the forest. The studied villages lie between 1000 and 1400 a.s.l. At these altitudes the climate is humid temperate, with daily temperatures in summer oscillating around 20-30°C and winter temperatures around 10°C to – 10°C. The mean annual temperature in Houzhenzi is 8.2°C, with a high rainfall of nearly 1000 mm, out of which 44% is concentrated in the summer months [20, 21]. The dominant vegetation is the species-rich Quercus variabilis and Q.aliena var. acuteserrata forest, with an admixture of Pinus tabulaeformis, and many deciduous tree species (e.g. Acer spp., Tilia spp.).

The majority of the local population are subsistence farmers who grow maize, potatoes, wheat and beans. The basic staples of the local population are potato, maize and rice. Each farm usually also has chickens and pigs, so eggs, poultry and cured pig meat (larou) are frequent components of diet as well. Sources of cash income are the orchards of zaopi (Cornus officinalis), walnuts (Juglans regia) and northern Sechuan pepper (Zanthoxylum bungeanum). Digging out medicinal roots and collecting medicinal herbs for wholesale buyers is also a very popular activity. Many peasant families host tourists (many of them hikers), as part of the agritourist farm system called nongjiale (农家乐). A certain influx of tourists in the valley is caused by the fact that it lies on a picturesque and wild foot trail to Mount Taibai.

The second valley, later called Dali valley (after the largest village in it) is located on the northern edge of the Taibai Mt. It is less isolated than the former valley, being easily accessible by car from the county town Meixian, Xi’an and other cities in central Shaanxi. It belongs to the Meixian county, Yingtou administrative unit (town, zhen (镇)), with 11 villages, ca. 20 thousand inhabitants and 202 km2). The actual valley we studied has about 1500 inhabitants and an area of 21 km2. The studied villages lie between 700 and 1200 a.s.l. There is no meteorological data on the climate of the area. The mean temperature from Meixian County weather station (alt. ca. 550 m), 15 km from Dali, is about 12.9°C, so we estimate the mean temperature in Dali valley as 8 – 11°C, depending on elevation and location [22, 23]. The dominant vegetation is the species-rich Quercus variabilis and Q.aliena var. acuteserrata forest, with an admixture of Pinus tabulaeformis, and many deciduous tree species (e.g. Acer spp., Tilia spp., Platycladus orentalis, Sorbus spp., Litsea spp.etc.).

The majority of the local population are subsistence farmers who grow maize, potatoes, wheat, and beans. Sources of cash income are walnut orchards (Juglans regia), kiwi fruits (Actinidia chinensis) and northern Sechuan pepper (Zanthoxylum bungeanum). Digging out medicinal roots and collecting medicinal herbs for wholesale buyers is much less important than in the Heihe valley, although a large company buying herbs from all over the central Qinling is located there. A number of stone processing businesses operate in the largest villages. Tourism is little developed and, in contrast to the Houzhenzi valley, there are very few nongjiale in the valley (in contrast to it a neighbouring valley has one of the main entrances to the Taibai Reserve (Red Valley Entrance) and experiences much tourism, but we did not study it due to the large proportion of outsiders who settled there).

Both valleys are inhabited by people of Chinese Han nationality. Most inhabitants are local, although some individuals are outsiders who (or whose families) settled, escaping mid-20th century famines from densely populated parts of Shaanxi and Sichuan, or migrated later due to the socio-cultural situation in China. They speak the Shaanxi dialect of Mandarin (Guanzhong dialect, a form of Zhongyuan dialect). The inhabitants of the Dali valley speak a standard form of the Guanzhong dialect, whereas in the Houzhenzi valley, which is more southern, the influence of the Sichuan dialect is visible [2426]. A detailed description of the economic status of villages in a neighbouring valley of Qinling Mountains, also applicable to the study area, was given by Neurauter et al. [27].

Methods

The field research was conducted in June and July 2011, as well as in August 2012, using structured freelisting interviews (36 freelists were created in each valley). The listed taxa were identified using transect walks and cross-checking of the gathered herbarium specimens. Participant observation and long semi-structured interviews with key informants were also used to establish the role of wild food in the local communities.

The research was carried out following the code of ethics of the American Anthropological Association [28] and the International Society of Ethnobiology Code of Ethics [29] and general standards of collecting ethnobiological data presented by major ethnobotany textbooks [3033]. Oral prior informed consent was acquired.

In the Houzhenzi valley the interviewees came from the following villages: Houzhenzi, Diaoyutai, Huaerping, Jiangjiaping and Sanhe. The mean age of participants was 50 (median 49.5, aged from 16 to 83; 20 women and 16 men). In the Dali valley we interviewed people living in: Dalicun, Dawancun, Shapocun, Fufeng, Honghecun, Lijiahecun, Liguancun and Tangyu (21 women and 15 men). The mean age of participants was 58 (median 59, age from 27 to 84). During freelisting we separately asked, which species of wild vegetables (including underground organs), wild fruits and wild mushrooms were used. Making three separate freelists enabled the comparison of the use of these categories and helped elicit answers from the respondents [34, 35]. Freelists were made orally and written down on the spot by our team, including the Chinese-script version of the plant/fungi names, which was available to the interviewees.

The study started from a few informants found using the snowball technique, but most interviewees were found by systematic walks through the village, visiting houses and asking the inhabitants if they wanted to take part in the study. We usually interviewed only one person from each household, only occasionally were two people from the same house interviewed, if there were signs that their knowledge differed (e.g. one of the spouses comes from another village, etc.). In a few cases free listing was done in the presence of other family members or neighbours, but one person, delegated as the most knowledgeable, was the main interviewee. Voucher specimens are stored in the Department of Forestry, Northwest A&F University in Yangling.

A Spearman rank correlation matrix was calculated for all the variables studied. Additionally the Mann-Whitney U test was used to test differences between groups (male versus female population, Houzhenzi valley versus Dali valley). Unfortunately the distribution of variables was not normal, even after log-transformation, so we could not perform a multi-factor ANOVA analysis. An open access statistical program, PAST [36, 37], was used for statistical analyses.

Results

General figures

Altogether 167 folk plant taxa with 185 species from 72 families and 17 fungi folk taxa (out of which we identified 12 taxa to genus or species level) were listed by the informants. This includes 126 species of green vegetables, 25 species with edible roots/rhizomes/tubers/bulbs, five species of flowers, 42 with edible fleshy fruits and four of dry fruits/seeds (Figure 2). In Houzhenzi 158 plant species and 14 fungi taxa were mentioned by the informants as eaten at least once in their lifetime, but only 130 plant species and 13 fungi species were confirmed as eaten by more than one person (Tables 1,2 and 3). In Dali 113 plant species and 12 fungi taxa were mentioned by the informants as eaten at least once in their lifetime, but only 77 plant species and 11 fungi taxa were confirmed as eaten by more than one person. There was a considerable overlap in the species listed in both valleys (Figure 2).
Figure 2

The overlap between the number of species of plants and mushrooms used in both valleys.

Table 1

Rank correlation matrix (Spearman rho coefficient)

 

Age

Male gender?=?1

Houzhenzi valley?=?1

No of all species

No of vegetable species

No of fruit species

Male gender?=?1

-0.34**

     

Houzhenzi valley?=?1

-0.25*

0.028

    

No of all species

0.16

0.23

0.31**

   

No of vegetable species

0.26*

0.27*

0.35**

0.89***

  

No of fruit species

-0.025

0.029

0.089

0.68***

0.35**

 

No of fungi

-0.0009

0.20

0.14

0.46***

0.28*

0.34**

*** p?<?0.001; ** p?<?0.01; * p <0.05; values without asterisks are not statistically significant.

Table 2

Basic features of plant and fungi use in the Qinling mountains

 

No. of species used

Frequency of use

Consumption after boiling or stir-frying or in soup

Raw consumption

Drying for further use

Lacto-fermenting

Gender differentiation

Age differentiation

Wild vegetables

high

high

yes

no

frequently

rarely, more often in the past

men know slightly more

low

Wild fruits

intermediate

low

no

yes

never

no

no

insignificant

Wild fungi

low

low

yes

no

very rarely

no

men know slightly more (?)

insignificant

Table 3

Wild food species used in the northern slope of the Qinling mountains (plant families given according to APGIII [69])

Family

Name

Part used for food

Habitat

Frequency in Houzhenzi

Frequency in Dali

Name in Houzhenzi

Name in Dali

Ma

Voucher specimen no.

 

VASCULAR PLANTS

          

Actinidiaceae

Actinidia chinensis Planch.

fr

f

***

***

yemihoutao

野猕猴桃

yemihoutao

野猕猴桃

 

193

 

Actinidia polygama Franch. & Sav.

fr

f

 

1

  

gezaomihoutao

葛枣猕猴桃

  

Amaranthaceae

Achyranthes bidentata Blume

ap

e

*

 

niuxi

牛膝

   

185

 

Amaranthus caudatus L.

ap

r

**

1

tianximi

天西米

ximi

菥蓂

  
 

Amaranthus retroflexus L., A. paniculatus L., A. viridis L. etc.

ap

r

****

****

hancai, renhancai

汉菜, 人汉菜,

hancai, renhancai

汉菜, 人汉菜,

 

56, 150

 

Chenopodium album L., Chenopodium giganteum D. Don

ap

r

****

***

huihuicai

灰灰菜

huihuicai

灰灰菜

x

49, 160, 216

 

Chenopodium glaucum L.

ap

       

x

 
 

Kochia scoparia (L.) Schrad.

ap

e

*

yes

tiesaoba

铁扫把

dudusaozhou

独独扫帚

 

118, 218

Amaryllidaceae

Allium funckiacfolium Hand.-Mazz.

ap

       

x

 
 

Allium senescens L.

ap

e

      

x

 
 

Allium ovalifolium Hand.-Mazz., Allium cf victorialis L.

ap, u

e

*

*

gejiu, yejiu

茖韭, 野韭

gejiu

茖韭

 

200

 

Allium paepalanthoides Airy Shaw

ap, u

e

***

1

tiansuan

天蒜

tiansuan

天蒜

 

27

 

Allium spp. (Allium cf. senescens L.; Allium macrostemon Bunge)

ap

e

****

****

aijiucai, aisuan, yesuan, yongbaotou, luoerjiu, zongbaotou, yejiucai

崖韭菜, 崖蒜, 野蒜, 罗儿韭,棕包头, 野韭菜

xiaosuan, luoerjiu, yancong, aisuan

小蒜, 罗儿韭, 岩葱, 崖蒜

 

201, 202, 229

 

Allium tuberosum Rottler ex Spreng.

ap

e

 

1

  

yejiucai

野韭菜

 

227

Anacardiaceae

Rhus potatninii Maxim.

ap

f

1

*

wubeizishu

五倍子树

wubeizi

五倍子

  
 

Rhus verniciflua Stokes

ap

f

*

1

qishu

漆树

qishuya

漆树芽

 

18

Apiaceae

Cryptotaenia japonica Hassk.

ap

f

*

 

yajiuban

鸭脚板

   

103, 171

 

Daucus carota L.

ap

r

      

x

 
 

Ligusticum sinense Oliv. 'Chuanhsiung '

ap

r

*

1

chuanxiong

川芎

chuanxiong

川芎

 

51

 

Ligusticum levisticum L.

ap

r

 

1

  

gaoben

藁本

  
 

Oenanthe javanica DC.

ap

x

1

**

beizhe

背折

shuiqincai

水芹菜

x

65, 213

 

Pimpinella sp.

ap

f w

****

 

shuiqincai, shaqincai

水芹菜, 沙芹菜

   

105, 159

 

Tongoloa silaifolia (de Bois.) Wolff

ap

e

 

1

  

taibaisanqi

太白三七

  

Araliaceae

Acanthopanax gracilistylus W.W.Sm.

ap

f

      

x

 
 

Aralia chinensis L.

ap

f

**

**

cilongpao

刺龙袍

cilongpao, cichuntou, laohanchuizi

刺龙袍, 刺椿头, 老汉锤子

x

2

Aristolochiaceae

Asarum himalaicum Hook.f. & Thomson ex Klotzsch

ap, u

f

*

 

maoxixin

毛细辛

   

7

 

Asarum sieboldii Miq.

ap, u

f

*

 

xixin

细辛

   

24, 163

Asclepiadiaceae

Cynanchum giraldii Schltr.

u

f

*

 

geshanxiao

隔山消

   

133

Asparagaceae

Polygonatum cyrtonema Hua

u

f

1

 

huabeimaoqi

华北毛七

   

74

 

Polygonatum megaphyllum P.Y.Li and Polygonatum odoratum L.

u

f

*

 

yuzhu, yuzhushen

玉竹, 玉竹参

   

31, 34

 

Smilacina japonica A.Gray , Smilacina henryi (Baker) Hara

ap

f

*

*

piantoucai

偏头菜

piantoucai

偏头菜

 

6, 129

Asteraceae

Carduus crispus L.

ap

       

x

 
 

Anaphalis aureopunctata f.flavescens Lingelsh et Borza

ap

e

*

 

shiqucao

鼠曲草

   

137

 

Anaphalis margaritacea Benth. & Hook.f.

ap

e

*

 

qingmingcai

清明菜

   

116, 161

 

Arctium lappa L.

ls, u

x

*

 

niubangzi

牛蒡子

  

x

23, 156

 

Artemisia sacrorum Ledeb.

ap

       

x

 
 

Artemisia argyi H.Lév. & Vaniot

ap

       

x

 
 

Artemisia capillaris Thunb.

ap

       

x

 
 

Artemisia subdigitata Mattf.

ap

r

*

*

ai

shuihao

水蒿

 

21

 

Cacalia roborowskii (Maxim.) Y.Ling

ap

e

*

 

xiongerduo

熊耳朵

   

44

 

Cirsium arvense var. setosum (Willd.) C.A.Mey

ap

r

**

**

honghuamiao, ciji

红花苗, 刺蓟

ciji

刺蓟

 

178, 210

 

Cirsium spp. eg Cirsium botryoides Petrak ex Hand.-Mzt.

ap

r

*

 

xiaoji

小蓟

  

x

62, 101, 117

 

Cirsium segetum Bunge

ap

r

        
 

Conyza canadensis (L.) Cronquist

ap

r

1

 

guangguangcao

冠罐草

   

141

 

Erigeron acer L.

ap

r

1

 

guangguangcao

冠罐草

   

59

 

Hieracium sp.

ap

r

**

 

kuma(i)cai

苦荬菜

   

197

 

Ixeris denticulata (Houtt.) Stebbins

ap

r

      

x

 
 

Ixeris chinensis Nakai.

ap

f

      

x

 
 

Ixeris sonchifolia Hance

ap

r

***

***

kumaicai

苦荬菜

kuqu

 

x

122

 

Kalimeris pinnatifida (Maxim.) Kitam.

ap

e

*

 

malantou

马兰头

   

52, 135, 180

 

Lactuca serriola L.

ap

r

**

 

xiaobaijiang, xiaokumacai, kumacai

小苦荬菜, 苦荬菜

   

107

 

Leontopodium japonicum Miq.

ap

e

*

 

shuqucao

鼠曲草

   

136

 

Picris hieracioides L.

ap

r

*

 

kumaicai

苦荬菜

   

123, 181

 

Saussurea dolichopoda Diels

ap

f

***

***

kongtongcai, kongxincai

空筒菜, 空心菜

xiangtongcai, kongxincai

响筒菜, 空心菜

 

177, 235

 

Senecio scandens Ham.

ap

   

jiuliming

九里明

    
 

Sinacalia tangutica (Maxim.) B.Nord.

u

e f

*

*

shuiluobo

水萝卜

shuiluobo

水萝卜

 

43, 151

 

Sonchus asper L

ap

r

      

x

 
 

Sonchus oleraceus L.

ap

r

      

x

 
 

Sylibum marianum L.

ap

       

x

 
 

Taraxacum mongolicum Han.-Mzt

ap

r

**

**

pugongying, kumaicai, dakucai

蒲公英,苦荬菜,大苦菜

pugongying

蒲公英

x

8

Balsaminaceae

Impatiens notolopha Maxim.

ap

f

*

 

daolaonnen

到老嫩

   

179

Begoniaceae

Begonia sinensis A.DC.

ap

f

*

 

yikouxie

一口血

   

138

Brassicaceae

Capsella bursa-pastoris Medik.

ap

r

***

*

didicai

地地菜

diercai, didicai

地儿菜, 地地菜

x

25

 

Cardamine engleriana O.E.Schultz.

ap

w

 

1

  

guangtoushansuimiji

光头山碎米荠

  
 

Cardamine macrophylla Willd.

ap

f w

***

****

shijiacai

石夹菜

shijiacai

石夹菜

 

20

 

Cardamine spp. (other smaller species e.g. Cardamine flexuosa With., C. hirsuta L.)

ap

f

*

*

xiaoshijiacai

小石夹菜

huadidi, huadier

花地地(small caidamine)

 

228

 

Descurainia sophia (L.) Webb ex Prantl

ap

e

**

 

yinchen, mihao

因陈 , 米蒿

   

142

 

Rorippa montana Small

ap

r

*

**

manjingcai, lalacai

蔓茎菜, 辣辣菜

lalacai, lazicai

辣辣, 辣子菜

x

234

 

Rorippa indica L.

ap

r

      

x

 
 

Thlaspi arvense L.

ap

r

***

*

jidanhuang

鸡蛋黄

kugen

苦根

 

10, 228

Campanulaceae

Adenophora spp. (Adenophora capillaris Hemsl., Adenophora polyantha Nakai)

ap, u

e

***

***

naijiangcai

奶浆菜

naiercai, nainaicai

奶儿菜, 奶奶菜

 

134, 198, 199, 226

Caprifoliaceae

Lonicera standishii Carr.

fr

f

*

**

kutangpao

苦糖泡

yangnaizi, kutangpao

羊奶, 苦糖泡

 

26

 

Sambucus williamsii Hance

ap

f

1

1

jiegumu

接骨木

shuhuacai

树花菜

 

47

 

Viburnum sargentii Koehne

fr

f

1

 

[no name]

    

99

Caryophyllaceae

Arenaria serpyllifolia L.

ap

       

x

 
 

Lychnis senno Siebold & Zucc.

ap

e

*

 

honghuacai

黄花菜

   

57, 186

 

Silene conoidea L.

ap

r

*

**

maipiancai

麦片菜

maihuaping

麦花瓶

x

140

 

Stellaria media (L.) Vill.

ap

r

*

 

eerchang

鹅儿肠

   

33, 152

 

Vaccaria segetalis (Neck.) Garcke

ap

r

 

1

  

pangwawa

胖娃娃

  

Celastraceae

Celastrus orbiculatus Thunb.

ap

f

****

***

baiwanye

白蔓叶

baiwanye

白蔓叶

 

17

 

Euonymus alatus (Thunb.) Siebold

fr

f

1

1

bashu, bamu

巴树, 巴木

bamu

巴木

  
 

Parnassia wightiana Wall.

ap

f

1

 

xinyecao

心叶草

   

147

Cephalotaxaceae

Cephalotaxus sinensis (Rehder & E.H.Wilson) H.L.Li

fr

f

*

1

baigeiguo, bizishu, shuibai, sunguo

白盖果,篦子树,水柏,松果

sanjianshanguo

三尖杉果

 

14, 164

Commelinaceae

Commelina communis L.

ap

r

*

 

danzhuye, zhuyecao, miandazi

淡竹叶,竹叶草,面鞑子

   

106, 158

Convallariaceae

Tricyrtis macropoda Miq.

ap

f

***

***

huangguacai

黄瓜菜

huangguacai

黄瓜菜

 

4, 176

Convolvulaceae

Calystegia hederacea Wall.

ap

r

 

*

  

dawanhua, labahua

打碗花, 喇叭花

x

 
 

Cuscuta cf chinensis L.

ap

e

 

1

  

wugencao

无根草

  

Cornaceae

Cornus kousa Bürger ex Miq.

fr

f

***

*

shizao

石枣

shizaozi, yelizhi

石枣子, 野荔枝

 

16, 165

Corylaceae

Corylus heterophylla Fisch. ex Besser

fr

f

*

1

zhenzi, maoli, maolizishu,

榛子, 毛栗子树

zhenzi

榛子

 

15, 167

Crassulaceae

Sedum aizoon L., S. sarmentosum Bunge, pampaninii Raym.-Hamet, S. lineare Thunb.

ap

e

**

**

gouyaban, gouzacai, machijie, dabusi, chuipencao

狗牙瓣, 打不死

shitouya, gouyacai, manaocai

石头芽, 狗牙菜, 玛瑙菜

 

75, 131, 120, 127, 153, 192, 222

 

Sedum amplibracteatum K.T.Fu

ap

f

***

***

huaqiaoman, lazimiao, lajiaomiao, yelacai

花荞蔓, 野辣子苗苗, 辣椒苗, 叶辣菜

lajiaomiao, lalacai, lazicai, yelazi

辣椒苗, 辣子菜, 野辣子

 

168, 182

 

Sedum verticillatum L.

ap

e

 

1

  

jingtiansanqi

景天三七

  

Cucurbitaceae

Gynostemma pentaphyllum (Thunb.) Makino

ap

e

1

 

jiaogulan

绞股蓝

   

no

Dennstaedtiaceae

Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn

ap, u

x

****

****

juecai, juegen, longzhua

蕨菜, 蕨根, 龙爪菜

yangjuecai, yangjuegen

羊蕨菜, 羊蕨根

x

9, 214

Dioscoreaceae

Dioscorea batatas Decne.

u

f

*

*

shanyao

山药

yeshanyao

野山药

 

53, 191, 209

Dryopteridaceae

Cyrtomium fortunei J.Sm.

ap

       

x

 
 

unidentified fern cf. Dryopteridaceae

ap

f

1

 

xiaojitoucai

小鸡头菜

   

111

Ebenaceae

Diospyros lotus L.

fr

x

 

*

  

shishu, junqianzi

柿树, 君迁子

  

Eleagnaceae

Elaeagnus umbellata Thunb.

fr

e

***

1

yangnaizi, niunaizi

羊奶子, 牛奶子

jianzi

剪子

 

29, 232

 

Hippophae rhamnoides L.

fr

x

 

1

  

xiaoguoshaji

小果沙棘

  

Ericaceae

Pyrola decorata Andres

ap

f

*

 

hongru, shoucha

红茹,寿茶

   

68

 

Pyrola rotundifolia L.

ap

f

*

 

bairu, shoucha

白茹,寿茶

   

69

Fabaceae

Cercis chinensis Bunge

ap

f

 

1

  

momoye

馍馍叶

 

208

 

Kummerovia stipueacea (Makim.) Makino

ap

e

    

qiabuqi

掐不齐

  
 

Medicago sativa L.

ap

r

*

 

muxicai

苜蓿菜

   

54

 

Pueraria lobata (Willd.) Ohwi

u

e

**

*

gegen

葛根

gegen

葛根

  
 

Robinia pseudoacacia L.

ap

f

*

1

huaihua

槐花

huaihua

槐花

x

40

 

Vicia cracca L.

ap

r

*

 

yewandoujian

野豌豆尖

   

3, 71

 

Vicia sp.

ap

r

 

1

  

maoshaozi

毛苕子

  

Fagaceae

Castanea mollissima Blume

fr

f

**

**

yemaoli, yebanli

野毛栗, 野板栗

yemaoli, yebanli

野毛栗, 野板栗

 

130

 

Quercus variabilis Blume

fr

f

1

 

xiangzishu

橡子树

    

Grossulariaceae

Ribes glaciale Wall.

fr

f

1

 

[no name]

    

37

Helwingiaceae

Helwingia japonica (Thunb.) F.Dietr.

ap

f

****

****

yeshanghua

叶上花

yeshanghua, yeshanhua

叶上花, 叶扇花

x

22, 175

Juglandaceae

Juglans cathayensis Dode

fr

f

**

**

yehetao

野核桃

yehetao

野核桃

  

Lamiaceae

Caryopteris divaricata Maxim.

ap

f

****

1

choulaohan, laohanxiang

臭老汉/老汉香

choulaohan

臭老汉

 

109

 

Clerodendrum trichotomum Thunb.

ap

f

*

 

choumudan, choulaohan

臭牡丹,臭老汉

   

11

 

Lycopus lucidus Turcz. ex Benth.

ap

e

*

 

yebaicai, zelan

野白菜,泽兰

   

98

 

Mentha haplocalyx Briq.

ap

e

1

 

bohe, yuxiangcao

薄荷,鱼香草

   

114

 

Stachys affinis Bunge

u

r

*

 

diguniu

地牯牛

   

67, 157

Lardizabalaceae

Akebia trifoliata (Thunb.) Koidz.

fr

f

***

****

bayuegua, bayuezha

奶浆菜, 八月炸

bayuegua, bayuezha

奶浆菜, 八月炸

 

119

 

Decaisnea fargesii Franch.

fr

f

***

***

maoshigua, yexiangjiao

猫屎瓜, 野香蕉

yexiangjiao, maoshigua, maoershi

野香蕉, 猫屎瓜, 猫儿屎

 

173

Liliaceae

Hemerocallis spp. (Hemerocallis dumortierii C.Morren, Hemerocallis fulva L.)

fl

e

**

*

yehuanghua

野黄花

yehuanghua

野黄花

 

42, 139

 

Lilium brownii F.E.Brown ex Spae

u

f

      

x

 
 

Lilium giganteum Wall.

u

w,f

**

 

shuibaihe

水百合

   

35

 

Lilium longiflorum Thunb.

u

       

x

 
 

Lilium lancifolium Thunb. (as L. tigrinum)

u

x,w

**

 

yebaihe

野百合

   

64, 124, 184

Linnaeaceae

Abelia engleriana Rehder

ap

f

***

*

shenxiandoufu

神仙豆腐

shenxiandoufu

神仙豆腐

 

36

Malvaceae

Grewia biloba G.Don. Var. Parviflora (Bge) Hand.-Mzt.

fr

e

 

1

  

gebengbeng

咯嘣蹦

  
 

Malva sinensis Cav.

if

r

1

1

dawanhua

打碗花

yejinkui

野锦葵

 

162, 221

Meliaceae

Toona sinensis (Juss.) M.Roem.

ap

e

****

****

xiangchun

香椿

xiangchun

香椿

x

5

Menispermaceae

Cocculus trilobus (Thunb.) DC.

ap

x

 

1

  

heimanye

黑蔓叶

 

233

Moraceae

Broussonetia papyrifera (L.) Vent.

ap, fl

r

*

*

goushuguo, gouye

构树果,构 叶

goutao

构桃

x

132

 

Morus australis Poir.

fr

f

*

 

sangpao, sangshu

桑泡,桑树

   

45

Onocleaceae

Matteucia struthiopteris (L.) Tod.

ap

x

****

****

jitoucai

鸡头菜

jiwacai, jiercai

鸡娃菜, 鸡儿菜

 

46, 174, 220

Orchidaceae

Bletilla striata Rchb.f.

u

f

1

 

baiji

白芨

   

206

 

Gastrodia elata Blume

u

f

 

1

  

tianma

天麻

  

Oxalidaceae

Oxalis spp. (O. griffithii Edgew. & Hook.f., O. corniculata L.)

ap

f r

*

1

suancao, suancai, suansuancao

酸草,酸菜,酸酸草

suanjiji

酸唧唧

 

13, 55, 183

Penthoraceae

Penthorum chinense Pursh.

ap

f

      

x

 

Phytolaccaceae

Phytolacca esculenta Van Houtte

ap, u, fr

r

 

*

  

jiangliusheng

江柳绳

x

212

Plantaginaceae

Plantago asiatica L.

ap

r e

*

 

kaimenye, cheqiancao, cheqianzi

开门叶,车前草,车前子

   

1, 149

 

Veronica didyma Tenore

ap

r

      

x

 

Poaceae

unidentified Bambusae

ap

f

1

 

zhusun

竹笋

    

Polygonaceae

Fagopyrum gracilipes (Hemsl.) Dammer

ap

r

1

 

yeqiaomai, qiaomaimiao

乔麦苗

   

143

 

Polygonum aviculare L.

ap

r e

1

1

bianxu

萹蓄

bianxucai

萹蓄草

 

63, 219

 

Polygonum ciliinerve (Nakai) Ohwi

u

e

*

 

qiaomaitou

荞麦头

    
 

Rumex crispus L.

ap

e

**

1

niushetou, yedahuang

牛舌头,野大黄

luerduo

驴耳朵

 

66

Portulaccaceae

Portulacca oleracea L.

ap

r e

 

1

  

machixian

马齿苋

x

 

Primulaceae

Lysimachia hemsleyana Maxim. ex Oliv.

ap

e

1

 

guoluhuang

过路黄

   

144

Ranunculaceae

Aconitum carmichaelii Debeaux (more often cultivated)

u

x

1

*

wuyao

乌药

wuyao

乌药

 

50, 155

Rhamnaceae

Berchemia sinica Schneid.

fr

f

*

 

yaguteng

亚古藤,勾儿茶

   

121

 

Hovenia dulcis Thunb.

fr

f

 

1

  

guaizao

拐枣

  
 

Zizyphus jujuba var. spinosa (Bunge) Hu

fr

e

1

   

shanzao

山栆

  

Rosaceae

Crataegus hupehensis Sarg.

fr

f

*

**

yeshanzha

野山楂

yeshanzha, mianli, mianlizi

野山楂, 面梨, 面梨子

  
 

Fragaria spp. (Fragaria corymbosa Losinsk., Fragaria pentaphylla Losinsk.)

fr

e

***

*

caomei, dipao, didipaoxiangpao

草莓, 地泡, 地地泡, 香泡

caomei, yecaomei

草莓, 野草莓

 

58, 169, 170

 

Malus prunifolia (Willd.) Borkh.

fr

f

 

1

  

qiuzi

秋子

 

225

 

Potentilla indica (Andrews) Th.Wolf

u

r e

 

*

  

shemei

蛇莓

 

217

 

Potentilla sp.

ap

r

*

 

guanyincha

观音茶

   

115

 

Prunus armeniaca L.

fr

x

**

**

yexing

野杏

yexing

野杏

  
 

Prunus canescens Bois, P. pilosiuscula Koehne

fr

f

**

 

yeyingtao

野樱桃

   

39

 

Prunus davidiana Franch.

fr

x

1

 

shantao

山桃

    
 

Prunus cfr polytricha Koehne

fr

f

*

 

chuantao

川桃

   

28

 

Prunus persica (L.) Batsch

fr

f

**

***

yetaozi

野桃子

yetaozi

野桃子

 

38

 

Prunus salicina Lindl.

fr

x

***

***

yelizi, zemaili, huolizi, huoli, yemaili

野李子, 火李子, 火李, 野麦李

yelizi, kuli, huoli

野李子, 苦李, 火李

 

187

 

Prunus tomentosa Thunb.

fr

f

 

***

  

yeyingtao, maoyingtao, maotao

野樱桃, 毛樱桃, 毛桃

 

224

 

Pyrus xerophila T.T.Yu

fr

e x

***

**

yeli, mali, shanli

野梨, 麻梨, 山梨

yeli, mali

野梨, 麻梨

  
 

Pyracantha fortuneana (Maxim.) H.L.Li

fr

e

1

 

jiubingliang

救兵粮

    
 

Rosa omeiensis Rolfe

fr

e

1

 

cishiliu

刺石榴

    
 

Rosa sp.

ap

f

*

 

cimeihua

刺玫花

   

110

 

Rubus spp.

fr

e x

***

*

duanyangpao, xuangouzi

端阳泡, 悬钩子

meizi

莓子

  
 

Rubus coreanus Miq.

fr

e

**

 

cipao, dipao, fupenzi

刺泡, 地泡,覆盆子

   

30

 

Rubus flosculosus Focke

fr

e

**

 

caizipao

菜子泡

   

195

 

Rubus pungens Cambess.

fr

e x

**

 

huangcipao

黄刺泡

   

61

Rubiaceae

Galium aparine L.

ap

r

 

1

  

ranwawa

然娃娃

  

Rutaceae

Zanthoxylum bungeanum Maxim.

ap, fr

f

*

1

yehuajiao

野花椒

yehuajiao

野花椒

 

no

Sabiaceae

Sabia shensiensis H.Y.Chen

ap

f

*

 

qingtengcai, tengercai

青藤菜, 藤儿菜

qingtengwan

青藤蔓

 

166

Salicaceae

Salix cf babylonica L.

ap

e

 

1

  

liushu

柳树

  

Santalaceae

Buckleya henryi Diels

fr

f

 

*

  

mainhuli, mimianwong

面核梨, 米面翁

 

231

Saururaceae

Houttuynia cordata Thunb.

ap

r

 

1

  

yuxingcao

鱼腥草

x

 

Saxifragaceae

Bergenia scopulosa T.P.Wang

ap

w

1

 

yebaicai

野白菜

    
 

Chrysosplenium biondianum Engl.

ap

f

***

***

hongjincai

红筋菜

hongjincai

红筋菜

 

188

 

Chrysosplenium sinicum Maxim.

ap

       

x

 

Schisandraceae

Schisandra sphenanthera Rehder & E.H.Wilson

fr

f

****

****

wuweizi

五味子

wuweizi

五味子

 

48, 196

Solanaceae

Physalis alkekengi L.

ap

r

 

*

  

guajindeng, denglonghuacai

挂金, 灯笼花菜

 

215

 

Solanum nigrum L.

ap

r

1

*

suanjiang

酸浆

heilaopo, longkai

黑老婆

x

70, 211

Staphyleaceae

Staphylea bumalda DC., S. holocarpa Hemsl.

ap, fl

f

****

 

shuhuacai

树花菜

   

12, 189, 190

Ulmaceae

Ulmus bergmanniana C.K.Schneid., Ulmus propinqua Koidz.

ap, b, if

f e

**

*

yushu

榆树

yushu

榆树

x

32, 60

Urticaceae

Boehmeria gracilis C.H.Wright

ap

x

*

 

honghema

红河麻

   

128, 194

 

Boehmeria tricuspis Makino

ap

x

*

 

hema

河麻

   

76

 

Pilea mongolica Wedd.

ap

f

*

 

daolaonen

到老嫩

   

207

 

Urtica fissa E.Pritz. ex Diels

ap

x

*

 

baihema

白河麻

   

41

Violaceae

Viola cf. grypoceras A.Gray

ap

r

1

 

didingcao

地丁草

   

145

Vitaceae

Vitis ficifolia Bunge

fr

f

***

***

yeputao

野葡萄

yeputao

野葡萄

 

19

 

FUNGI

          

Auriculariaceae

Auricularia sp. (more often cultivated)

fb

f

*

*

muer

木耳

muer

木耳

  

Boletaceae

Boletus spp.

fb

f

**

*

niuganjun, dajiaogu

牛肝菌, 大脚菇

niuganjun

牛肝菌

 

204, 236

Cantharellaceae

Cantharellus cibarius Fr.

fb

f

**

**

huangsijun

牛肝菌

huangsijun, jiyoujun

牛肝菌, 鸡油菌

 

203

Gomphaceae

Ramaria spp.

fb

f

***

*

shuabajun

刷把菌

guoshuajun

锅刷菌

 

205

Hericiaceae

Hericium sp.

fb

f

*

*

houtoujun

猴头菌

houtoujun

猴头菌

  

Marasmiaceae

Lentinula edodes (Berk.) Pegler (more often cultivated)

fb

f

**

1

yexianggu

野香菇

yexianggu

野香菇

  

Meripilaceae

Grifola umbellata (Pers.) Pilát

fb

f

**

**

zhulingjun

猪苓菌

zhulingjun, zhulinghua

猪苓菌, 猪苓花

 

223

Morchellaceae

Morchella sp.

fb

f

*

 

yangquejun

羊雀菌

    

Pleurotaceae

Pleurotus sp.

fb

f

***

*

dongjun

冻菌

dongjun

冻菌

  

Polyporaceae

Laetiporus sulphureus (??)

fb

f

*

 

jiguanjun

鸡冠菌

    

Tricholomataceae

Tricholoma matsutake (S. Ito & S. Imai) Singer (?)

fb

f

 

*

  

songrongjun

松茸菌

  
 

UNIDENTIFIED MUSHROOM

fb

f

*

 

qiaomianjun

荞面菌

    
 

UNIDENIFIED TERRESTRIAL GILLED MUSHROOM

fb

f

**

**

banlijun

板栗菌

banlijun, maolijun

板栗菌, 毛栗菌

  
 

UNIDENTIFIED MUSHROOM

fb

f

**

 

qiaomaijun

荞麦菌

    
 

UNIDENTIFIED MUSHROOM

fb

f

1

 

baogujun

包谷菌

    
 

UNIDENTIFIED MUSHROOM

fb

f

 

*

  

yangdujun

羊肚菌

  
 

UNIDENTIFIED MUSHROOM

fb

f

 

*

  

mabojun

马脖菌

  

Ma – Recorded by Ma et al. 2002 [38, 39].

Habitat types: e – forest edges, shrubland, forest clearings, grassland; f – forest; r – ruderal; w – water edges; x – ubiquitous.

Parts consumed: fr – fruit, ap –aerial parts, u – underground parts, fl – flowers, b – bark, fb – fruiting body, ls – leaf stalks, if – immature fruits.

Frequency: **** > 50% of respondents; *** > 1/4 of respondents; ** > 1/8 of respondents; * from 2 to 8 respondents; 1 – one respondent.

The mean number of freelisted wild foods (Figure 3) was higher in the Houzhenzi valley (24.8 and 17.6 respectively; Mann-Whitney U test, p?<?0.05). A similar trend was observed in all the three categories: wild vegetables (mean 17.5 and 11.5 respectively), fruits (5.9 and 5.1) and fungi (1.9 and 1.0), though the difference was significant only for the vegetables. In both valleys people listed many species of wild vegetables, and few species of fruits, while they struggled to list edible fungi (Figures 3, 4).
Figure 3

Species numbers freelisted by particular groups: maxima, minima, median (thick line inside a box), 25 and 75 percentile (borders of the box). Outliers are marked with a small circle.

Figure 4

Use categories in the listed species.

The overall number of species was significantly positively correlated with the male gender (Spearman rho?=?0.29, p?<?0.05) and Houzhenzi valley (rho?=?0.28, p?<?0.05). There was a small correlation with age, but it was not significant. Species number versus age relationship was better explained by a polynominal curve (-0.00665?×2?+?0.8327?×-2.807, R2?=?0.048, p?=?0.18; Figure 5) with maximum values for people in their early sixties, though the fit was still not significant (p?=?0.18).
Figure 5

The relationship between the listed number of edible species and age. A polynominal curve explains the relationship better than a linear model (-0.00665?×2?+?0.8327?×-2.807, R2?=?0.048, p?=?0.18).

As many as 42% of the folk taxa are typical woodland species and only 21% are ruderal species from fields and field edges. The remaining taxa come from forest edges, forest clearings, thickets, grasslands and water margins, thus in practice over half of the species come from woodland ecosystems. This high proportion of forest species and low proportion of ruderals is even more pronounced in Houzhenzi (44% and 14% respectively, compared to 41% and 25% in Dali, a not significant difference: Chi Squared test, p?=?0.07). Although a large proportion of plants are woodland taxa, it is the herbs that dominate in the species list (69%), with shrubs, trees and vines playing a minor role (15%, 13% and 3% respectively).

Wild vegetables

Wild vegetables are the most important wild food category collected (Figures 3, 4 and 6, 7, 8, Table 3). This was expressed both by the fact that they constituted around two thirds of the species lists and that people most eagerly talked about them. They are also the only category of wild food stored for winter. Drying wild vegetables is a very common preserving technique (Figure 7). Households dry between 1-5 species each year, usually a few kg of dry shoots and leaves, but some households who host tourists can dry even a few times more. Formerly, wild vegetables were lacto-fermented, but now this is done very rarely.
Figure 6

Matteucia struthiopteris shoots, boiled, strained and sprinkled with oil.

Figure 7

Drying wild vegetables (Staphylea bumalda) in Houzhenzi in early June 2011.

Figure 8

Adding wild vegetables to noodle soup is another common form of utilizing the plants.

The number of wild vegetables listed was positively and significantly correlated with place (Houzhenzi versus Dali), male gender and age (Spearman rho equals 0.35, 0.27 and 0.26 respectively), however these are relatively low correlation values.

The ruderal species are collected near homesteads. Their growth is often promoted by sparing them from being sprayed with glyphosate (e.g. Chenopodium album, Hemerocallis spp.). Some forest species are harvested up to 5 km from the villages, up to the altitude of 1800 m a.s.l. At even higher altitudes, wild plants are only harvested while collecting medicinal herbs, which grow even higher.

Wild vegetables are frequently eaten in all meals, mainly as a side dish (cai). The commonest preparation technique is boiling, then straining and sprinkling them with some oil in which Sechuan pepper, garlic, and sometimes ginger, have been fried. This is a side dish, called liang ban, accompanied by home-made wheat bread (bing), rice or other stir-fried foods. Frequently wild vegetables are also put into broad, home-made noodles served in a spicy and sour soup. They are also, rarely, lacto-fermented. Wild vegetables are also sold in all the local restaurants and every agritourist farm has them on their menu.

Fruits

Wild fruits are little appreciated. They are occasionally gathered for fun by children or grown-ups going to the forest. They have never been stored or dried, and are not incorporated in any dishes by anyone, apart from dried Schisandra and Akebia fruits (the latter more rarely), used medicinally. There was no significant correlation between the number of fruits listed and age, location or gender.

Fungi

Few fungi species are used in both valleys. Most people never go to the forest with the purpose of collecting mushrooms, apart from going to collect cultivated Auricularia sp. and Lentinula edodes grown on piles of logs located in the woods. There was no significant correlation between the number of fungi listed and age, location or gender, though the difference between the male and female groups was bordering on significance level (Mann-Whitney U test, p?=?0.08, Spearman rho?=?0.20).

The most frequently mentioned mushrooms in both valleys are Cantherellus cibarius, an unidentified Agaricales (called banlijun, i.e. “chestnut mushroom”), Ramaria spp. treated by locals as one folk taxon and Grifola umbellata, (its sclerotia are additionally collected for medicinal purposes). More than half of the respondents had never collected wild fungi in the forest.

Famine plants

All the older informants were asked about plants eaten during the severe food shortages that plagued China until the last case of famine in 1958-60. However this revealed only a few “famine” plants, as the respondents stated that they rather ate the same wild plants but in larger quantities. Underground organs of plants were particularly eagerly sought after: the rhizomes of Pueraria lobata, Pteridium aquilinum, Polygonatum spp., Sinacalia tangutica, the bulbs of Lilium giganteum and other Lilium species. Nowadays the consumption of underground organs of wild plants has practically ceased. Many respondents also mentioned using the leaves of Abelia engleriana to make a special dish called shenxiandoufu (i.e. fairy tofu). According to legend, during times of famine a fairy/wizard/holy man passed through the area and taught people how to make a special famine tofu with this plant, which saved people from starvation. The bark of Ulmus spp. was used to make famine bread, however not in the 1958-60 famine, but in the previous 1940s famine (before the Liberation), which in this area is remembered as being more severe.

Discussion

It was already pointed out by Kang et al. [13] that the large number of wild greens used in this valley is one of the highest recorded on such a small scale in ethnobotanical studies. Only Zou et al. [9] recorded more, noting the use of 335 taxa of wild vegetables in 10 villages of Hunan, however the latter study was carried out in a larger and more heterogeneous area. Ghorbani et al. [11] recorded the use of 173 wild food plants from 485 informants of four ethnic groups of Naban valley of Xishuangbanna (tropical area of south China), out of which only around a third were wild greens, in contrast to our study where they dominate. However, Ghorbani’s study concerned an area, which was very heterogeneous in terms of elevation, inhabitants and vegetation. The average number of wild food plants listed by one informant was only around 10 species, whereas in this study we documented twice as many taxa per person.

The presented list is also much longer than the lists of wild food plants reported in previous studies from the Qinling Mountains, east from our study area, in the south of the Huxian county [38, 39]. Although there was a partial overlap in the species lists (Table 3), the differences show a high geographical diversity of wild vegetable use. Some of these differences may come from differences in habitats, some from cultural choices, and some from the fact that probably only the commonest wild vegetables were reported by Ma et al. [38, 39].

It was already pointed out by us in the previous paper [13] that knowledge of wild vegetables in China is additionally encoded in the language (many wild vegetables have cai, i.e. vegetable), in their name. In our study it was 39 taxa (a third of the wild vegetables recorded, mainly the most commonly used ones). Another factor may nowadays help to preserve the knowledge of wild vegetables in China. It is the commodification of wild vegetables by involving them in tourism. Nowadays, nearly every national park in China has local restaurants of wild vegetables (often called “mountain wild vegetables” to emphasize their “naturalness”) (e.g. [9, 11, 13]). This is part of a broader process of trying to promote or create local attractions in rural China with the hope of drawing the attention of tourists [40]. A similar process occurs in Europe, where wild foods are incorporated in haute cuisine and in revitalized regional dishes [41].

It must be pointed out that the number of wild foods used in many parts of China, in its species-rich parts outside the areas of intense agriculture, is probably an example of an area utilizing the largest number of plant species available to human populations. This huge list of plants is mainly made up by wild greens. This attitude was named by Łuczaj [42] as herbophilia, and here in China it takes its most extreme form. The number of wild food plants used in the studied valley comparable to the lists of edible plants recorded on a country scale in Europe (e.g. [4349]). The utilization of such a large number of greens may also be found in some communities in other countries of Eastern Asia, e.g. Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Thailand [5057], as well as in some parts of India and Africa [54, 57]. The number of wild food plants used by the studied communities in the Qinling Mountains is similar to that used by the few communities in the world previously reported as using the highest numbers of wild food plants species (between 171 and 252), i.e. Igbo ib southern Nigeria, Dalit in Andhra Pradesh or Karen in NW Thailand ([57] after [54]).

In many tropical and subtropical areas the choice of species is limited by the fact that primary tropical vegetation has thick leathery leaves and mainly ruderal plants are eaten. In the mountains of China the choice of edible species is increased by two factors:
  1. 1.

    large elevation differences enabling easy access to different vegetation zones;

     
  2. 2.

    deciduous vegetation with many forest understory perennials with delicate leaves and buds.

     

In our study around half of the wild vegetables come from the forest. This is in contrast with other ethnobotanical studies showing that human populations, even in wooded areas, tend to over-utilize the ruderal flora [14, 5860]. On the other hand the results of this study are very similar to the data on the use of wild food plants by the Karen ethnic group in the forests of NW Thailand, for whom wild forest vegetables also constitute a major part of the wild plants consumed [55]. Interestingly, the large diversity of wild vegetables (also those which are typical woodland species) used in Eastern Asia remains in stark contrast with the extremely low number of wild vegetables used in the Amazon in similar environments [61].

What is interesting is the large domination of wild greens over fruits and fungi. The list of mushrooms is for example shorter than the number of mushroom species used locally in Poland [62] or Mexico [63]. The lack of interest in wild edible mushrooms in the studied area is puzzling, as China is sometimes regarded as a mycophilous part of the world [64, 65]. It may arise from the easy access to the cultivated Auricularia and Lentinula mushrooms and extremely steep terrain, making foraging for fungi difficult. In Yunnan, famous for edible fungi, the hills and mountains are often less steep (ŁŁ, personal observations). Collecting mushrooms requires more walking to find them than in the case of wild vegetables whose location is more permanent. Our results encourage further research into the knowledge and use of edible fungi in rural areas in China.

Do men know more?

In the Qinling mountains the collection of wild food plants is the domain of both sexes. On the other hand it must be noted that men slightly outperform women in listing slightly more species of wild vegetables, and many more species of fungi (Table 3). These results may be caused by the fact that a larger proportion of men get involved, regularly or occasionally, in collecting medicinal plants for sale. As they make long trips into higher elevations they acquire a vast knowledge of local woodland flora. This may explain the larger number of species listed, even though it may be the women who spend more hours collecting wild plants. This slight domination of men in this domain is quite unusual, as in many countries it is the women who are the main holders of knowledge on wild vegetables (e.g. [42, 66, 67]), and even fungi [68]. This unusual tendency was also noted in Poland, where it is the men who are more involved in collecting wild fungi [62].

Conclusions

The study yielded one of the longest lists of wild food plants used locally ever recorded in ethnobotanical studies. In both the studied valleys, wild vegetables are still widely used throughout the year and preserved for winter. In the more developed Dali valley people use slightly fewer wild vegetables than in the Houzhenzi area. Although usually only a few species are collected in larger quantities, knowledge about these plants is still very alive. On the other hand the community shows relative indifference to wild fruits and fungi, which are rarely collected, and only as an additional activity. There were small differences in the knowledge of wild foods among the members of different age groups and between men and women.

The results of this study show that further in-depth ethnobotanical research is needed to determine patterns in wild food plant and fungi use in different parts of China, as locally these patterns may be extremely variable. Also more research recording age and gender differences is needed.

Declarations

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to the inhabitants of the studied villages for their willingness in sharing information on the use of the species. We are also grateful for advice on statistical matters to Dr Tomasz Wyszomirski (Institute of Botany, University of Warsaw). The program was financially supported by the Forestry Research Foundation for the Public Service Industry of China (2009,04004) and by the University of Rzeszów (Institute of Biotechnology and Basic Sciences, as well as a special grant from the rector of the university).

Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
College of Forestry, Northwest A&F University
(2)
Department of Botany and Biotechnology of Economic Plants, Institute of Applied Biotechnology and Basic Sciences

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