Open Access

Ethnobotanical appraisal and cultural values of medicinally important wild edible vegetables of Lesser Himalayas-Pakistan

  • Arshad Mehmood Abbasi1Email author,
  • Mir Ajab Khan2,
  • Munir H Shah3,
  • Mohammad Maroof Shah1,
  • Arshad Pervez1 and
  • Mushtaq Ahmad2
Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine20139:66

https://doi.org/10.1186/1746-4269-9-66

Received: 16 July 2013

Accepted: 13 September 2013

Published: 14 September 2013

Abstract

Background

The association among food and health is momentous as consumers now demand healthy, tasty and natural functional foods. Knowledge of such food is mainly transmitted through the contribution of individuals of households. Throughout the world the traditions of using wild edible plants as food and medicine are at risk of disappearing, hence present appraisal was conducted to explore ethnomedicinal and cultural importance of wild edible vegetables used by the populace of Lesser Himalayas-Pakistan.

Methods

Data was collected through informed consent semi-structured interviews, questionnaires, market survey and focus group conversation with key respondents of the study sites including 45 female, 30 children and 25 males. Cultural significance of each species was calculated based on use report.

Results

A total of 45 wild edible vegetables belonging to 38 genera and 24 families were used for the treatment of various diseases and consumed. Asteraceae and Papilionoideae were found dominating families with (6 spp. each), followed by Amaranthaceae and Polygonaceae. Vegetables were cooked in water (51%) followed by diluted milk (42%) and both in water and diluted milk (7%). Leaves were among highly utilized plant parts (70%) in medicines followed by seeds (10%), roots (6%), latex (4%), bark, bulb, flowers, tubers and rhizomes (2% each). Modes of preparation fall into seven categories like paste (29%), decoction (24%), powder (14%), eaten fresh (12%), extract (10%), cooked vegetable (8%) and juice (4%). Ficus carica was found most cited species with in top ten vegetables followed by Ficus palmata, Bauhinia variegata, Solanum nigrum, Amaranthus viridis, Medicago polymorpha, Chenopodium album, Cichorium intybus, Amaranthus hybridus and Vicia faba.

Conclusions

Patterns of wild edible plant usage depend mainly on socio-economic factors compare to climatic conditions or wealth of flora but during past few decades have harshly eroded due to change in the life style of the inhabitants. Use reports verified common cultural heritage and cultural worth of quoted taxa is analogous. Phytochemical analysis, antioxidant activities, pharmacological applications; skill training in farming and biotechnological techniques to improve the yield are important feature prospective regarding of wild edible vegetables.

Keywords

Ethno-medicinalCultural valuesWild edible vegetablesLesser Himalayas

Introduction

Since the beginning of human civilization, people have used plants as food and medicine. The ethnobotanical pharmacology is as old as man himself. In Indo-Pak first record of plant medicine were compiled in Rig Veda between 4500–1600 BC and Ayurveda between 2500–600BC [1]. Ethnobotany deals with past and present interrelationships between human cultures and the plants. The investigation of the cultural values of plant species plays a significant role to modern medicine, farming, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industrial sectors of a society [2]. The diversity in wild plant species contributes to household food security and health [3, 4]. There are over 20,000 species of wild edible plants in the world, yet fewer than 20 species now provide 90% of our food [5]. Evidence indicates that more than 300 million people throughout the contemporary world gain part or all of their livelihood and food from forests [6].

Wild edible plants play an important socio-economic role as medicines, dyes, poisons, shelter, fibers and religious and cultural ceremonies [7]. About 46% of world’s poor live in South Asia [8] of which 75 million dwell Himalayas [9] and the biomass extraction is most widespread pressure on forests [10]. Despite agricultural societies’ primary reliance on crop plants, the tradition of eating wild plants has not completely disappeared, because of their nutritional role and health benefits. However, consumption is determined less by calorie input and more by the pleasure of gathering wild resources, recreating traditional practices and enjoying characteristic flavors [11]. Both food and medicinal plants have interventional uses. Food can be used as medicine and vice versa.

Previous epidemiologic studies have consistently shown that diet plays a crucial role in the prevention of chronic diseases [12]. This convincing evidence suggests that a change in dietary behavior such as increasing consumption of fruit, vegetables, and grains is a practical strategy for significantly reducing the incidence of chronic diseases. Consumption of vegetables, as well as grains, has been strongly associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer disease, cataracts, and age-related functional decline [1316]. The relationship between food and health becomes increasingly significant as consumers now demand healthy, tasty and natural functional foods that have been grown in uncontaminated environment [17]. Knowledge of such foods is a part of traditional knowledge which is mainly transmitted through contribution of individuals of households [18]. In many parts of the world the traditions of using wild edible plants as food and medicine are at risk of disappearing, hence it is of outmost importance to obtain data about popular uses of such plants species before this knowledge disappears [19, 20].

Materials and methods

Study site description

Present study was conducted from January 2010 to May 2012 in different sites of Lesser Himalayas. Data was collected from 85 localities of five major sampling sites including Abbottabad, Haripur, Mansehra districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KPK), Margalla Hills National Park Islamabad, Murree Hills and its allied areas in the province of Punjab (Figure 1). The Himalaya range occupies in Pakistan the regions of Kashmir, Kaghan, Kohistan, Deosai and Chilas. The Lesser Himalaya is a prominent range 2,000 to 3,000 meters elevation and lies between 33°-44′ and 35°-35′ north latitude and between 72°-33′ and 74°-05′ east longitude. The total area of Lesser Himalayas in Pakistan is proximately 23295 km2[21] and the total population is proximately 10 million [22]. Due to variation in the topography, altitudes aspects and vegetation cover, the climate of Lesser Himalayas ranges show tremendous variation. It falls into two major categories includes, Subtropical continental lowland including the plain and foot-hills zone and Subtropical continental highland including outer and middle Himalayas, Siwalik hills, Murree hills and entire Hazara hills. The average rainfall varies from 70–90 mm in southern parts whereas 100–130 mm in northern parts. A large part of the winter precipitation from the western disturbance is received in the form of snow. The northern parts receive little rain but heavy snowfall in the winter [21, 23]. The vegetation of Lesser Himalaya falls within the subtropical, temperate, sub-alpine and alpine zones. The range management divided the area into six vegetation zones, namely; subtropical sub-humid zone, subtropical humid zone, temperate humid zone, sub alpine zone and glaciers or snow fields [21].
Figure 1

Location map of the study area.

Ethnobotanical study

Ethnobotanical data was collected through well-versed semi-structured interviews, questionnaires, and focus group conversation with (125) key informants ranged from 15–70 years including farmers, herdsmen, shepherds, housewives, school boys and children having sound traditional knowledge of useful wild edible plants [11, 24]. Adult female members from the household, accountable for food preparation, were considered as the key respondents with supplementary information from children and adults which facilitate in collection and processing of wild edible vegetables [18] and their answers were noted verbatim [25].

Questions about wild edible vegetables consumption were mainly focused on local name of plant, part/parts of the plants used, flowering period, place, season and quantity of collection, habitat, mode of preparation and consumption, medicinal uses (method of preparation, mode of application, diseases cured), other ethnobotanical uses as (fodder, fuel, ornamental purpose, fencing, construction etc.) and threats to wild edible vegetables. Authenticity of the claims was verified by cross checking of the collected data at different villages either by showing the fresh specimen, telling local names or showing field photographs to local informants.

A total of 45 wild edible vegetables were included in the present investigation based on their use in the study area. Taxonomic identification of the collected plant samples was carried out with the help of flora of Pakistan [26]. The plant specimens were properly pressed, dried and mounted on standard size of herbarium sheets. The voucher specimens were deposited in the Herbarium of Pakistan, Department of Plant Sciences, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

Cultural importance index (CI)

In order to find out cultural significance of each species in every locality cultural importance index (CI) was calculated as the summation of the use report (UR) in every use category mentioned for a species in the locality divided by number of participants (N) in that locality. Similarly mean cultural importance index (mCI) of each, specie was also deliberate [11]. The cultural significance of each family (CIf) was calculated by adding cultural importance index (CI) of the species from each family [27].
CI = i = 1 i = NU URi N

Threats to wild edible vegetables

In order to know local peoples’ awareness on various activities intimidating wild edible plants, a number of threatening factors like agricultural, over grazing, harvesting and fire were identified with the community [28]. The factors were presented to informants to choose from. Then the scores from each respondent summed up, the ranks determined and the factor that received the highest total score ranked first.

Results and discussion

Taxonomic diversity

Flora of Lesser Himalayas is a rich source of diverse useful plant species. A total of 45 wild edible vegetables belonging to 38 genera and 24 families are collected and consumed by the local inhabitants of the study areas as mentioned in Table 1. Asteraceae and Papilionoideae were observed dominating families with (6 spp. each), followed by Amaranthaceae and Polygonaceae (4 spp. each), whereas rest of the families were represented by 2 and one species. Growth forms indicated that herbs were dominating (89%) followed by trees (9%) and shrubs (2%).
Table 1

Medicinal values of wild edible vegetables of lesser Himalayas-Pakistan

S. No

Botanical name/Family

Part used

Mode of preparation and application

Diseases cured

1

Amaranthus hybridus L.

Seeds

Dried seeds are grinded and powder is taken orally with water.

Eye vision

Amaranthaceae

2

Amaranthus spinosus L.

Seeds

Dried seeds powder is taken orally with water.

Eye vision

Amaranthaceae

3

Amaranthus viridis L.

Seeds

Dried seeds powder is taken orally with water.

Eye vision

Amaranthaceae

Roots

Fresh roots are crushed and paste is applied topically

Scorpion sting

4

Digera muricata L.

Leaves

Fresh leaves are cooked in water and paste is taken orally.

Constipation

Amaranthaceae

5

Dryopteris ramosa (Hope) C. Chr.

Leaves

Leaves are cooked as vegetable and taken orally.

Gastric ulcer, constipation

Aspidiaceae

6

Bidens bipinnata L.

Leaves

Fresh leaves extract is applied topically.

Leprosy and skin cuts

Asteraceae

7

Cichorium intybus L.

Leaves

Fresh leaves decoction is taken orally

Fever, gas trouble, and body swelling

Asteraceae

8

Launaea procumbens (Roxb.) Ramayya & Rajagopal

Leaves

Fresh leaves are grinded along with sugar and extract is taken orally

Painful micturation

Asteraceae

9

Sonchus asper L.

Leaves

Leaves decoction is taken orally

Fever, constipation

Asteraceae

10

Sonchus oleraceous L.

Leaves

Fresh leaves decoction is taken orally

Body weakness, constipation

Asteraceae

11

Taraxacum officinale L.

Rhizome

Fresh rhizomes decoction is taken orally

Jaundice

Asteraceae

12

Bombax malabaracum (DC.) Schott & Endlicher

Bark

Fresh bark is crushed and past is applied topically

Skin eruptions, pimples, joint pain

Bombacaceae

13

Capsella bursa-pastoris (L.).

Leaves

Fresh leaves decoction is taken orally

Menstrual disorder

Medic Brassicaceae

14

Nasturtium officinale R.Br. Brassicaceae

Leaves

Fresh leaves are cooked as vegetables and taken orally

Constipation

15

Bauhinia variegate L. Caesalpiniodeae

Leaves, flowers

Leaves and flowers paste is give to cattle

Diarrhoea

16

Silene conoidea L. Caryophyllaceae

Leaves

Fresh leaves paste is applied topically

Skin infection

17

Stellaria media (L.). Cyr. Caryophyllaceae

Leaves

Fresh leaves paste is applied topically

Swelling joints, broken bones

Fresh leaves decoction is taken orally

Constipation

18

Chenopodium album L. Chenopodiaceae

Leaves

Fresh leaves are cooked as vegetable and eaten raw.

Constipation, intestinal worms

Fresh leaves are grinded and mixed with water and sugar. This juice is taken orally

Jaundice, urinary disorder

19

Commelina benghalensis L.

Roots

Dried roots are grinded and powder is taken orally

Epilepsy

Commelinaceae

 

Fresh roots decoction is taken orally

Stomach disorders

20

Evolvulus alsinoides L.

Leaves

Leaves are crushed and mixed along with water. This juice is taken orally

Indigestion, constipation

Convolvulaceae

21

Dioscorea deltoidea Wall. ex, Kunth.

Tubers

Tubers are crushed and paste is taken orally and topically

Intestinal worms and lice

Dioscoreaceae

22

Lamium amplexicaule L.

Leaves

Fresh leaves paste is applied topically

Joints swelling

Lamiaceae

23

Origanum vulgare subsp. Hirtum L.

Leaves

Fresh leaves are chewed

Toothache and mouth gums

Lamiaceae

24

Tulip stellata var. clusiana Hk. f.,

Bulbs

Fresh bulbs are pealed off and taken orally

Heart problem

Liliaceae

25

Malva parviflora L.

Leaves

Fresh leaves decoction is taken orally

Constipation, cough, fever

Malvaceae

26

Ficus carica L.

Leaves

Fresh leaves are crushed and paste is applied topically

Boils

Moracea

Latex

Fresh milky latex is applied topically

Watts

27

Ficus palmata Forssak.

Leaves

Fresh leaves are boiled in the milk of goat and taken orally

Bowel complaints

Moracea

Latex

Milky latex is applied topically

Warts, small tumours

28

Oxalis corniculata L.

Leaves

Fresh leaves are crushed and paste is applied topically

Worms and scorpion sting

Oxalidaceae

29

Lathyrus aphaca L.

Seeds

Dried seeds powder is mixed in tobacco

Narcotic, soothing effect

Papilionoideae

30

Medicago polymorpha L.

Leaves

Fresh leaves are cooked in water and taken orally

Constipation, indigestion

Papilionoideae

31

Melilotus albus Medik.

Leaves

Fresh leaves paste is applied topically

Inflammation, joint pain

Papilionoideae

32

Melilotus indicus (L.)

Leaves

Fresh leaves paste is applied topically

Joint swelling

All. Papilionoideae

33

Vicia faba L.

Leaves

Fresh leaves decoction is taken orally

Kidney pain, eye infection

Papilionoideae

34

Vicia sativa L.

Leaves

Leaves paste is applied topically

Scorpion sting

Papilionoideae

35

Plantago lanceolata L.

Leaves

Fresh leaves paste is applied topically

Sores

Plantaginaceaea

Seed husk

Seed husk along with sugar (Gur) is mixed in water and taken orally

Jaundice, internal body inflammation, constipation

36

Polygonum amplexicaule D. Don, Prodr.

Leaves

Fresh leaves are boiled in water along with sugar and decoction is taken orally

Fever, joint pain, flue

Polygonaceae

37

Polygonum aviculare L.

Leaves

Fresh leaves decoction is taken orally

Diarrhoea, dysentery

Polygonaceae

38

Rumex dentatus L.

Leaves

Fresh leaves are applied topically

Stinging nettle.

Polygonaceae

39

Rumex hastatus D. Don, Prodr.

Leaves and roots

Fresh leaves are roots are crushed and mixed in water. This extract is taken orally

Jaundice

Polygonaceae

40

Portulaca quadrifida L.

Leaves

Fresh leaves are slightly wormed and applied topically

Joint swelling

Portulaceaea

41

Galium aparine L.

Leaves

Fresh leaves paste is applied topically

Wounds healing

Rubiaceae

Extract of fresh leaves is taken orally.

Jaundice

42

Veronica arvensis L.

Leaves

Fresh leaves decoction is taken orally

Skin infection, blood purifier

Scrophulariaceae

43

Solanum nigrum L.

Leaves

Leaves are crushed and mixed in water. This extract is applied topically

Washing painful eyes

Solanaceae

44

Pimpinella diversifolia (Wall.) DC. Prodor.

Leaves

Dried leaves are grinded along with salt and powder is taken orally

Gas trouble, indigestion

Umbelliferae

45

Torilis leptophylla (L.)

Leaves

Dried leaves powder is taken orally with water

Gastrointestinal disorders

Reichb.f. Umbelliferae

Plant parts used and mode of consumption

Different parts of wild edible vegetables were consumed in diverse ways according to local traditions (Table 1). Wild edible vegetables are cooked as fresh in water (51%), e.g. Amaranthus spp. Digera muricata, Bidens bipinnata, Capsella bursa-pastoris, Nasturtium officinale, Stellaria media, Commelina benghalensis, Malva parviflora, Lathyrus aphaca, Medicago polymorpha, Melilotus spp. Vicia spp. Portulaca quardifida, Galium aprine, Solanum nigrum and Torilis leptophyll; in diluted milk (42%) e.g. Cichorium intybus, Launaea procumbens, Sonchus spp. Taraxacum officinale, Bauhinia variegate, Silene conoidea, Tulip stellata, Plantago lanceoplata, Bistorta amplexicaulis, Pimpinella diversifolia, Ficus and Rumex species; and in both water and diluted milk (Lussii) (7%) e.g. Ficus and Sonchus species. Flowers and rhizome of some vegetables species were also consumed fried in vegetable oil or ghee such as Bombax malabaracum and Dioscorea deltoidea. Present findings are in agreement to [19] regarding plants consumed cooked in several Mediterranean regions.

Medicinal uses of wild edible vegetables species

No one knows when or where plants first began to be used in the treatment of diseases, but the grave of a Neanderthal man buried 60,000 years ago, revealed that connection between plants and health has existed for thousands of years [29]. The northern mountains of Pakistan are well known for their biodiversity as they are located at the intersection of great Karakorum, Himalaya and Hindu Kush ranges. These three mountain ranges together contain 25,000 species (about 10% of the world floras), out of which around 10,000 are economically or medicinally useful. Estimated total flora of Pakistan is comprised of 6000 species, out of which more than 4000 plant species grow in mountainous regions of Hindukush and Himalayas [30, 31]. Over 75% of population in Pakistan is cured by means of traditional medicines, prescribed by more than 50,000 traditional herb practitioners and the traditional knowledge of plant based medications pass down from family to family of herbalists and within communities [32].

During present survey decline was categorically observed in the trends of using conventional phytotherapies which is obviously because, the younger generation usually consider the belief in plant remedies a sort of superstition and less efficient compared to modern medicine. It was observed that leaves are highly utilized (70%) plant parts followed by seeds (10%), roots (6%), latex (4%), bark, bulb, flowers, tubers and rhizomes (2% each). Data presented in (Table 1), revealed that a total 51 recipes based on wild edible vegetables were used by the inhabitants of study sites. These medications can be divided into two categories: single plant based and from more than one plant based medications. In majority of the cases water is used as medium for preparation while milk, ghee, oil, egg and butter are used for application which is corroborated with [33]. Modes of preparation falls into different categories (Figure 2), such as paste of plant parts (29%) was common mode of recipes followed by decoction (24%), powder (14%), eaten fresh (12%), extract (10%), cooked vegetable (8%) and juice (4%). Mostly the mode of application falls in two categories topical as well as oral. Oral medications are taken along with water, milk or black tea. In regard to the patient condition, the preparations are applied more than two times each day until control.
Figure 2

Modes of preparation.

The local inhabitants identified different types of ailments including gastrointestinal disorders (abdominal pain, gas trouble, gastric ulcer, intestinal worms, constipation, vomiting, diarrhea, dysentery), respiratory problems (asthma, flue, throat ache, cough), skin infections (measles, mouth gums, rashes, wound healing), bone fracture, rheumatism, diabetes, earache, tooth ache, eye infection, fever, heart problems, inflammation, jaundice, kidney problems, menstrual disorders, milk production, piles, scorpion sting and general weakness which were treated through different plant based remedies; twelve medications were used to cure gastrointestinal disorders followed by eleven to treat skin infections, ten against constipation, eight to cure rheumatism, four for each eye diseases, fever and jaundice, two for each inflammation, kidney problems and scorpion sting, where as other diseases were treated by one recipe each (Figure 3).
Figure 3

Number of recipes anddiseases cured by wild vegetables species.

Medicinal uses of wild edible vegetables were compared with the available ethnobotanical literature which indicated that present applications of Cichorium intybus, Stellaria media, Launaea procumbens, Chenopodium album, Dioscorea deltoidea, Oxalis corniculata, Lathyrus aphaca, Vicia sativa, Plantago lanceoplata, Rumex dentatus, Rumex hastatus, Solanum nigrum, Pimpinella diversifolia and Torilis leptophylla were in agreement to [30, 3353]. Seed powder of Amaranthus hybridus, A. spinosus and A. viridis was used to improve eye vision problems, whereas according to [53, 54] leaves of Amaranthus hybridus were used for internal inflammation, headache, stomach pain and to antidote snake and scorpion sting. Leaves of Amaranthus viridis and A. spinosus were found effective against scorpion sting, skin infections, mouth gums, piles, tooth ache diarrhoea and as laxative [43, 47, 52, 55, 56]. Extract from the leaves of Bidens bipinnata is used to cure leprosy and skin cuts, while same species was reported against stomach problems, menstruation, pain, influenza, scurvy, rheumatism, diarrhoea and for cold [44, 53, 57]. Leaf decoction of Sonchus asper and S. oleraceous are used against constipation and for body weakness, whereas [42, 53] documented that leaves of S. oleraceous were effective against internal inflammation and wound healing. According to [44, 45, 48, 55, 58] leaves of S. asper were found useful for stomach problems and Jaundice.

Decoction of Taraxacum officinale rhizome is used to cure jaundice, whereas [41, 52] mentioned that same species is used as aperients, diuretic, tonic, to cure constipation, kidney and liver disorders. Medicinal uses of Bombax malabaracum were found similar to that of reported by [30, 33, 57]. Local inhabitants of Lesser Himalayas use leaf decoction of Capsella bursa-pastoris to cure menstrual disorders, whereas [57] reported that same species was effective for heat cleaning. Leaves of Nasturtium officinale were found effective against constipation, but [53, 55] mentioned that leaves and stem of same species were used to cure hepatic pain, pneumonia, indigestion, kidney pain and to purify blood. Paste form leaves and flowers of Bauhinia variegata was found useful to control diarrhoea, whereas [52] documented that bark of the same plant was used to treat skin diseases. The leaf paste of Silene conoidea was used against skin infections, but [38] mentioned that leaf paste of same species was used to cure pimples and backache.

Tribal communities of Himalayas use roots of Commelina benghalensis to cure epilepsy and stomach disorders, whereas [54] documented that leaves of the same species were found effective against liver complaints, snake and scorpion sting. Juice extracted from the leaves of Evolvulus alsinoides was found effectual against constipation and indigestion, whereas [47] recognized that leaves of this species were used against asthma and bronchitis. Leaves of Origanum vulgare were used to cure mouth gums and toothache, while according to [4, 52] same species is used to alleviate stomach problems and sore throat. Leaf decoction of Malva parviflora was used to treat constipation, cough and fever, but according to [56] same plant is applied on swellings wounds and sores. Leaf paste and milky latex of Ficus carica and F. palmata were used to cure boils, warts, tumours and bowel complaints, whereas fruits of these species were found laxative [52, 59]. Leaf decoction of Polygonum amplexicaule was found effective against fever, joint pain and flue; whereas [40] reported that leaves and shoots of same species were used for curing ulcer, sore throat, inflammation of mouth and tongue.

Fresh leaves of Portulaca quadrifida were applied topically on swelling joints, but according to [60] whole plant was used to cure asthma. Leaf paste and extract of Galium aparine were found effective for wound healing and jaundice, whereas [61] recognized that same species was used to cure injuries, skin infections, as tonic and diuretic. To our knowledge medicinal uses of Digeramuricata, Dryopteris ramosa, Lamium amplexicaule, Tulipa stellata, Medicago polymorpha, Melilotus albus, Melilotus indicus, Vicia faba, Polygonum aviculare and Veronica arvensis documented during present work were found hardly ever reported in adjacent areas and other parts of the world.

Ethnobotanical uses of wild edible vegetables

Among wild edible vegetables 43 species (95%) were used as fodder and forage for life stock, 4 species (9%) were used as fuel, 3 species each (7%) of wild vegetables such as Ficus carica, F. palmata and Bauhinia variegata were used by the local inhabitants of Lesser Himalayas in making shelters, in fencing and hedging, as ornamental plant and for miscellaneous purpose, 2 species (4%) were used in making tools handles and furniture (Figure 4). Ethnobotanical uses of wild edible vegetables reported during present investigation were found in agreement to [30, 35, 39, 55].
Figure 4

Ethnobotanical use categories and their number.

Species’ cultural importance

The terms “cultural importance” and “relative importance” usually are used interchangeably in the literature to refer to the importance of certain plants to a given culture [62]. The cultural importance index (CI) explains not only the spread of the uses (number of informants) for each species, but also it’s worth [63]. It can be assumed that the CI index is a proficient tool for highlighting those species with a high-agreement for the survey culture and so to recognize the shared knowledge of the peoples. During present study CI index and mean cultural importance index were computed to measure the cultural values of each wild edible vegetable in five studied sites [Additional file 1: Table S1], which can be used to evaluate the plant awareness between diverse cultures [11] and to study the intra cultural variations. On the bases of use reports (UR) the cultural importance index (CI) and mean cultural index (mCI) of wild edible vegetables within the five study localities (Margalla Hills, Haripur, Abbottabad, Murree and Mansehra) of Lesser Himalayas were intended. Among all wild edible vegetables Ficus carica was found most cited species followed by Ficus palmata, Bauhinia variegata, Solanum nigrum, Amaranthus viridis, Medicago polymorpha, Chenopodium album, Cichorium intybus, Amaranthus hybridus and Vicia faba (Figure 5). All These species are used as food, medicines, fodder, as fuel wood, in construction, sheltering, fencing and making agricultural tools. Some of these plants are considered as holy plants being mentioned in holy books (e.g., Ficus carica and Ficus palmata in Quraan). It was also observed that because of cultural values or decision, local inhabitants use only a small part of their natural flora present in their surrounding.
Figure 5

Mean cultural index of wild edible vegetables.

Difference in cultural index (CI) values for species among the different sites

Results of cultural importance index and mean cultural importance index of 45 wild edible vegetables mentioned in descending order (Additional file 1: Table S1) confirmed substantial differences among the CI values obtained in the different areas. The top ten species of wild edible vegetables with the highest mCI, were cited in all the five surveyed areas and most were important in every site. The next thirty two species were also used at all studied regions, Vicia sativa, Lamium amplexicaule. These are based on a common cultural background. Interestingly CI values for wild edible vegetables species in Margalla Hills (50.30) and district Haripur (44.26) were found higher than for species in other areas (Additional file 1: Table S1). These findings exhibited that the traditional knowledge of wild edible plants and plant collection are much spread in isolated areas compare to urban sites [11]. To scrutinize this further we can calculate the mean of the CI values for all the species in each study site (mCIa) as a measure of botanical knowledge. It was found that mCIa value for Margalla Hills (1.117) was more than that of the values: 0.983 for Haripur, 0.774 for Mansehra, 0.693 for Abbottabad and 0.486 for Murree. This shows a great difference in the traditional knowledge of wild edible plants among different human groups. Although Mansehra, Abbottabad and Murree are adjoining and share similar environment, the difference is noteworthy and might be due to loss of knowledge in the former. Moreover high mCIa values in the isolated areas of Margalla Hills, Haripur and Mansehra indicates more dependence of inhabitants on surrounding natural flora.

Cultural importance of the families

A comparison between the cultural indexes of most quoted families (CIf) of wild edible vegetables mentioned in (Figure 6) revealed that Papilionoideae, with six species was found most quoted botanical family because members of this family were consumed as food, fodder and in medicines. Other remarkable families of wild vegetables within top ten were Asteraceae with six species, being consumed as vegetables and in medicines, followed by Amaranthaceae (4 species), Bombacaceae (1 species), Moraceae (2 species), Polygonaceae (4 species), Caesalpiniodeae (1 species), Caryophyllaceae (2 species), Solanaceae and Chenopodiaceae (1 species each). Remaining families of vegetables showed low representation and ethno-medicinal values. Present findings are in agreement with those of [19], who recognized that Asteraceae, Rosaceae and Umbelliferae were among the most significant families of wild edible plants in the Mediterranean regions. Hence present results confirm that local people tend to use preferably the plants that are accessible to them. These observations corroborated with those of [6467].
Figure 6

Cultural importance index of wild edible vegetables’ families (CIf).

Socio-economic significance

Income derived from the sale of wild plant species is very important for poor households in order to meet basic needs [28]. In addition to food and therapeutic values, some of the studied species are also marketable and provide the chance of additional household income. During present survey it was observed that 17.7% of wild edible vegetables e.g., Dryopteris ramosa, Nasturtium officinale, Bauhinia variegata, Chenopodium album, Malva parviflora, Portulaca quardifida and Solanum nigrum were soled as vegetables at local markets of Abbottabad, Rawalpindi and Haripur (Additional file 2: Table S2), 0.04% e.g., Ficus carica, Ficus palmata are marketed as edible fruits and 0.06% e.g., Bauhinia variegata, Ficus carica and Ficus palmata are soled as fuel wood locally.

Threats to wild edible plants

Present investigation revealed that mostly wild edible vegetables are collected from waste lands (44.5%), agricultural fields (33.4%), forests (20%) and water bodies (2.2%). These plant species were found under threats in their natural habitats because of different human activities. According to local inhabitants agricultural land expansion, over-harvesting, over-grazing, uncontrolled fire setting and fuel wood collection are among the common threats to these alternative food resources and their impacts varies from place to place. In order to find out local inhabitants perception on threats to wild edible vegetables, pair wise ranking of five factors (agricultural land expansion, over-harvesting, over-grazing, uncontrolled fire setting and fuel wood collection) were conducted.

However, the overall rating for all communities mentioned in Table 2, demonstrated agricultural land expansion as the dominating threat to wild edible vegetables, followed by over-harvesting, over-grazing, fire and fuel wood collection. Majority of the wild edible vegetables have no protection except, Bauhinia variegata, Chenopodium album, Solanum nigrum, Ficus carica and Ficus palmata which are protected, cultivated and marketed by some formers. This shows that achievement of economic payback from plant species might endorse local people’s interest in the conservation, maintenance and preservation of significant and endangered species [28].
Table 2

Pair wise ranking of factors considered as threats to wild edible vegetables

Factors

Respondents

Total

Rank

 

MH*

MH

MH

MH

H*

DH

DH

DH

AB*

AB

AB

AB

Mu*

Mu

Mu

Mu

Mn*

Mn

Mn

Mn

  

1

2

3

4

1

2

3

4

1

2

3

4

1

2

3

4

1

2

3

4

Agricultural land expansion

4

3

2

3

6

5

3

7

3

4

2

1

3

2

3

3

4

2

3

2

65

1

Over harvesting

2

3

2

3

3

4

2

4

2

1

3

2

1

3

1

4

3

1

2

4

50

2

Over grazing

1

3

1

2

2

1

3

1

1

2

1

3

2

1

3

1

2

3

1

2

36

3

Fire

3

2

4

1

3

2

1

2

1

1

0

1

2

1

1

2

1

0

2

1

31

4

Fuel

2

1

0

2

1

2

0

1

3

1

1

0

1

2

1

0

0

1

1

0

20

5

*MH Margalla Hills National Park, *H Haripur, *AB Abbottabad,*Mu Murree, *Mn Mansehra. The score mentioned in the table is based on the information from 16 key informants at four sub sites from each study area.

Conclusion

Major populace of Lesser Himalayas still use wild edible plants as food and to cure various ailments but, this traditional knowledge have severely eroded due to change in the life style of local inhabitants, which needs to be documented before it is too late. Present investigation revealed that patterns of wild edible plant usage depend mainly on socio-economic factors compare to climatic conditions or wealth of flora. Analysis of results indicated that in all the surveyed areas, most of the plants are consumed by poor families during normal and difficult times. However, decline in use of some species may lead to the diminishing of the traditional knowledge about such plants. Use reports and citation of majority of wild edible vegetables, confirmed a universal cultural heritage in the study sites regarding the gathered food plants, because most of the quoted taxa are same and their cultural worth is analogous. However, a few differences in the cultural importance indices of wild edible vegetables were also observed, which may be due to the similar live hood and difference in indigenous knowledge of the local communities. Ficus carica, Ficus palmata, Bauhinia variegata and Solanum nigrum exhibited maximum cultural importance index (CI). Present findings also revealed that many wild edible vegetables species are under pressure from various anthropogenic factors, demand public awareness, community based management and urgent collection of germplasm. Further exploration is suggested into nutritional profile, phytochemical analysis, antioxidant potential, essential and toxic components in conventional food resources; pharmacological applications; dietary requirements; skill training in farming and biotechnological techniques to improve yields.

Declarations

Acknowledgements

The financial assistance provided by Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan to carry out this project is gratefully acknowledged. We are also thankful to the local inhabitants and herbalists for their assistance and providing required information.

Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
Department of Environmental Sciences, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology
(2)
Department of Plant Sciences, Quaid-i-Azam University
(3)
Department of Chemistry, Quaid-i-Azam University

References

  1. Ahmad H: Issues Regarding Medicinal Plants of Pakistan. Udy Today. 1999, 6 (3): 6-7.Google Scholar
  2. Pei SJ: Ethnobotany and sustainable uses of plant resource in the HKH mountain region. Planning workshop on ethnobotany and its application to conservation and community development, in the Hindukush Himalayan (HKH) region. 1995, Nepal, 75-80.Google Scholar
  3. Cavender A: Folk medicinal uses of plant foods in southern Appalchia, United States. J Ethnopharmacol. 2006, 108: 74-84.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Pieroni A, Houlihan L, Ansari N, Hussain B, Aslam S: Medicinal perceptions of vegetables traditionally consumed by south- Asian migrants living in Bradford, Northern England. J Ethnopharmacol. 2007, 113: 100-110.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Ladio AH, Lozada M: Patterns of use and knowledge of wild edible plants in distinct ecological environments: a case study of a Mapuche community from northwestern Patagonia. Biodivers Conserv. 2004, 13: 1153-1173.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  6. Pimentel D, Nair MM, Buck L, Pimentel M, Kami J: The value of forests to world food security. Human Ecol. 1997, 25: 91-120.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  7. Heywood V, Skoula M: The MEDUSA Network: Conservation and sustainable use of wild plants of the Mediterranean region. Perspectives on new crops and new uses. Edited by: Janick J. 1999, Alexandria, VA: ASHS Press, 148-151.Google Scholar
  8. Bhattarai NK: Home herbal remedies of the urban population of Kathmandu valley, Nepal. J Nepal Pharmaceut Assoc. 1998, 15 (1–2): 13-27.Google Scholar
  9. Dutta A, Pant K: The nutritional status of indigenous people in the Garwal Himalayas, India. Mount Res Develop. 2003, 23 (3): 278-283.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  10. Pattanayak S, Sills EO, Mehta AD, Kramer RA: Local use of parks: uncovering use of household production from forests of Siburet, Indonesia. Censer Society. 2003, 1 (2): 209-222.Google Scholar
  11. Pardo-de-Santayana M, Tardo J, Blanco E, Carvalho AM, Lastra JJ, San E, Miguel Morales R: Traditional knowledge of wild edible plants used in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal): a comparative study. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2007, 3: 27-PubMed CentralView ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Temple NJ: Antioxidants and disease: more questions than answers. Nutr Res. 2000, 20: 449-459.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  13. Bazzano LA, He J, Ogden LG: Legume consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women: NHANES I epidemiologic follow-up study. Arch Inter Med. 2001, 161: 2573-2578.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  14. Espin JC, Garcia-Conesa MT, Tomas-Barberan FA: Nutraceuticals: Facts and fiction: A Review. Toma’s-Barbera’n. Phytochem. 2007, 68: 2986-3008.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  15. Liu RH: Health benefits of fruits and vegetables are from additive and synergistic combination of phytochemicals. Americ J Clinic Nut. 2003, 78: 517S-520S.Google Scholar
  16. Willett WC: Diet, nutrition, and avoidable cancer. Environ Health Perspect. 1995, 103 (8): 165-170.PubMed CentralView ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Ercisli S: Chemical composition of fruits in some Rose (Rosa spp.) species. Food Chem. 2007, 104: 1379-1384.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  18. Misra S, Maikhuri RK, Kala CP, Rao KS, Saxena KG: Wild leafy vegetables: a study of their subsistence dietetic support to the inhabitants of Nanda Devi biosphere reserve, India. J Ethnobiol. Ethnomed. 2008, 4: 15-PubMed CentralView ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Hadjichambis ACH, Hadjichambi DP, Della A, Giusti ME, Pasquale DC, Lenzarini C, Censorii E, Tejero MRG, Rojas CPS, Gutierrez JRR, Skoula M, Johnson CH, Sarpakia A, Hmomouchiv M, Jorhi S, Demerdash ME, Zayat M, Pioroni A: Wild and semi-domesticated food plant consumption in seven circum-Mediterranean areas. Inter J Food Sci Nut. 2008, 59: 383-414.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  20. Pieroni A, Nebel S, Santoro RF, Heinrich M: Food for two seasons: Culinary uses of non-cultivated local vegetables and mushrooms in a south Italian village. Int J Food Sci Nut. 2005, 56: 245-272.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  21. Hussain F, Ilahi I: Ecology and Vegetation of Lesser Himalayas Pakistan. 1991, Peshawar, Pakistan: Jadoon Printing Press, 1-185.Google Scholar
  22. Pakistan Bureau of Statistics: Statistical Year Book. 2008, Islamabad, Pakistan: Government of PakistanGoogle Scholar
  23. Khan SU, Hasan MU, Khan FK, Bari A: Climate classification of Pakistan. 2010, Balwois Conference: Republic of Macedonia, 1-47.Google Scholar
  24. Cotton CM: Ethnobotany Principles and Applications. 1996, Chichester, New York: John Wiley and SonsGoogle Scholar
  25. Mengistu F, Herbert H: Wild Edible Fruit Species Cultural Domain, Informant Species Competence and Preference in Three Districts of Amhara Region, Ethiopia. Ethnobot Res Applic. 2008, 6: 487-502.Google Scholar
  26. Ali SI, Qaiser M: Flora of Pakistan. Karachi-Pakistan: 1995–2005, Botany Department, University of KarachiGoogle Scholar
  27. Galeano G: Forest use at the Pacific coast of Choco, Colombia: A quantitative approach. Eco Bot. 2000, 54: 358-376.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  28. Balemie K, Kebebew F: Ethnobotanical study of wild edible plants in Derashe and Kucha Districts, South Ethiopia. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2006, 2: 53-PubMed CentralView ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Levetin E, Mcmahon K: Plant and society. 1999, Dubuque, lowa: WCB/McGraw-Hill, 2Google Scholar
  30. Abbasi AM, Khan MA, Ahmad M, Zafar M: Medicinal plant biodiversity of Lesser Himalayas-Pakistan. 2012, New York: Springer, 1-212.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  31. Shinwari ZK, Rehman M, Watanabe T, Yoshikawa Y: Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of Pakistan (A Pictorial Guide). 2006, Kohat, Pakistan: Kohat University of Science and Technology, 492-Google Scholar
  32. Shinwari ZK, Khan J, Naz S, Hussain A: Screening of medicinal plants of Pakistan for their antibacterial activity. Afric J Biotech. 2009, 8 (24): 7082-7086.Google Scholar
  33. Abbasi AM, Khan MA, Ahmad M, Zafar M, Jahan S, Sultana S: Ethnopharmacological application of medicinal plants to cure skin diseases and in folk cosmetics among the tribal communities of North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan. J Ethnopharmacol. 2010, 128: 322-335.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Abbasi AM, Khan MA, Ahmad M, Zafar M, Khan H, Muhammad N, Sultana S: Medicinal plants used for the treatment of jaundice and hepatitis based on socio-economic documentation. Afric J Biotech. 2009, 8: 1643-1650.Google Scholar
  35. Abbasi AM, Khan MA, Zafar M: Ethno-medicinal assessment of some selected wild edible fruits and vegetables of Lesser-Himalayas, Pakistan. Pak J Bot. 2013, 45 (SI): 215-222.Google Scholar
  36. Afzal S, Afzal N, Awan AR, Khan TS, Gilani A, Rizwana K, Sumbal T: Ethno-botanical studies from Northern Pakistan. J Ayub Med Coll Abbott. 2009, 21: 212-219.Google Scholar
  37. Ahmad SS, Husain SZ: Ethnomedicinal survey of plants from Salt Range (Kalar Kahar), Pakistan. Pak J Bot. 2008, 40: 1005-1011.Google Scholar
  38. Ali H, Qaiser M: The ethnobotany of Chitral valley, Pakistan with particular reference to medicinal plants. Pak J Bot. 2009, 41: 2009-2041.Google Scholar
  39. Barkatullah , Ibrar M, Hussain F: Ethnobotanical studies of plants of Har kotli Hills, Batkhela District, Malakand, Pakistan. Front Bull. 2009, 4: 539-548.Google Scholar
  40. Hazrat A, Nisar M, Shah J, Ahmad S: Ethnobotanical study of some elite plants belonging to Dir, Kohistan valley, Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, Pakistan. Pak J Bot. 2011, 43 (2): 787-795.Google Scholar
  41. Hussain K, Shahzad A, Hussnain SZ: An Ethnobotanical survey of important wild medicinal plants of Hattar District Haripur, Pakistan. Ethnobot Leaflets. 2008, 12: 29-35.Google Scholar
  42. Ignacimuthu S, Ayyanar M, Sankara SK: Ethnobotanical investigations among tribes in Madurai District of Tamil Nadu (India). J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2006, 2: 25-PubMed CentralView ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Jan G, Khan MA, Gul F: Ethnomedicinal plants used against diarrhea and dysentery in Dir Kohistan valley (NWFP), Pakistan. Ethnobot Leaflets. 2008, 12: 620-637.Google Scholar
  44. Jan G, Khan MA, Gul F: Medicinal Value of the Asteraceae of Dir Kohistan Valley, NWFP, Pakistan. Ethnobot Leaflets. 2009, 13: 1205-1215.Google Scholar
  45. Kamal M, Sultan MW, Muhammad H, Subhan M, Saad UK, Asim M, Shaheen T: Ethnobotanically important plants of District Bannu, Pakistan. Pak J Plant Sci. 2009, 15: 87-93.Google Scholar
  46. Noor MJ, Kalsoom U: Ethnobotanical studies of selected plant species of Ratwal village, District Attock, Pakistan. Pak J Bot. 2011, 43: 781-786.Google Scholar
  47. Parveen B, Upadhyay , Shikha R, Ashwani K: Traditional uses of medicinal plants among the rural communities of Churu district in the Thar Desert, India. J Ethnopharmacol. 2007, 113: 387-399.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Pieroni A: Medicinal plants and food medicines in the folk traditions of the upper Lucca Province. Italy J Ethnopharmacoly. 2000, 70: 235-273.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  49. Qureshi R, Bhatti RG, Memon RA: Ethnomedicinal uses of herbs from northern part of Nara Desert. Pak J Bot. 2010, 42 (2): 839-851.Google Scholar
  50. Saikia AP, Venkat KR, Pragya S, Pranab G, Utpal B: Ethnobotany of medicinal plants used by Assamese people for various skin ailments and cosmetics. J Ethnopharmacol. 2006, 106: 149-157.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Sher H, Hussain F: Ethnobotanical evaluation of some plant resource in northern parts of Pakistan. Afri J Biotech. 2009, 8: 4066-4076.Google Scholar
  52. Sher Z, Zaheer UDK, Farrukh H: Ethnobotanical studies of some plants of Chagharzai valley, District Buner, Pakistan. Pak J Bot. 2011, 43: 1445-1452.Google Scholar
  53. Tene V, Omar M, Paola VF, Giovanni V, Chabaco A, Tom’as Z: An ethnobotanical survey of medicinal plants used in Loja and Zamora-Chinchipe, Ecuador. J Ethnopharmacol. 2007, 111: 63-81.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Marwat SK, Rehman FU, Usman K, Khakwani AZ, Ghulam S, Anwar N, Sadiq M, Khan SJ: Medico-ethnobotanical studies of edible wild fruit plants species from the flora of north western Pakistan (D. I. Khan district). J Med Plants Res. 2011, 5: 3679-3686.Google Scholar
  55. Khan MA, Khan MA, Hussain M, Mujtaba G: An ethnobotanical inventory of Himalayan region Poonch valley Azad Kashmir (Pakistan). Ethnobot Res Applic. 2010, 8: 107-123.Google Scholar
  56. Shale TL, Stirk WA, Van SJ: Screening of medicinal plants used in Lesotho for antibacterial and anti-inflammatory activity. J Ethnopharmacol. 1999, 67: 347-354.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. Zheng XL, Xing FU: Ethnobotanical study on medicinal plants around Mt.Yinggeling, Hainan Island, China. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009, 124: 197-210.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  58. Kumar S, Irshad AH: Wild edibles of Kishtwar high altitude national park in northwest Himalaya, Jammu and Kashmir (India). Ethnobot Leaflets. 2009, 13: 195-202.Google Scholar
  59. Tiwari JK, Ballabha R, Tiwari P: Some promising wild edible plants of Srinagar and its adjacent area in Alaknanda valley of Garhwal Himalaya, India. J Americ Sci. 2010, 6: 167-177.Google Scholar
  60. Savithramma N, Sulochana C, Rao KN: Ethnobotanical survey of plants used to treat asthma in Andhra Pradesh, India. J Ethnopharmacol. 2007, 113: 54-61.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  61. Saqib Z, Sultan A: Ethnobotany of Palas valley, Pakistan. Ethnobot Leaflets. 2005, 5: 1350-1357.Google Scholar
  62. Albuquerque UP, Andrade LHC, Silva ACO: Use of plant resources in a seasonal dry forest (Northeastern Brazil). Acta Bot Brasil. 2005, 19: 27-38.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  63. Tardio J, Santayana PD: Cultural Importance Indices: a Comparative Analysis based on the useful wild plants of southern Cantabria (Northern Spain). Eco Bot. 2008, 62: 24-39.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  64. Bonet MA, Parada M, Selga A, Vallès J: Studies on pharmaceutical ethnobotany in the regions of L’Alt Empordà and Les Guilleries (Catalonia, Iberian Peninsula). J Ethnopharmacol. 1999, 68: 145-168.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  65. Bonet MA, Vallès J: Use of non-crop food vascular plants in Montseny biosphere reserve (Catalonia, Iberian Peninsula). Inter J Food Sci Nut. 2002, 53: 225-248.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  66. Johns T, Kokwaro JO, Kimanani EK: Herbal remedies of the Luo Siaya District, Kenya: Establishing qualitative criteria for consensus. Eco Bot. 1990, 44 (3): 369-381.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  67. Stepp JR, Moerman DE: The importance of weeds in ethnopharmacology. J Ethnopharmacol. 2001, 75: 25-31.View ArticleGoogle Scholar

Copyright

© Abbasi et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2013

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.