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  • Open Access

Consumption patterns of wild edibles by the Vasavas: a case study from Gujarat, India

Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine201814:57

https://doi.org/10.1186/s13002-018-0254-3

  • Received: 22 January 2018
  • Accepted: 1 August 2018
  • Published:

Abstract

Background

Wild edibles continue to be a significant contributor to the global food basket in much of the developing world. A consensus has now been formed that information on wild edibles is an important part of ethnobotanical knowledge and hence elucidating region-specific patterns of habitat management and consumption assists policy making with regard to natural conservation, human nutrition, and human health. Using an original data set from Gujarat, India, the present research aims to document the collective knowledge of wild edibles possessed by the local Vasava tribe, as well as the habitat usage and consumption trends of these species.

Methods

Data were collected using three approaches: key informant interviews to record the local knowledge of wild edibles and methods of collection, village group discussions to quantify past and present consumption trends, and expert interviews to elucidate the reasons for changing consumption patterns.

Results

Through key informant interviews, 90 species of wild edibles from 46 botanical families were identified along with their Vasavi names, plant parts utilized, habitats, and cooking methods. Of these, 60 species were also used medicinally and 15 carried economic value. Different habitats were preferred for collection at different times of the year. Village group discussions unanimously concluded that the consumption of wild edibles has significantly reduced over time. Expert interviews identified the decreased availability of these species in their natural habitats as the most important reason for their reduced consumption.

Conclusion

The present study has demonstrated that the Vasavas’ collective knowledge of wild edibles is vast and that these species contribute to their dietary diversity throughout the year. The finding of the present study, namely that anthropogenically managed habitats were often preferred over natural environments for the collection of wild edibles, suggests that conservation efforts should be extended beyond wild and human-uninhabited landscapes.

Keywords

  • Wild edibles
  • Ethnobotany
  • India
  • Gujarat
  • Wild food plants

Background

Wild plants are a crucial source of food, healthcare, and material subsistence in much of the developing world and carry a strong association with human livelihood [14]. Amongst wild plants, in particular, wild edible plants (WEP), once the most important food source for the human population, along with game food, continue to be significant contributors to the global food basket [5].

The word “wild” in this context refers to species that are not intentionally grown and managed by humans, including those minimally managed to prevent overgrowth or overharvest. This includes both native and alien plants, regardless of the preservation level of the habitats [6, 7].

Many earlier ethnobotanical works focused on lists of useful plants and had a strong tendency to focus on the scouting of new drug sources and new non-wood forest products (NWFP), both of which can be economically lucrative [812]. However, in recent years, there has been a growing interest in exploring the traditions of using wild plants beyond material and medicinal purposes and focus on wild edibles, as their roles become better understood in terms of local nutrition [2, 1315], dietary diversity [16, 17], income generation [4, 1821], healthcare [22, 23], reduction of micronutrient deficiency [24, 25], and food security through diversification [2628]. There is now a consensus that information on wild edibles, including various modes of utilization and preparation, constitutes an important part of ethnobotanical knowledge and therefore that elucidating region-specific patterns of their habitat management and consumption assists policymaking in the areas of natural conservation, human nutrition, and healthcare [29, 30]. This is particularly the case as a lack of extensive data is one of the major barriers that prevent optimal decision making tailored to local conditions.

There have been efforts to document WEP use traditions in India for a long time; however, due to the extreme diversity of the ethnic population of the Indian subcontinent, as well as its flora, the work is still in its infancy [3142].

The research presented in this paper aims to document the collective knowledge of wild edibles possessed by the local Vasava tribe, as well as the habitat usage and consumption trends of these species. Previous ethnobotanical studies in Gujarat have exclusively focused on economically important species [43, 44], or ethnomedicinal uses [43, 45, 46], so clear knowledge gap exists for the listing and habitat usage with respect to wild edibles.

Methods

Study site

Located in the western part of the country, the state of Gujarat is home to 29 Scheduled Tribes that together account for 14.8% of the state population. The Vasavas are one such tribe that have inhabited the Shoolpaneshwar forest belt, one of the dense forest belts within the state (Fig. 1). The medicine men “Bhagats” of Vasava tribe are known for their indigenous plant knowledge to treat illnesses of their community, part of which has recently been recorded from the pharmaceutical perspective [47]. The Vasavas are often described as subsistence farmers who possess traditional knowledge about plants due to close proximity to the forests. Nonetheless, rapid economic growth is inducing outmigration and transformation of land usage in the region, thereby threatening the survival of traditional knowledge as well as free access to forests for this tribe. Even though tribal areas in India often receive intervention programs for nutrition and livelihood enhancement, such programs have never been implemented in the study area, locally known as Dediapada Taluka.
Fig. 1
Fig. 1

Map of Dediapada Taluka with study sites

The Shoolpaneshwar forest belt spans an area of 608 km2 over two Talukas, Dediapada and Sagbara, and is considered one of the rich biodiversity zones of the state (Fig. 1). The Narmada district, the administrative unit above them, has a forest cover of 41.5% across an area characterized by hilly terrain and a semi-arid climate. The district’s average annual rainfall is ~ 700 mm, with 31 recorded rainy days (Fig. 2). There are two agricultural seasons, the rainy season (Kharif) from July to October and the post-rainy season (Rabi) from November to March. While all farmers cultivate during Kharif, only those with irrigation facilities plant a second crop during Rabi.
Fig. 2
Fig. 2

Minimum, maximum, and average temperatures and rainfall at Dediapada Taluka

According to the 2011 district census data for Narmada, 85% of the total population are involved in agricultural production. At the same time, 65% of the total population earn their income as agricultural or industrial laborers, primarily because of small landholding, a phenomenon originating from land fragmentation through inheritance. The majority of the population lie below the poverty line and the literacy rate is low; in Dediapada Taluka, it is 65%. Combined together, these factors force many Vasavas to out-migrate for alternative sources of livelihood, moving them away from their original ecological zone. As their “wisdom” concerning wild plants has typically been passed on from parents to children, limited access to forests by family members is thought to be threatening knowledge transfer.

According to the information collected during fieldwork, the staple source of carbohydrates for the Vasavas is rice while in hilly regions where paddy farming is difficult, it is maize. Other cereals such as sorghum, as well as indigenous millet such as bunti (Echinocloa crus-galli (L.) P.Beauv.), muu (Panicum pilosum Sw), kodri (Paspalum scrobiculatum L.), and bajro (Pennisetum typhoides (Burm.f.) Stapf & C.E.Hubb.), are also consumed, along with cultivated vegetables (both heirloom and commercial varieties) grown in both agricultural fields and home gardens. Wild edibles form a major part of their complementary diet; for example, as much as 40% of the food consumed by the Bhil tribe, who live nearby, was sourced from non-agricultural fields [48], typically collected from nearby forests or their surroundings. For the Vasavas, a typical meal consists of a staple (rice, maize, sorghum, or millet) with vegetables and/or wild edibles, the latter of which are boiled, sautéed, or added to daal (a runny soup made with pulses). Meat, poultry, and fish can also be part of the Vasavas’ diet depending on the family’s economic reach and availability, while dairy products are severely limited due to the lack of storage facilities.

Data collection

In order to achieve the aforementioned aim of the research, local data were collected under three approaches: key informant interviews to record the Vasavas’ knowledge of wild edibles and methods of plant collection, village group interviews to quantify past and current consumption trends, and expert interviews to elucidate reasons for the decreased consumption of wild edibles.

Key informant interviews

Twenty-five key informants from 12 different villages (Fig. 1) were purposefully selected. Altogether, 14 men and 11 women were interviewed. Their ages ranged from 26 to 87 (mean 51.8, median 49). The studied settlements represent all the major ecological features of Dediapada Taluka. These key informants consisted of tribal healers and the local elders, who were considered the most knowledgeable about local plants within each village. Care was taken to include both genders from each village as, generally speaking, more men collect wild plants from forests, while more women are responsible for collecting and cooking plants from the village surroundings (e.g., home gardens) on a regular basis.

The interviews were conducted during the periods of August–September 2016 and December 2016–February 2017. The Gujarati language (the regional language) was used with occasional translation to the Vasavi language (the local tribal language). Each interview started with a field visit with the interviewee, which covered nearby forests, agricultural fields, and swamp habitats where edible plants were growing at the time of the survey. Information on the plant part used, typical recipes for cooking, potential for medicinal use, and the season, and primary locations of collection were noted. Each species was identified and photographically recorded in the field. Voucher specimens were also collected for species not already covered by previous floristic surveys carried out in the region. Following the field visit, each informant was interviewed again, inside their house, where the local names for the plants were confirmed and matched against photographs and dried specimens of the species, under the supervision of an experienced local taxonomist. The dried herbarium specimens of the species are identified by a taxonomist and stored at the herbarium of The Serenity Library & Botanical Garden (for details, refer to “Availability of data and materials”).At the conclusion of all interviews, a comprehensive list of wild edibles utilized by the Vasavas was compiled. This list was subsequently used to analyze habitat distribution and seasonal consumption patterns, as described below in the “Data analysis” section.

Village group discussions

Village heads, local school officials, and long-term residents from 12 villages (96 respondents) were invited to group discussions, held in August–September 2016, about the past and current trends surrounding the consumption of wild edibles. These open-ended interviews were carried out at either village schools or the homes of village heads/key informants. When the snowball technique was employed to maximize the amount of information collected, care was taken to include participants of various age groups from both genders.

Expert interviews

Structured questionnaire surveys were conducted with seven experts from different villages (Bondiservan, Vadhwa, Khudadi, Khokhraumar, Zadoli, Khairdipada, and Jamni villages), who were selected based on the recommendation of village heads during the group discussions. The questionnaire was based on the input obtained from the village group discussions and designed as a multi-purpose survey. The results presented in this paper primarily focus on the reasons for changing consumption patterns of wild edibles, obtained by means of pairwise comparisons [23, 49], encompassing six alternatives. The scores derived for each reason were aggregated across seven experts, producing an overall score that can take any value between 0 and 35.

Data analysis

Categorization of species

Each species included in the plant list (prepared from key informant interviews) was categorized into one of five groups based on its habit (trees, shrubs, herbs, twiners, climbers), and one of the seven groups based on the habitat from which it was primarily collected (village, forest, swamp, village and forest, swamp and forest, village and swamp, all three locations). Here, a village habitat was defined as an environment that was fully or partially anthropologically managed (Fig. 3a–c). A forest habitat was defined as an area minimally managed by humans (although they are often close to villages), and a swamp habitat as a location where water bodies were present for most of the year, for example puddles, small riverines, and ponds. This grouping was based on the most common habitats from which each species was collected and therefore does not imply non-presence of the species in other locations.
Fig. 3
Fig. 3

ac Representative habitats for wild edibles: a village habitat, b forest habitat, and c swamp habitat

The parts of the plants utilized were also categorized into six groups (leaves, flowers, seeds/fruits, underground parts, young shoots, multiple parts). The fourth group (underground parts) represents all storage organs including tubers, bulbs, corms, and rhizomes. The last group (multiple parts) covers species that are primarily collected for non-edible purposes but of which organs (same or different) are also used as human food.

Local names for plants in the compiled species list were transcribed into English with phonetic intuition, as the Vasavi language does not have a written script. Typical months of collection and typical methods of cooking were also recorded in this list, so as to obtain insight into the Vasavas’ culinary outlook and nutritional status.

A complete plant list was compiled with their Vasavi names, scientific names, plant parts utilized, primary habitats, and cooking methods. This aggregated information was further used for analyzing the consumption and collection patterns as described in the “Results” section.

Consumption and collection patterns

Following the compilation of the species list, the number of species collected from each habitat category was quantified. This value was used as an indicator for the seasonal availability of the plants and for the locations of actual collection events [50]. Since the primary focus of the present study was on usage patterns of habitats for sourcing these species, the number of species was judged to offer better insights than the level of biomass available, a common indicator for sustainable harvesting. The number of species collected for each plant part was also collated to evaluate the potential of wild edibles to provide diverse pathways of nutrient acquisition. The information collected from the village group discussions and the expert interviews was utilized to support interpretation of the quantitative findings.

Results

Through the key informant interviews, 90 species of wild edibles were identified (Table 1). These species belonged to 46 different botanical families; the families with the most number of species represented were Amaranthaceae (6 spp.), followed by Asclepiadaceae (5 spp.) and Dioscoreaceae (5 spp.). All Amaranthaceae species were collected for their leaves, while all Dioscoreaceae species for their aerial tubers. The family Asclepiadaceae had a more diverse pattern of plant utilization, with leaves, tubers, and fruits all used for cooking. Some of these species were used for medicinal purposes as well.
Table 1

List of wild edible species used by the Vasavas

Sr. No.

Botanical names and collection number

Season

Family/sub family

Vasavi name

Plant type

Plant part used

Habitat/location

Recipe and use

1

Achyranthes aspera L. TSLBG: 2402

June–Dec

Amaranthaceae

Arpchinjudo

2

1

4

The leaves are consumed as leafy vegetables either boiled or stir-fried with spices

2

Aegle marmelos (L.) Corr. TSLBG: 2413

April–June

Rutaceae

Bila (Bili)

1

3

1

Unripe fruit is pickled, and ripe fruit is consumed directly or in the form of a juice

3

Alangium salvifolium (L. f.) Wang. TSLBG: 2483

Oct–Jan

Alangiaceae

Aakna

1

3

1

The fruit is edible, and the twig is used as a dental floss

4

Alternanthera sessilis L. TSLBG: 2454

June–Oct

Amaranthaceae

Ganthiyu

2

1

4

The leaves are boiled and consumed as leafy vegetables with spices

5

Amaranthus hybridus L. TSLBG: 2548

June–Nov

Amaranthaceae

Laal matnu

3

1

7

Leaves are boiled and drained, and chili spice and salt are added for flavor

6

Amaranthus spinosus L. TSLBG: 2464

June–Nov

Amaranthaceae

Kantalomatnu

3

1

7

Leaves are boiled, and spices are added. Sometimes addition of khatibhindi (Hibiscus sabdarifa)

7

Amaranthus viridis L. TSLBG: 2558

June–Nov

Amaranthaceae

Matnu

3

1

7

Leaves are boiled, and spices are added

8

Annona squamosa L. TSLBG: 2409

Sept–Nov

Annonaceae

Aanusari

1

6

4

The fruits are edible when ripe. The roots, leaves, and bark are used medicinally

9

Argyreia nervosa (Burm. f) Boj TSLBG: 2540

June–Oct

Convolvulaceae

Panjo

5

6

4

Tender leaves are boiled or sautéed

10

Arisaema tortuosum (Wall.) Schott. TSLBG: 2502

June–July

Apaceae

Vayu

3

5

4

The young tender petiole of the plant is soaked overnight in salt water to reduce the mucilage and then pickled or cooked in sour yoghurt or buttermilk with spices as a vegetable

11

Asparagus racemosus Willd. TSLBG: 2414

All year

Liliaceae

Shatavari

2

4

4

Root is boiled removing the central vein and stir-fried with oil and spices; soup of boiled roots is also prepared

12

Azadirachta indica A. Juss. TSLBG: 2429

March–June

Meliaceae

Limdo

1

6

1

The ripe fruit pulp is edible

13

Bacopa monnieri (L.) Wettest. TSLBG: 2438

Sept–Jan

Scrophulariaceae

Nirbrahmi/Bam

3

1

3

Washed thoroughly and prepared with onions and spices or boiled

14

Bambusa arundinacea(Retz.) Willd. TSLBG: 2415

Once after 25 years

Poaceae

Vans

1

5

2

The young shoot is boiled and stir-fried to a vegetable, or young shoot is boiled and made in to pickle with spices

15

Bauhinia racemosa Lam. TSLBG: 2411

Feb–May

Caesalpiniae

Aachitro, Hinglo

1

2

1

The young leaves and flowers are used as stir-fried vegetable

16

Bauhinia vahlii Graham TSLBG: 2417

Feb–May

Caesalpiniae

Aavalvel

4

3

2

The young leaves and flowers are used as stir-fried vegetable

17

Benkara pundulacakai (Gmelin.) Almeida. TSLBG: 2422

June–July

Rubiaceae

Gungur (flower)

2

2

2

The flowers are washed and stir-fried in oil and spices

18

Boerhavia diffusa L. TSLBG: 2501

All year

Nyctaginaceae

Dhagarphodiyu/Patharphodiyu

3

6

1

Stir-fried vegetable in yoghurt with spices or boiled

19

Bombax ceiba L. TSLBG: 2564

Feb–March

Bombacaceae

Hambo, Samro

1

2

2

Flowers are used to make stir-fry curry in oil, or they are boiled with spices

20

Borassus flabellifer Linn. TSLBG: 2484

Feb–May

Palmaceae

Tad

1

6

4

The sap from the inflorescence is collected in an earthen pot, and the juice is either fresh or consumed in the evening after some fermentation. Fruit is also edible

21

Borreria articularis (L.f.) F.N.Williams TSLBG: 2420

All year round

Rubiaceae

Ganthi

3

1

1

The leaves are used and are boiled with some spices or stir-fried in oil

22

Bridelia squamosa (Lamk.) Gehrmann. TSLBG: 2435

Jan–Feb

Euphorbiaceae

Akano (1)

1

3

2

The fruits are edible when ripe. The roots, leaves, and bark are used medicinally

23

Buchanania cochinchinensis (Lour.) Almeida TSLBG: 2509

Feb–May

Anacardiaceae

Charoli

1

3

2

The fruit is edible and eaten when ripe

24

Cassia tora L. TSLBG: 2425

June–Aug

Fabaceae

Chinjudo

2

6

4

The small tender leaves are edible as a leafy vegetable or as a stir-fried with oil and spices

25

Celosia argentea L. TSLBG: 2444

June–Oct

Amaranthaceae

Lemdi

2

1

1

The leaves are eaten as a leafy vegetable either boiled or stir-fried in oil with spices

26

Ceropegia bulbosa Roxb. TSLBG: 2427

July–Aug

Asclepiadaceae

Sap okoni

3

4

1

The tubers are edible. The tubers are boiled and added with crushed chili flakes

27

Ceropegia fantastica Sed. TSLBG: 2555

July–Aug

Asclepiadaceae

Okoni

3

4

1

The tubers are edible. The tubers are boiled and added with crushed chili flakes

28

Chenopodium album L. TSLBG: 2546

June–Nov

Chenopodiaceae

ChilBhaji

3

1

1

Leaves are cooked in buttermilk as a vegetable

29

Chlorophytum borivalianum Sant. & Fernand TSLBG: 2498

June–Aug

Liliaceae

Kuvlu

3

1

2

The leaves and bulb are stir-fried and eaten. The leaves are added in daal sometimes

30

Chlorophytum tuberosum (Roxb.) Baker TSLBG: 2447

June–Aug

Liliaceae

Dholimusli/Kuvli

3

6

2

The leaves are used in daal as a vegetable

31

Clematis hedysarifolia DC. TSLBG: 2506

June–Aug

Ranunculaceae

Kukadvel

5

5

4

The tender stem is used as a vegetable

32

Cocculus hirsutus (L.) Diels. TSLBG: 2519

All year round

Menispermiaceae

Vasano/Vasanvel

5

1

4

Can be eaten raw or boiled and stir-fried in spices after draining water

33

Commelina benghalensis L. TSLBG: 2475

June–Aug

Commelinaceae

Keniyu

3

1

7

The tender leaves are stir-fried and eaten

34

Commelina diffusa L. f. TSLBG: 2513

June–Aug

Commelinaceae

Punyopujyu

3

1

6

The tender leaves are stir-fried in oil and eaten with crushed chilies and salt

35

Commelina obliqua Vahl. TSLBG: 2450

June–Aug

Commelinaceae

Narelu

3

1

6

Tender leaves are edible and eaten stir-fried with oil and spices

36

Cordia dichotoma Forst. f. TSLBG: 2471

Dec–Feb (flower) March–June fruit

Ebenaceae

Gunda (green and chikna)

 

6

4

Inflorescence is cooked stir-fried with yoghurt and spices. The unripe fruit is used for making pickle

37

Cordia gharaf (Forsk.) E. & A. TSLBG: 2524

Dec–May

Ehretiaceae

Gundi

1

3

1

The ripe fruit is consumed, and unripe fruit is pickled

38

Dalbergia volubilis Roxb. TSLBG: 2561

June–Nov

Fabaceae

Kinhariyu/Pingush

5

1

1

The tender leaves are cooked as a leafy vegetable as a stir-fried in oil and spices

39

Dendrocalamus strictus (Roxb.) Nees TSLBG: 2445

July–Aug

Poaceae

Vans nibhaaji

 

5

2

Tender just emerged shoot apex is boiled and cut and made in pickle and made into vegetable

40

Dioscorea belophylla Voigt. TSLBG: 2469

Aug–Sept

Dioscoreaceae

Huvi

4

4

4

The bulbil is similar to Taro and is boiled and cooked similarly in oil and spices

41

Dioscorea bulbifera L. TSLBG: 2482

June–July

Dioscoreaceae

Kadvokand

4

4

4

The bulbil is boiled or soaked overnight in salt to remove bitterness and then cooked like potato with oil and spices and sometimes in buttermilk

42

Dioscorea hispida Dennstd. TSLBG: 2521

Aug–Sept

Dioscoreaceae

Manovaj

4

4

4

The bulbil is similar to Taro and is boiled and cooked similarly in oil and spices and sometimes in buttermilk

43

Dioscorea pentaphylla L. TSLBG: 2463

Aug–Sept

Dioscoreaceae

Huvdo

4

4

4

The bulbil is similar to Taro and is boiled and cooked similarly in oil and spices and sometimes in buttermilk

44

Dioscorea wallichii Hk. TSLBG: 2530

Aug–Sept

Dioscoreaceae

Chaydu

4

4

4

The bulbils is similar to Taro and is boiled and cooked similarly in oil and spices and sometimes in buttermilk

45

Diospyros melanoxylon Roxb. TSLBG: 2448

May–June

Ebenaceae

Timru

1

6

2

Fruit is consumed for its sweet taste; unripe fruits are picked from forest and ripened in sandy soil. Leaves are used for making local handmade cigarette (bidi)

46

Dregea volubilis (L.f.) Benth. ex Hook.f. TSLBG: 2431

Sept–Feb.

Asclepiadaceae

Kadvishir

5

3

1

The young leaves and stems are boiled and drained and eaten with crushed chili and salt

47

Enicostema littorale Bl. TSLBG: 2488

June–Aug

Gentianaceae

Mamejavo/KadviNai

3

1

1

Tender leaves stir-fried as vegetable

48

Eulophia herbacea Lindl. TSLBG: 2497

July–Sept

Orchidaceae

Waghmodhu

3

2

1

Inflorescence is cooked

49

Ficus hispida L.f. TSLBG: 2507

May–July

Moraceae

Umbo/Koth Umbo

1

3

1

Fruit edible and much enjoyed by kids, leaves medicinal

50

Flueggea microcarpa Bl. TSLBG: 2489

July–Nov

Euphorbiaceae

Safed chini

2

3

1

The white, ripe fruits are edible

51

Garuga pinnata Roxb. TSLBG: 2494

Jan–May

Burseraceae

Kakaro

1

3

1

Pickle is made up of fruits

52

Grewia hirsuta Vahl. TSLBG: 2495

Aug–October

Tiliaceae

Tamna

1

3

2

Ripe fruit is edible raw and has medicinal properties for stomach disorders

53

Grewia tiliaefolia Vahl. TSLBG: 2529

Aug–October

Tiliaceae

Dhaman

1

6

2

Ripe fruit is edible raw. Stem is used for toothache as dental floss

54

Heracleum grandis (Dalz. & Gibs.) Mukh. TSLBG: 2532

All year

Umbelliferae

Bokhudo

2

6

3

Stir-fried vegetable of the leaves either boiled or stir-fried with oil and spices

55

Holarhena antidysenterica (Heyne ex Roth) Wall. ex DC. TSLBG: 2451

June–Aug

Apocynaceae

Kunvad

2

1

4

The tender leaves are made into a leafy vegetable

56

Holoptelea integrifolia (Roxb.) Planch TSLBG: 2441

Jan–May

Ulmaceae

Kunjo, Punjo

1

3

1

The leaves are boiled and drained and eaten with added spices

57

Holostemma annularium (Roxb.) K Schum. TSLBG: 2534

June–Aug

Asclepiadaceae

Nanshiri/meethishir

4

6

2

Tender leaves are used as vegetables, and flowers are bit sweet and edible as well. Medicinally, the leaves and roots are used for menstrual disorders and period pain

58

Ipomoea marginata (Desr.) Verdc. TSLBG: 2432

June–Oct

Convolvulaceae

Panjvu

5

1

7

The leaves are used as leafy vegetable and is edible either stir-fried or boiled with spices

59

Ipomoea aquatica Forsk. TSLBG: 2436

All year

Convolvulaceae

Nal

3

1

3

Stir-fried vegetable or boiled leaves with added spices

60

Ipomoea carneassp. Fistulosa (Mortex ex Choisy) Austin TSLBG: 2433

July–Nov

Convolvulaceae

Nihuto

2

1

1

The tender leaves after rain are plucked and stir-fried into a vegetable with oil and spices

61

Kirganelia reticulata (Poir.) Bail. TSLBG: 2442

July–Aug

Euphorbiaceae

Kinhariyu/Kalichini

2

1

1

Tender shoots and leaves are stir-fried to make leafy vegetable with oil and spices

62

Leea asiatica (L.) Ridsdale TSLBG: 2437

Aug–Nov

Leeaceae

Nanidhini

2

2

2

The inflorescence is cut and cooked as a vegetable with oil and spices

63

Leea edgeworthii Sant. TSLBG: 2544

July–Sept

Leeaceae

Nanudhinu

2

5

2

The inflorescence is cut and cooked as a vegetable with oil and spices

64

Leea macrophylla Roxb. ex Hornem TSLBG: 2485

July–Aug

Leeaceae

Motu Dhinu

3

2

1

Cultural importance of leaves for usage in ritual of offering first grain of harvest and praying. Fruits edible. Inflorescence is cooked as vegetable stir-fried in oil with spices

65

Limonia acidissima L. TSLBG: 2520

Nov–March

Rutaceae

Kotha

1

3

1

The fruit pulp is edible after adding some spices. It is usually made into a chutney (thick sauce) with salt and chili occasionally also adding sugar

66

Madhuca indica Gmel. TSLBG: 2473

March–July

Sapotaceae

Mahuda

1

6

2

Flower is fleshy and is sun-dried and eaten, local liquor made from fleshy flower. Seed oil is medicinal and used for massage and cooking. Fruit pulp can be edible too

67

Manilkara hexandra Dub. TSLBG: 2443

April–May

Sapotaceae

Rayan

1

3

1

Ripe fruits are sweet and edible

68

Marsilea minuta L. TSLBG: 2446

In water bodies throughout the year

Marsileaceae

Chabarchilu/Chilo

3

1

3

Tender leaves are stir-fried with fresh pigeon pea beans with spices as a leafy vegetable

69

Momordica dioica Roxb. TSLBG: 2449

July–Sept

Cucurbitaceae

Kantola/Kotno/Kankoda

5

3

4

Fruit is cooked as a vegetable with spices stir-fried in oil

70

Morinda tomentosa Heyne ex Roth syn M. Tinctoria Roxb. TSLBG: 2472

Sept

Rubiaceae

Aal

1

3

2

Ripe fruits are edible

71

Moringa concanensis Nimmo. TSLBG: 2455

Sept–Feb

Moringaceae

Hengvo

1

6

2

The leaves and flowers are thoroughly washed and consumed as a leafy vegetable stir-fried in oil with spices

72

Moringa oleifera Lamk. TSLBG: 2499

Oct–Mar

Moringaceae

Saragvo

1

6

1

Fruit pods are used as a vegetable in daal and boiled vegetable with spices. The leaves and flowers are also used as a leafy vegetable either boiled or stir-fried in oil

73

Phoenix sylvestris (L.) Roxb. TSLBG: 2528

Jan–June

Arecaceae

Khajuri

1

3

4

The fruit is edible

74

Phyllanthus emblica L. TSLBG: 2487

Oct–Feb

Euphorbiaceae

Ambli/amla

1

3

2

Fruits are edible raw or pickled, pickled vegetable also made. Dried fruit powder used in medicines

75

Pleurotus sp. TSLBG: 2505

July–Aug

Pleurotaceae

Vansitro/Vans naphool

 

6

2

The mushrooms are washed and cleaned and stir-fried with onions and spices

76

Pueraria tuberosa (Roxb.) DC. TSLBG: 2474

All year

Fabaceae

Bohon

4

1

3

Stir-fried or boiled with spices

77

Randia spinosa (Thumb.) BL. TSLBG: 2468

Jan–May

Rubiaceae

Galu

2

3

1

The fruits are edible in small amounts

78

Schleichera oleosa Lour. TSLBG: 2479

Feb–July

Sapindaceae

Kusum

1

3

1

The ripe fruits are edible

79

Solanum nigrum L. TSLBG: 2458

June–Nov

Solanaceae

Nagadyu

2

6

4

The leaves are edible as leafy vegetables and eaten boiled with chili and salt. The fruits are edible when ripe

80

Spondias acuminata Roxb. TSLBG: 2517

May–June

Anacardiaceae

Khatakumba/Khatambni

1

3

2

Fruits are edible raw. Bark is softened and applied on rashes

81

Syzygium cumini (L.) Skeels TSLBG: 2492

May–Sept

Myrtaceae

Jambu

1

3

1

The ripe fruits are edible

82

Tamarindus indica L. TSLBG: 2512

Feb–July

Caesalpiniaceae

Katra (Khatiambli)

1

6

1

The leaves and flowers are made into a leafy stir-fried vegetable with spices. Chutney (sauce) of unripe fruits made by crushing it with spices and garlic. Ripe fruits are used for culinary purpose as well. Bark and seeds are used medicinally

83

Telosma pallida (Roxb.) Craib. TSLBG: 2523

June–Nov

Asclepiadaceae

Varshadodi

4

1

1

The tender leaves are eaten as leafy vegetable either boiled or stir-fried with spices

84

Terminalia bellirica (Gaertn.) Roxb. TSLBG: 2461

Jan–May

Combretaceae

Behado

1

3

1

The red fruits are edible

85

Tinospora glabra (Burm.f.) Merrill TSLBG: 2480

Jan–May

Menispermiaceae

Kamboli

5

5

1

The leaves are tender; stem is cut and stir-fried in oil and mixed with other leafy vegetables

86

Wrightia tinctoria (Roxb.) R. Br. TSLBG: 2500

March–June

Apocynaceae

Safed Kuvad/Dudh Kuvad

1

6

1

Flowers are edible and stir-fried as a vegetable with oil and spices

87

Wrightia tomentosa Roem. & Schult. TSLBG: 2514

March–July

Apocynaceae

Danti-Kuvad

1

6

1

Flowers are edible and stir-fried as a vegetable with oil and spices

88

Ziziphus mauritiana Lam. TSLBG: 2511

Jan–March

Rhamnaceae

Bor

1

3

1

The ripe fruits are edible

89

Ziziphus oenopila (L.) Mill. TSLBG: 2526

Jan–April

Rhamnaceae

Emardi

1

3

1

The ripe fruits are edible

90

Ziziphus xylopyra (Retz.) Willd. TSLBG: 2439

Jan–March

Rhamnaceae

Ghat bor

1

3

1

The ripe fruits are edible

Key to the numerical categorization: plant type: 1—tree, 2—shrub, 3—herb, 4—twiner, 5—climber; plant part used: 1—leaves, 2—flowers, 3—seed/fruits, 4—tuber/underground part, 5—young shoot, 6—multiple parts used; habitat/location: 1—field/village, 2—forest, 3—swamp, 4—village + forest, 5—swamp + forest, 6—village + swamp, 7—all

The average number of wild edible species mentioned by a key informant was 48.4 (median 51). The average number of wild edible species collected for fruits mentioned was 13.6 (median 13), for leaves was 14.5 (median 14), flowers 3.4 (median 3), tubers 5.1 (Median 5), and young shoots 2.1 (median 2), and average wild edibles with multiple uses mentioned was 9.5 (median 9).

The Vasavas were found to prefer leafy greens either stir-fried or boiled and to consume them in combination with other distinct-tasting (sour or bitter) leafy greens and crushed chilies. Tubers, leaves, and shoots were sometimes boiled and then blended with yoghurt or buttermilk to weaken the mucilage. The use of oil and spices other than salt and chilies in their recipes was minimal. Fruits were often collected recreationally and sometimes pickled and preserved.

A comparison of the compiled list against a preceding list of ethnomedicinal plants from the study area [47] suggested that 60 out of the 90 wild edibles identified are also medicinally used by the Vasavas (Table 2). A further comparison of the list against the Gujarat State Forest Development Corporation’s (GSFDC) NWFP collection revealed that 15 out of the 90 species also carry economic values when sold to GSFDC (Table 3).
Table 2

Wild edibles with reported medicinal use (as reported by previous ethnobotanical study)

Sr. No.

Botanical names

Season

Family/sub family

Vasavi name

Plant type

1.

Achyranthes aspera L.

June–Dec

Amaranthaceae

Arpchinjudo

Shrub

2.

Aegle marmelos (L.) Corr.

April–June

Rutaceae

Bila (Bili)

Tree

3.

Alangium salvifolium (L. f.) Wang.

Oct–Jan

Alangiaceae

Aakna

Tree

4.

Amaranthus hybridus L.

June–Nov

Amaranthaceae

Red

Herb

5.

Amaranthus spinosus L.

June–Nov

Amaranthaceae

Kanto

Herb

6.

Amaranthus viridis L.

June–Nov

Amaranthaceae

Tandaljo (desi) MATNU

Herb

7.

Annona squamosa L.

Sept–Nov

Annonaceae

Aanusari

Tree

8.

Asparagus racemosus Willd.

All year

Liliaceae

Shatavari

Shrub

9.

Azadirachta indica A. Juss.

March–June

Meliaceae

Limdo

Tree

10.

Bacopa monnieri (L.) Wettest.

Sept–Jan

Scrophulariaceae

Nir brahmi/Bam

Herb

11.

Bambusa arundinacea (Retz.) Willd.

Once after 25 years

Poaceae

Vans

Tree

12.

Bauhinia racemosa Lam.

Feb–May

Caesalpiniae

Aachitro, Hinglo

Tree

13.

Bombax ceiba L.

Feb–March

Bombacaceae

Hambo, Samro

Tree

14.

Borassus flabellifer Linn.

Feb–May

Palmaceae

Tad

Tree

15.

Borreria articularis (L.f.) F.N.Williams

All year round

Rubiaceae

Ganthi

Herb

16.

Bridelia squamosa (Lamk.) Gehrmann. Syn. Bridelia retusa Spreng.

Jan–Feb

Euphorbiaceae

Akano (tree)

Tree

17.

Buchanania cochinchinensis (Lour.) Almeida

Feb–May

Anacardiaceae

Charoli

Tree

18.

Cassia tora L.

June–Aug

Fabaceae

Chinjudo

Shrub

19.

Celosia argentea L.

June–Oct

Amaranthaceae

Lemdi

Shrub

20.

Ceropegia bulbosa Roxb.

July–Aug

Asclepiadaceae

Sap okoni

Herb

21.

Chenopodium album L.

June–Nov

Chenopodiaceae

Chil Bhaji

Herb

22.

Chlorophytum borivalianum Sant. & Fernand

June–Aug

Liliaceae

Kuvlu

Herb

23.

Chlorophytum tuberosum (Roxb.) Baker

June–Aug

Liliaceae

Dholi musli/Kuvli

Herb

24.

Cocculus hirsutus (L.) Diels.

All year round

Menispermiaceae

Vasano/Vasanvel

Climber

25.

Cordia dichotoma Forst. f.

Dec–Feb (flower) March–June (fruit)

Ebenaceae

Gunda (green and chikna)

 

26.

Dalbergia volubilis Roxb. Cor. Pl.

June–Nov

Fabaceae

Kinhariyu/Pingush

Climber (woody)

27.

Dioscorea belophylla Voigt.

Aug–Sept

Dioscoreaceae

Huvi

Twiner

28.

Dioscorea bulbifera L.

June–July

Dioscoreaceae

Kadvo kand

Twiner

29.

Dioscorea hispida Dennstd.

Aug–Sept

Dioscoreaceae

Manovaj

Twiner

30.

Dioscorea pentaphylla L.

Aug–Sept

Dioscoreaceae

Huvdo

Twiner

31.

Diospyros melanoxylon Roxb.

May–June

Ebenaceae

Timru

Tree

32.

Dregea volubilis (L.f.) Benth. ex Hook.f.

Sept–Feb.

Asclepiadaceae

Kadvi shir

Climber

33.

Enicostema littorale Bl.

June–Aug

Gentianaceae

Mamejavo/Kadvi Nai

Herb

34.

Ficus hispida L.f.

May–July

Moraceae

Umbo/Koth Umbo

Tree

35.

Garuga pinnata Roxb.

Jan–May

Burseraceae

Kakaro

Tree

36.

Heracleum grandis (Dalz. & Gibs.) Mukh.

All year

Umbellifera

Bokhudo

Undershrub

37.

Holarhena antidysenterica (Heyne ex Roth) Wall.ex DC.

June–Aug

Apocynaceae

Kunvad

Shrub

38.

Holoptelea integrifolia (Roxb.) Planch.

Jan–May

Ulmaceae

Kunjo, Punjo

Tree

39.

Holostemma annularium (Roxb.) K Schum.

June-Aug

Asclepiadaceae

Nanshiri/meethi shir

Twiner

40.

Ipomoea aquatica Forsk.

All year

Convolvulaceae

Nal

Aquatic herb

41.

Ipomoea carnea ssp.fistulosa (Mortex ex Choisy) Austin

July–Nov

Convolvulaceae

Nihuto

Shrub

42.

Kirganelia reticulata (Poir.) Bail.

July–Aug

Euphorbiaceae

Kinhariyu/Kalichini

Shrub

43.

Leea macrophylla Roxb. ex Hornem

July–Aug

Leeaceae

Motu Dhinu

Herb

44.

Limonia acidissima L.

Nov–March

Rutaceae

Kotha

Tree

45.

Madhuca indica Gmel.

March–July

Sapotaceae

Mahuda

Tree

46.

Manilkara hexandra Dub.

April–May

Sapotaceae

Rayan

Tree

47.

Momordica dioica Roxb.

July–Sept

Cucurbitaceae

Kantola/Kotno/Kankoda

Climber

48.

Moringa concanensis Nimmo.

Sept–Feb

Moringaceae

Hengvo

Tree

49.

Moringa oleifera Lamk.

Oct–Mar

Moringaceae

Saragvo

Tree

50.

Phoenix sylvestris (L.) Roxb.

Jan–June

Arecaceae

Khajuri

Tree

51.

Phyllanthus emblica L.

Oct–Feb

Euphorbiaceae

Ambli/amla

Tree

52.

Pueraria tuberosa (Roxb.) DC.

All year

Fabaceae

Bohon

Twiner

53.

Schleichera oleosa Lour.

Feb–July

Sapindaceae

Kusum

Tree

54.

Solanum nigrum Linn.

June–Nov

Solanaceae

Nagadyu

Shrub

55.

Syzygium cumini (L.) Skeels

May–Sept

Myrtaceae

Jambu

Tree

56.

Tamarindus indica L.

Feb–July

Caesalpiniaceae

Katra (Khati ambli)

Tree

57.

Terminalia bellirica (Gaertn.) Roxb.

Jan–May

Combretaceae

Behado

Tree

58.

Tinospora glabra (Burm.f.)

Jan–May

Menispermiaceae

Kamboli

Creeper

59.

Wrightia tinctoria (Roxb.) R. Br.

March–June

Apocynaceae

Safed Kuvad/Dudh Kuvad

Tree

60.

Zizyphus mauritiana Lam.

Jan–March

Rhamnaceae

Bor

Tree

Table 3

Wild edible plants from Table 1 that were also reported in the GSFDC list as NWFP collection. Prices are mentioned in INR/kg and INR per quintal

Sr. No.

Botanical names

Family/sub family

Vasavi name

Plant type

Plant parts

INR/kg

INR/q

1.

Achyranthes aspera L.

Amaranthaceae

Arpchinjudo

Shrub

Leaves

10

1000

2.

Aegle marmelos (L.) Corr.

Rutaceae

Bila (Bili)

Tree

Fruit

12

1200

3.

Asparagus racemosus Willd.

Liliaceae

Shatavari

Shrub

Tuberous root

200

20,000

4.

Azadirachta indica A. Juss.

Meliaceae

Limdo

Tree

Flower and fruit

  

5.

Bambusa arundinacea (Retz.) Willd.

Poaceae

Vans

Tree

Young shoot

20

2000

6.

Boerhavia diffusa L.

Nyctaginaceae

Dhagarphodiyu/Patharphodiyu

Herb

Leaf and tender stem

60

6000

7.

Cassia tora L.

Fabaceae

Chinjudo

Shrub

Seeds

20

2000

7.

Cassia tora L.

Fabaceae

Chinjudo

Shrub

Pods

5

500

8.

Chlorophytum tuberosum (Roxb.) Baker

Liliaceae

Dholi musli/Kuvli

Herb

Tuberous root grade 1

600

60,000

8.

Chlorophytum tuberosum (Roxb.) Baker

Liliaceae

Dholi musli/Kuvli

Herb

Tuberous root grade 2

350

35,000

9.

Enicostema littorale Bl.

Gentianaceae

Mamejavo/Kadvi Nai

Herb

Leaf

60

6000

10.

Holarhena antidysenterica (Heyne ex Roth) Wall.ex DC.

Apocynaceae

Kunvad

Shrub

Leaves

40

4000

11.

Limonia acidissima L.

Rutaceae

Kotha

Tree

Seed

30

3000

11.

Limonia acidissima L.

Rutaceae

Kotha

Tree

Fruit pulp

500

50,000

12.

Phyllanthus emblica L.

Euphorbiaceae

Ambli/amla

Tree

Seed

600

60,000

12.

Phyllanthus emblica L.

Euphorbiaceae

Ambli/amla

Tree

Fruit pulp

28

2800

13.

Syzygium cumini (L.) Skeels

Myrtaceae

Jambu

Tree

Fruit

10

1000

14.

Terminalia bellirica (Gaertn.) Roxb.

Combretaceae

Behado

Tree

Bark pulp

38

3800

14.

Terminalia bellirica (Gaertn.) Roxb.

Combretaceae

Behado

Tree

Whole fruit

4

400

14.

Terminalia bellirica (Gaertn.) Roxb.

Combretaceae

Behado

Tree

Seed

30

3000

15.

Tinospora glabra (Burm.f.)

Menispermiaceae

Kamboli

Creeper

Stem

20

2000

Abbreviations: NWFP non-wood forest product, INR Indian rupee, kg kilogram, q quintal

Figure 4 represents the Euler proportional distribution [51] for the locations of collection. The largest number of species (37) was collected from village habitats only, followed by the groups only collected from forest habitats (20 spp.), and from both village and forest habitats (20 spp.). Six species were collected only from swamp habitats, while two species were collected from both villages and swamp habitats. Five species showed no habitat preference, collected at all three location groups. Three of these species were from the genus Amaranthus, and one species each was from genera Commelina and Ipomea.
Fig. 4
Fig. 4

Euler’s proportional distribution representing the number of species found in each habitat category

Different habitats were preferred for collection at different times of the year. Village habitats were extensively used during the months of March and July (Fig. 5). These periods are marked, respectively, with the onset of summer and the beginning of the Kharif cropping season. Forests were most utilized in August (9 spp.) and least utilized in December, the latter of which coincides with dry winter and was generally the least active month for collection across all habitats. Swamps were used more regularly across the year, with 5–6 species collected at any given time.
Fig. 5
Fig. 5

Collection patterns by habitat overlaid with monthly precipitation

A large number of tree species were collected from village habitats between January and June, while more herb species were collected from June to December (Fig. 6). The number of tree species collected from forest habitats was relatively constant across seasons, whereas collection of herb and shrub species in forests was more frequent between June and September. The numbers of herb, shrub, and climber species from swamp habitats remained constant throughout the year. For species collected from both villages and forests, collection of shrub species increased between May and December, while tree species were mainly collected from January to July. Across all habitats, the collection of herb species increased during the months of May to September.
Fig. 6
Fig. 6

Collection patterns by habitat and plant type

Seasonal consumption patterns for each plant part are shown in Fig. 7. Twenty species of leafy vegetables were collected during the monsoon season of June to September, while seeds and fruits were collected, probably to supplement the diet during the dry and hot summer period, between February and May.
Fig. 7
Fig. 7

Collection patterns by plant part utilization overlaid with monthly precipitation

Of the species originating from village habitats, leafy species dominate from June to November (Fig. 8). In contrast, more fruits and seeds were utilized during the dry period of January to May. Utilization of forests as a source of leafy vegetables was negligible; species collected for multiple parts dominated these habitats, followed by fruits and seeds mainly collected from January to May. The number of leafy species harvested from both village and forest habitats was highest from June to October. No tubers were exclusively sourced from forests; they were rather collected from combined village and forest habitats. Young shoots were collected from forest habitats from July to October and then from village habitats from January to May. Across all habitats, the number of leafy species collected increased between June and November.
Fig. 8
Fig. 8

Collection patterns by habitat and plant part utilization

The majority of fruits in the Vasavas’ diet were contributed by tree species (Table 4), while leafy vegetables were mostly sourced from herb and shrub species. Trees were mainly utilized as edible fruits or for multiple parts (refer to the “Categorization of species” section), shrubs for multiple parts, and herbs for leaves. The main sources of tubers were twiners, and edible flowers were mainly sourced from trees, shrubs, and herbs.
Table 4

Number of species by habit and plant part utilization

 

Tree

Shrub

Herb

Twiner

Climber

Total

Leaves

0

6

13

2

3

24

Flowers

2

2

2

0

0

6

Fruits

21

2

0

1

2

26

Tubers

0

1

2

5

0

8

Young shoot

1

1

1

0

2

5

Multiple parts

12

3

2

1

1

19

Total

36

15

20

9

8

 

As previously mentioned, village group discussions were open-ended, guided towards conversations about the consumption patterns of wild edibles past and present. When asked whether consumption and utilization of wild edibles had increased, decreased, or remained unchanged since as distant a past as they could remember, all respondents unanimously stated that their consumption had decreased, a response subsequently repeated in the expert interviews as well. Participants in group discussions highlighted several reasons for this change, for example the inability of children to identify species and participate in their collection, and their preference for cultivated vegetables. Comments were also made that the availability of certain species had decreased in their respective habitats, and thus, villagers would need to travel further into the forest to collect a sufficient amount.

These answers were then used to design a section of the questionnaire for the expert interviews, in which they were asked to rank pairwise the predefined reasons for decreased consumption of wild edibles. The most common reason, ranked on the total score of 7 respondents, was decreased availability, followed by a change in food preferences and the lack of the knowledge needed to identify species (Table 5). The respondents also indicated that there was an increasing preference for cultivated edibles amongst the younger generation, who have insufficient time to go out and collect wild edibles, due to their work and household commitments. The lowest ranked reason was a reduced requirement for a safety net for times of need, such as famines and financial shortfalls.
Table 5

Pairwise ranking for the cause of decreased consumption of wild edibles

Reasons for decreased consumption of edible wilds

V1

V2

V3

V4

V5

V6

V7

Total score

Rank

Decreased availability in wild

3

4

3

4

3

4

2

23

1

Change in food preference

1

3

1

3

5

2

4

19

2

Lack of knowledge of identifying edible vegetables

2

2

3

4

2

2

3

18

3

More preference to cultivated vegetables

3

3

3

2

2

1

3

17

4

No time to collect

4

0

3

1

3

3

2

16

5

Less desperate need or famine situation

2

2

2

1

0

3

1

11

6

Abbreviation village: V1 Bondiservan, V2 Vadhwa, V3 Khudardi, V4 Khokhraumar, V5 Zadoli, V6 Khairdipada, V7 Jamni

Discussion

All-year sustenance from wild edibles

In this research, 90 species of wild edibles from 46 botanical families were identified as used by the Vasavas in Dediapada Taluka. This is a high number of species compared to other studies previously undertaken in India: 61 species from Maharashtra located near Gujarat [52] and 22 species from the deciduous forests of Chhattisgarh in Central India [53]. From the northeastern state of Manipur, there were reports of 32 wild edibles by Pfoze et al. [15] and 68 species by Thongam et al. [54]. As for leafy vegetable plants, 24 species were identified in the present study, which is comparable to 21 species reported from Uttarakhand by Misra et al. [2].

To compare our results to other parts of Asia, 45 WEP species were recorded from the Lesser Himalayas in Pakistan [23], 87 and 252 from Thailand [50], 90 from the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam [22], 54 and 81 from Tibetan communities of the eastern part of the Tibetan Plateau [55, 56], and 185 (including 126 species of wild vegetables) from the Chinese (Han) [57]. Zou et al. [58] recorded more, noting the use of 335 taxa of wild vegetables in 10 villages of Hunan, China, whereas Ghorbani et al. [59] recorded the use of 173 wild food plants from 485 informants of four ethnic groups of the Naban valley of Xishuangbanna (a tropical area of south China), the latter being very heterogeneous in terms of elevation, inhabitants, and vegetation. To sum up, the numbers of WEPs recorded in India, Pakistan, and on the Tibetan Plateau are comparable with our results, apart from parts of Thailand and China, where the local communities use much longer lists of WEPs. The numbers of wild foods recorded in the studied community are also similar to those found in the Mediterranean countries, e.g., 82 wild food species as reported by Dolina and Luczaj [60].

The species that have been the first reports from this area for their edible purpose are Ceropegia fantastica Sed and Clematis hedysarifolia DC.

The fact that wild vegetables are collected all year round (partly due to access to swampy habitats) is quite unique. In most of the papers dealing with wild foods, the times of gathering are usually mentioned as the “rainy season” [61] spring and early summer [57] or spring and autumn [62].

Anthropogenically managed habitats for wild edible collection

Anthropogenically managed habitats (e.g., villages, 37 spp.) were preferred to unmanaged habitats (e.g., forests, 20 spp.) for the collection of wild edibles (Fig. 4). This result is counter-intuitive given the term “wild,” which is more generally associated with unmanaged environments. A similar observation was made by Cruz-Garcia and Price [50] and Misra et al. [2], in whose research man-made agro-ecosystems were found to be an important source of wild edibles. Combined with the number of species collected from both forest and village habitats (20), a total of 57 species were collected from anthropogenically managed habitats; this suggests that conservation efforts for wild edibles should be extended beyond natural forests, as human-inhabited areas also constitute important habitats for the community. Their occurrence is intertwined with traditional crop cultivation, forming agro-ecosystems providing both cultivated and wild economic plants [7].

While tree species from forests were collected all year round, their collection from villages was largely limited to the first half of the year, when only households with irrigation facilities can cultivate crops (Fig. 6). These tree species, therefore, are thought to be a vital, and possibly the only, source of micronutrients for a large proportion of the Vasavas, especially during the hot and dry summer.

Swamps were shown to be important habitats for leafy vegetables throughout the year (Fig. 8). While a large number of species were sourced from these habitats during the monsoon and post-monsoon seasons, their availability in villages and forests was negligible during summer. Hence, the maintenance of swamps and water bodies is likely to be crucial for the year-round inclusion of wild leafy vegetables in the diet.

The role of wild edibles in dietary diversity

Boedecker et al. [16] showed that the consumption of wild edibles was significantly related to an increased level of dietary diversity, which, in turn, has been associated with nutritional quality and therefore is a useful indicator for food security [63, 64]. It is thus likely that the consumption of wild edibles would improve the nutritional status of the tribal population, who have limited access to anthropogenically produced plants. In the present case, the largest number of species belonged to fruits category, followed by leafy vegetables (Table 1). This finding suggests that the Vasavas enjoy a diverse supply of micronutrients, as many of them are abundant in plants that come under these two categories [14].

A FAO case study carried out in Gujarat reported that, for the Bhil tribe, wild foods contributed 30% of total energy intake for children and 24% for pregnant women. Furthermore, 41% (39 of 95 items) of their foods were collected from uncultivated sources, showing a high dependence on wild edibles for both energy and micronutrients [48]. While a detailed nutritional investigation is beyond the remit of the present study, the above results indicated that the Vasavas are highly dependent on wild edibles as well, especially for micronutrients from fruits and leafy vegetables.

Wild leafy vegetables are an important source of carotenoids, including vitamin A [65]. Provided the leaves are consumed with fats, they can provide a year-round supply of vitamin A, as is the case of this tribe, where it is noted that they consume leafy vegetables that are stir-fried in vegetable oil [66].

Healthcare implications

A comparative analysis between the present data and a previous ethnobotanical investigation focusing on medicinal plant usage (Table 2) revealed that 67% of edible species could also be used for medicinal purposes. This shows a great overlap of the food and healthcare functions of wild plants, as has been reported elsewhere [22, 53]. Although it is difficult to quantify the health impact associated with the regular consumption of medicinal wild edibles, their inclusion in the daily diet at least ensures the maintenance of traditional medicinal knowledge through continued usage. The level of traditional medical knowledge has been rapidly declining in various parts of the world [6769]; in the case of India, where medical pluralism is a long-standing cultural phenomenon [70], wild plants offer an important alternative to modern allopathic healthcare options, which are expensive and less accessible in many rural areas [70].

A study of the adolescent tribal population from nine states in India, including Gujarat, reported that amongst tribal people, deficiency in micronutrients, such as vitamin A, iron, free folic acid, and riboflavin, was more severe than that in energy and protein [71]. The same trend was also observed on the study site by a local allopathic doctor, who attested that vitamin B and iron deficiency (including genetic sickle cell anemia) were extremely common in the region. Given that leafy vegetables are widely recognized as a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin B complex, and iron and that cultivated greens as well as meat and dairy products are limited in the local market, wild leafy vegetables are a crucial source of these micronutrients [65]. A similar argument also holds for wild fruits, which are considered to be a good source of micronutrients and fibers, as nutritional studies of indigenous food from Jharkhand, India, indicate [72, 73]. Considering the relatively low cost associated with the acquisition of wild edibles compared to foods of equal nutritional value available on the commercial market, encouraging their continued consumption is likely to be a reasonable choice.

Decreased consumption

It was found that the primary reasons for decreased consumption of wild edibles were their decreased availability, changes in food preferences, and a lack of the knowledge needed to identify edible species (Table 2). The second and third reasons are somewhat interrelated, as changes in food preferences over a prolonged period of time may have exacerbated the lack of knowledge of species which are no longer familiar. Similar situations have been reported in the literature, where formal schooling [74] and lack of access to forests [67] led to a decline in traditional ecological knowledge and individual knowledge of medicinal plants.

The primary reason behind the preference for cultivated vegetables is thought to be a gradual shift in diet. For example, young children attending a school outside their village become acquainted with wheat and cultivated vegetables and at the same time have fewer opportunities to visit forests with those who can share their knowledge of edible (and medicinal) plants. This trend may potentially be reversed by, amongst other methods, maintaining children’s contacts with wild edibles when they return home for holidays and modifying the education curriculum to cover more knowledge from within the region [75, 76].

Unlike other studies reporting “stigma” against wild edibles amongst tribal people in India [69], such a perception was not observed during the present study. The results from the expert interviews indicate that the Vasavas do not generally collect wild edibles as an economic safety net, the leading mechanism to produce “stigma” [69]; instead, the most cited reason for the decreased consumption of wild edibles was simply decreased availability. It is interesting to note that, while most families in the study region are still engaging in collection, most respondents at both the village group discussions and the expert interviews expressed the view that the overall consumption had significantly decreased. A similar finding was also reported from the Nanda Devi biosphere reserve in India by Misra et al. [2]. This phenomenon warrants further analysis, possibly through quantitative evaluation of biomass availability across habitats and seasons.

Promotion of wild edibles

Reyes-Garcia et al. reported that association of “cultural ecosystem services and values” explains the change in consumption patterns of wild edibles and that there had been a revival of certain wild species that were associated with “traditional” foods [68]. In other words, gastronomic culture could help maintain the consumption of certain wild edible plants. This is an important point to consider at the designing stage of intervention programs for conservation of traditional knowledge or dietary diversity. Associating cultural identity with wild edibles will likely maintain the familiarity of these plants and, by extension, promote their usage amongst younger generations. Examples of these efforts include community-based activities, such as recipe competitions and food tasting at village fairs, or workshops at schools and social gatherings.

Conclusion

The present study has demonstrated that the Vasava tribe’s collective knowledge of wild edibles is vast and, more importantly, significantly contributes to dietary diversity throughout the year. The finding of the present study, namely that anthropologically managed habitats were preferred over natural environments for the collection of wild edibles, suggests that conservation efforts should be extended to village landscapes in addition to human-uninhabited landscapes. Of a wide range of wild edibles, tree species are likely playing an especially important role in the acquisition of micronutrients, as they can provide sustenance throughout the dry period. While there is no doubt that inclusion of these species in future development planning is important, pathways to ensure the spontaneous consumption of wild edibles need to be further developed at the same time. Continued consumption will likely maintain knowledge within the community and, through a spillover effect, along with the medicinal and industrial values attached to the species.

Abbreviations

FAO: 

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

GSFDC: 

Gujarat State Forest Development Corporation

NWFP: 

Non-wood forest products

WEP: 

Wild edible plants

Declarations

Acknowledgements

We would like to extend our deep gratitude to Mr. Francis Mcwan, Mr. Himmat Chauhan, and Fr. John for their help in managing field logistics. We would like to thank Mr. Ruchir Purohit for his help in editing the map image. We also express our deep gratitude to all the respondents of this study for taking time for our interviews and sharing their knowledge.

Funding

The field study was funded by Japan Society for the Promotion of Science grant-in-aid (15H05244). The publication fee was funded by the Faculty of Biotechnology of the University of Rzeszów.

Availability of data and materials

A structured and organized version of the data is available from the first author upon reasonable request. Voucher specimens were deposited in the herbarium of The Serenity Library & Botanical Garden, Botany outreach, Plot no. 96/12, of Koteshwar village, Motera, Gandhinagar, Gujarat, 380005, India.

Authors’ contributions

SC, KO, and TT designed the research. SC, YS, and DL carried out the field study. SC analyzed the data. SC led the writing of the manuscript, with KO, TT, and LL contributing critically to draft versions. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Ethics approval and consent to participate

The research was conducted in compliance with the Code of Ethics of the American Anthropological Association and the International Society of Ethnobiology Code of Ethics 76. Oral prior informed consent was acquired before all interviews. No ethical committee permits were required.

Consent for publication

Not applicable.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Publisher’s Note

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Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
Department of Global Agriculture Sciences, Graduate School of Agriculture and Life Sciences, The University of Tokyo, Tokyo 1138657, Japan
(2)
The Serenity Library & Botanical Garden, Botany outreach, Plot no. 96/12, of Koteshwar village, Motera, Gandhinagar, Gujarat, 380005, India
(3)
Bristol Veterinary School, University of Bristol, Langford, Somerset, BS40 5DU, UK
(4)
Sustainable Agriculture Sciences Department, Rothamsted Research, Okehampton, Devon, EX20 2SB, UK
(5)
Department of Botany, Faculty of Biotechnology, University of Rzeszów, Zelwerowicza 8B, 35-601 Rzeszów, Poland
(6)
Department of Biology, St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India

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