Photo: Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT / Biodiversity for Food and Nutrition / A.Tan and N. Adanacioglu
Visit any of Turkey's regions and you will find diverse plants growing in uncultivated areas such as wetlands and woodlands: wild fennel, catbriers, golden thistle, and knotgrass, to name just a few.
These plants have been the subject of ethnographic studies, generally for their medicinal qualities, as far back as 40CE (when a Greek botanist documented their role in Anatolian folk medicine). But although they also have numerous culinary uses (for example in stews, salads, and savory pastries), little data has existed on their high nutrient content—until recently.
Food Composition Analysis
Researchers from the Alliance's Biodiversity for Food and Nutrition Project (2012-19) collaborated with national research centers to identify 39 wild edible plant species that are viable for foraging, consumption, and potential sale in markets. Samples of these plants were collected and either stored or transported for laboratory analysis. In a recent article published in Sustainability, the authors report:
"Most wild food plants are excellent sources of minerals, particularly iron, zinc, calcium, and phosphorus…the findings clearly highlight their nutritional value."
With this evidence added to both FAO's (INFOODS) and Turkey's food composition (Türkomp) databases, research partners have been able to demonstrate the link between local biodiversity and food and nutrition security to a policy platform including the Turkish ministries of health, agriculture, environment, and education, and include biodiversity conservation into several policy action plans.
Wild Plants for Younger Generations
Across the regions, the interviewed consumers of wild plants (who were usually collectors themselves) were generally about 50 years of age with only primary education and employment in agriculture. The researchers recognize that although collecting nutrition data can validate the consumption of wild plants, youth engagement is the next step for raising awareness and ensuring that foraging traditions do not disappear over time.
Green vocational training for student chefs, school programs, and cultural festivals are all platforms that research partners have tapped into with the aim of reaching out to young people. Another product, years in the making, is a forthcoming recipe book that will show different ways to prepare the plants studied.