a1 Department of Nutrition, University of California, 1 Peter J. Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616, USA
a2 Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Rural Development Studies, Box 7005, SE-750 07, Uppsala, Sweden
The importance of edible wild plants may be traced to antiquity but systematic studies are recent. Anthropologists, botanists, ecologists, food scientists, geographers, nutritionists, physicians and sociologists have investigated cultural aspects and nutrient composition of edible species. Important contributions to the diet from edible wild plants are well documented and numerous studies reveal roles played by ‘lesser-known’ species when meeting macro- and micronutrient needs of groups at risk, whether infants and children, pregnant and/or lactating women, or the elderly. The literature is vast and scattered but information on the macro- and micronutrient content of wild plants and their importance to the human diet appear in five kinds of publications: cultural works by social scientists, descriptions and inventories by botanists, dietary assessment studies by nutritionists, intervention programmes managed by epidemiologists and physicians, and composition data generally conducted by food scientists and chemists. Many macro- and micronutrient-dense wild species deserve greater attention but lack of adequate nutrient databases, whether by region or nation, limit educational efforts to improve diets in many Third World areas. Limited and uneven compositional data generally reflect factors of cost and personal interest in key nutrients. Whilst edible wild plants are regularly deprecated by policy makers and considered to be the ‘weeds of agriculture’, it would be tragic if this led to loss of ability to identify and consume these important available species.