Public Health Nutrition

Research Paper

Perceived health and medicinal properties of six species of wild edible plants in north-east Lebanon

Zeinab Jeambeya1, Timothy Johnsa1a2, Salma Talhouka3 and Malek Batala4 c1

a1 School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, McGill University, Montreal, Québec, Canada

a2 Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment (CINE), McGill University, Montreal, Québec, Canada

a3 Department of Plant Sciences and IBSAR Center for Biodiversity, American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon

a4 Nutrition Program, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Ottawa, 43 Templeton, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1N 6X1

Abstract

Objectives Wild edible plants (WEP) play the dual role of securing food diversity and promoting health in traditional societies. Current simplified dietary habits contribute to increasing population health risks. Since WEP are integral to the diet of traditional communities, identifying their significance as foods to people provides further evidence to conserve them and promote their consumption. Six species of WEP were identified as integral to the diet of rural Lebanese communities. We investigated their patterns of consumption and knowledge regarding their health and medicinal properties.

Design An ethnobotanical survey, employing a qualitative questionnaire, was conducted among thirty informants. The identified species were Cichorium intybus, Eryngium creticum, Foeniculum vulgare, Malva sylvestris, Thymus syriacus and Gundelia tournifortii.

Results Most informants consumed the six plants as a regular part of their diet. Seasonal variability in consumption was evident. C. intybus was renowned for its digestive and blood strengthening properties. F. vulgare was used as a digestive stimulant. M. sylvestris was distinguished for its anti-inflammatory qualities. T. syriacus was popular for its digestive and anti-poisonous properties. E. creticum was attributed less pronounced health benefits. G. tournifortii was considered a nutritious food.

Conclusions All six species were popular for their edible uses as well as their health and/or medicinal benefits. These properties are supported by scientific evidence. Our results highlight the importance of these plants for local people and support efforts for their conservation. However, we noticed a decline in indigenous knowledge. We encourage efforts to record it for other plants and in other communities.

(Received November 09 2007)

(Accepted December 07 2008)

Correspondence

c1 Corresponding author: Email malek.batal@uottawa.ca

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