Research Articles Wild, Edible, and Nutritious! Research and recipes reveal the benefits of regional Turkish plants

In Türkiye, wild plants have historically been part of local culture and cuisine, but less so in recent years. By conducting food composition analysis of plants found in five diverse regions, researchers have documented the nutrition value of these species, proving their importance in diets and reasons to conserve them.

Visit any of Türkiye’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 the journal MDPI, 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.”

Figure 1. Variation in iron (Fe) concentration in selected WFP compared to spinach. Quantities are expressed as mg per 100 g of fresh weight (FW). a. knotgrass (P. cognatum); b. watercress (N. officinale); c. Elm-leaved sumach (Rhus coriaria); d. purple salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius); e. berberis (Berberis crataegina); f. chicory (Cichorium intybus); g. spinach (Spinacia oleracea).

Figure 2. Health promoting phenolic compounds determined in a. foxtail lily (E. spectabilis); b. golden thistle (S. hispanicus); c. fennel (F. vulgare); d. watercress (N. officinale); e. sorrel (R. acetosella); and f. curly dock (Rumex crispus).

With this evidence added to both FAO’s (INFOODS) and Türkiye’s (Türkomp) food composition 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 a primary education and employment in agriculture. The researchers recognize that although collecting nutrition data can validate 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.

Example from the forthcoming recipe book: Golden Thistle has many uses (also depicted in this story's banner image). 

"Our horizons have broadened as a result of this project. We have seen the plants and herbs we studied in their natural environment, collected them with our own hands and turned them into a meal. I believe the project will have lasting effects on our professional life.”

- Ahmet Sezer Şanlioğlu, Halim Foçali student, cited in Biodiversity, Food and Nutrition