Wildfoods in Spain

A guide to food in Spain – A


See also wild mushrooms in Spain

Traditional knowledge of wild edible plants used in the NW Iberian Peninsula

This excellent article from Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine looks at the Traditional knowledge of wild edible plants used in NW Spain and its decline, from which I quote:

Many of the reported uses exist only in the collective memory of the elderly. Most wild fruits, bulbs or flowers mentioned were consumed by children or shepherds as snacks or for amusement on the way to school, or when tending livestock. Some people still pick them on walks to relive the flavours of their childhood. Food is a very conservative aspect of culture but the erosion on the use and knowledge about wild food plants is higher than that of allotment food plants. The decline in wild food gathering appears to be due to negative connotations, i.e., association with times of scarcity, especially during and after the Civil War (1936–1939). Interestingly, a saying in Piloña – “esi comió berros” (S/he ate Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum) – refers to the starving. By contrast, wild berries and herbs are still used to make homemade jams (e.g. Sambucus nigra, Rubus ulmifolius and Vaccinium myrtillus), desserts and spirits (e.g. Prunus spinosa, Sideritis hyssopifolia) for sale as quality local produce.”

The article concludes:

“Our comparison indicates that patterns of wild edible plant usage appear to depend mainly on socio-cultural factors rather than biological ones such as climate or richness of the wild edible flora. Availability of running water, free time to tend allotments, better communications and information exchange, direct contact with nature in everyday life, cultural values, fads and taste preferences are some of the factors that explain why wild plants are either consumed or rejected.

There is a clear preference for wild edible fruits that are consumed raw or used to make jams and liqueurs. By contrast, people in most of the study areas reject many available wild vegetables.

Some wild species are still gathered, including plants historically consumed in all areas with a high number of URs. They are the most important species in each use-category (fruits, vegetables, infusions or liqueurs), grow in all the survey sites and if not easily available from the wild, they are often cultivated. These “key plants” represent the core wild food flora. Many wild edible plants are regarded as famine food and are no longer gathered. In rural Spain and Portugal they are often considered to be old fashioned, unprofitable, or too time-consuming, cultivated plants or bought food being consumed in preference.

Radical changes in the way of life of rural people in Spain and Portugal have severely eroded knowledge and customs relating to the exploitation and management of most wild resources.

New trends relating to these resources can be traced in other Mediterranean countries, and the social significance and meaning of some are being reinterpreted. Although in general terms wild edible plants often have a stigma attached to them, being regarded as poor people’s food, some are increasingly popular as delicacies, local specialities, gourmet food and local food that reflects regional identity. For example, both demand and supply are increasing in the cases of Asparagus acutifolius in many European regions, Muscari comosum in Italy and Sideritis hyssopifolia in Cantabria

Movements such as Slow Food and chefs’ interest in offering new flavours and dishes can play a crucial role in boosting the social importance of such resources. Moreover, the way local people perceive and use their resources plays an important role in their conservation. Changes can lead to unpredictable consequences to their sustainable development.”

Traditional food stuff ; Food habit ; Edible species ;Ethnobotany Spain ; Wild plant, food gathering

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