Thursday, November 6, 2014

What Do You Know About the Wild?

            Bright and early on a Wednesday morning, we begin our survey through the town of San Vito, one of two towns in which we would be conducting research. Our fearless leader, Luis, guides us to our first house. We are armed with our clipboards, surveys, and oral consent forms. Standing outside the first house, we call out for the residents to come to the gate: “Buenas!” “Ope!” But no one responds. So we continue on. At some houses, residents would respond to our calls and answer our surveys; and at others, either they chose to not respond or were not there.
            Our investigation sought to find out how the local knowledge of wild edible plants related to other demographic factors. We were particularly interested to see if age, gender, years of schooling, or years of residence affected the participants’ knowledge. To test this, we had just a few survey questions for each participant who responded to our calls at their gates. But, first, most importantly, we asked for their consent to interview them for our research! Then, we asked for basic, non-identifying demographic information related to the factors we wanted to relate to knowledge. Next, we gave them a free-listing question, where they had the opportunity to list every wild edible plant they could remember. We wrote the words down in order. Yes, the order was important! The order gave us a measure of how important any particular item was to the person who listed it. These lists that we received from people ranged from only one plant to tens of plants. We had some interesting responses, some of which were unfamiliar and we had to later research. Meanwhile, other people sometimes listed more familiar plants, like in one case, a participant’s sole response was marijuana.
             We ultimately completed 75 interviews, in which a total of 135 distinct species of plants were listed. While there was little agreement between the various surveys’ plants listed and list order of those plants, the most highly agreed upon plant was lettuce. Closely followed, were zorrillo, culantro, platano, and yuca. Below is a picture of zorrillo—a plant medicinally used to treat rheumatism. Our research results demonstrated that knowledge had a positive correlation with age; so, the older that someone was, the more likely they would be to list more wild edible plants. Interestingly, we think this is related to many of the usual reasons for things going out of style with age. For example, there no longer exists a strong necessity in these communities to rely heavily on wild plants. Therefore, those that were most commonly listed were ones that were used with more frequency, four of the five of which were used regularly in cooking. Second, we found that the stigma surround wild plant foraging could have reduced cultural knowledge of wild edible plants. In past generations, foraging for plants was a necessity for survival. However, today, it is associated with poverty. Therefore, less people actively choose to take full advantage of those plants which can be found in the forest. This, we believe, has affected the level of shared knowledge of wild edible plants, as a whole, in the towns of San Vito and Agua Buena. Overall, this study made me think of how I might feel in the situation of the participants. If someone were to come to my door and ask me to name wild edible plants in my area, off the top of my head, I don’t know whether I could name one that wasn’t an herb or vegetable I used in the kitchen. Ruminating on this, I decided to look up native edible plants in the mid-Atlantic United States. And now, I ask you: Can you list the wild edible plants in your area?


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