Food plants consumed by the Salvadoran population

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The Universidad Salvadoreña Alberto Masferrer (USAM) has developed nationwide various surveys and interviews about the ethnobotanic and ethnomedical knowledge possessed by the Salvadoran population. This led to the preparation of a list of medicinal, antiparasitic plants and in this case to the preparation of a list of food plants.

These efforts contribute to standardization in the identification and description of species with various potentials in order to provide responses to current problems arising from climate change, oil price fluctuation, population growth and loss of Floristic biodiversity.

Identify and rescue food species of traditional use by the population.

Nutritional values, food safety and safety of these species have not been scientifically documented. It is therefore also intended to contribute to the economic growth of the national agricultural sector by providing them with the information necessary to improve their competitiveness in the international market.

A total of 16 species of plants that are considered promising for processing into products that facilitate availability and consumption have been selected from the country-wide data. Here’s the list.

Along with this research, it was possible to denote the reasons people have for consuming food plants. These are the following:

For nutrition, for good taste, for custom and for accessibility.

The population is supplied with food plants in Home Gardens, crops, markets and supermarkets. It is important to inform people about this type of species so that they foster a culture of good food and also inspire people to know the nutritional values of everything they consume.

The pickle is also a very important nutritional plant.

An intense socio-economic activity is developed around popular natural medicine, based on the cultivation or collection, processing and marketing of plants considered to be of therapeutic value. In several places, mainly in popular markets, variable quantities of plants are sold, prescribed by healers or simply for self-medication. There are also traders called ‘speciers’ or ‘suchileros’, who sell medicinal plants and medicines of animal or other origin. Although this process has not been quantified or documented, it is an important part of El Salvador’s informal economy. A study carried out by Ramírez (1992) indicates that of 553,162 inhabitants that had San Salvador (capital) in 1990, 182,543 used medicinal plants at a rate of 1.56 kg per capita (284,767 kg in total); however, the use of popular medicine is considered to be stronger in rural areas.

González (1994) identified 476 species of plants used as a botanical medicine, belonging to 134 families. Of the total, 345 plants are native and 131 are exotic (naturalized, non-naturalized and imported), and are used to treat a total of 224 health problems. Of the 40 species most used and accepted for their effectiveness, at least 21 are native.

In the country there are at least eight companies that process vegetable products to produce essential oils or extracts for the manufacture of medicines, from raw material grown. One of them reports the production of 2,500 pounds of Balsam extract, over a period of six months.

El Salvador’s National Biodiversity Strategy (1999, unpublished) identifies 109 species (of 44 Botanical families) of native plants that produce fruits or possess parts that are used as food. Of these, about 19 plants are cultivated, while the rest come from wild areas and forests. Among them, the ojushte (Brosimum allicastrum), whose fruit is used to produce flour to make tortillas (it has been used as a substitute for maize); the petal flower (Erythrina berteroana) has a wide consumption in the country and seems to be deeply rooted among the Salvadoran population abroad (more than two million), used in the elaboration of pupusas (traditional tortilla of El Salvador) and as condiment in the beans.

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