Wild vegetables key to life-prolonging Mediterranean diet

Eating wild food plants, native to countries in Southern Europe, helps people living in the Mediterranean to live longer and to have better health according to new research presented at the British Pharmaceutical Conference in Manchester today.

A European consortium of researchers from Local Food-Nutraceuticals, led by pharmaceutical scientists from the University of London, documented and analysed 127 locally consumed wild or semi-wild plants in three Mediterranean countries, Greece, Italy and Spain. They looked to see if the plants had any properties that are of benefit to aging-related disease, focusing in particular on chronic diseases of the heart and the brain using cellular models for antioxidant effect, or the inhibition of enzymes.

The researchers found many positive results. Reichardia picroides collected both from Southern Italy and Greece showed the highest antioxidant activity of the species from this region. Papaver rhoeas, a species collected in regions of Italy and Greece, also showed significant activity.

Professor Michael Heinrich from the Centre for Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy at The School of Pharmacy, University of London says, "Obviously vegetables, fruits, fish, garlic and olive oil are fundamental to the Mediterranean diet and its effect on health. But we have discovered the important benefits of previously unrecognised healthy local food plants."

The researchers found that the use of these plants differed from one village to the next. "It is important to document this traditional knowledge before it disappears, which is sadly happening very fast," Professor Heinrich says.

Professor Heinrich added that he could envisage that one of the plants the group has identified may become a new rucola, or rocket as it is more commonly known. "A few year's ago no-one had heard of rocket, but then tastes changed and in a short period of time it became a best-seller. Some of the plants that we tested could become a food specialty in the UK in the future," he said.

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