The aim of the study was to investigate knowledge and use of wild food plants and fungi in a highland valley in the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Region on the north-eastern edges of the Tibetan Plateau.
Field research was carried out in four neighbouring villages in a mountain valley of the Diebu (Tewo) county, surrounded by spruce forests. The study consisted of 30 interviews with single informants, or group interviews (altogether 63 informants). Apart from collecting voucher specimens, we also identified fungi using DNA barcoding.
We recorded the use of 54 species of vascular plants. We also recorded the use of 22 mushroom taxa, which made up the largest category of wild foods. Fruits formed the largest category of food plants, with 21 species, larger than the wild greens category, which consisted of 20 species eaten after boiling or frying and 7 as raw snacks. We also recorded the alimentary use of 10 species of edible flowers and 3 species with underground edible organs. On average, 20.8 edible taxa were listed per interview (median – 21). The most listed category of wild foods was green vegetables (mean – 7.5 species, median – 8 species), but fruits and mushrooms were listed nearly as frequently (mean – 6.3, median – 6 and mean – 5.8, − median 6 respectively). Other category lists were very short, e.g., flowers (mean – 1.3, median – 1) and underground edible parts (mean – 0.7, median – 1).
Wild vegetables are usually boiled and/or fried and served as side-dishes, or their green parts are eaten as snacks during mountain treks (e.g., peeled rhubarb shoots). Wild fruits are mainly collected by children and eaten raw, they are not stored for further use. The most widely used wild staple foods are Potetilla anserina roots, an important ceremonial food served on such occasions as New Year or at funerals. They are boiled and served with sugar and butter. The most important famine plants remembered by people are the aerial bulbils of Persicaria vivipara. Flowers are used as children’s snacks – their nectar is sucked.
The number of wild taxa eaten in the studied valley is similar to that of other Tibetan areas. The structure of wild food plant taxa is also very typical for Tibetan speaking areas (e.g., the use of rhubarb shoots, Potentilla anserina, Persicaria vivipara). The studied community show a high level of mycophilia.