.The transformation of human societies from hunting and gathering to farming – the Neolithic Revolution – resulted in crop cultivation as the first expression of agriculture. Dating back to between 10,000BC and 2000BC, this transition involved collection of seeds, planting and cultivating wild grains. In fact, the Mediterranean region was one of the areas in which crops were first domesticated from their crop wild relatives.
Traditionally, domesticated crops followed results of actions of man and nature, by which a variety with more desirable characteristics is selected for propagation. Together with natural selection (environmental conditions and soil type), the result is development of crop landraces. Hence, a crop wild relative is a wild plant, closely related to a domesticated plant, either direct wild ancestor or belonging to a closely related species. Wild relatives of crop plants provide a very important resource to maintain agricultural production and improve agro-ecosystems.
In the Maltese Islands, we have various examples of wild plants. One which appears during springtime is the Wild Asparagus (Spraġġ Xewwieki, Asparagus aphyllus), which is closely related to the cultivated Garden Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis). The young shoots of the local wild asparagus are used as a spring vegetable, and may be eaten raw or cooked. Both the wild and cultivated plants are perennials, providing a good source of protein and dietary fibre.
Another common wild plant is that of the Wild Carrot (Zunnarija Salvaġġa, Daucus carota), which often flowers during springtime. This very common indigenous wild plant has pinnate leaves, very similar to that of the domesticated carrot (Daucus carota subs. sativus). Even the wild carrot roots are edible when young, however they soon become woody-texture and no longer palatable. Springtime in Malta is also characterised by the blooming of the Hairy Garlic (Tewm Muswaf, Allium subhirsutum), a wild derivative of the garlic (Allium sativum). In the Maltese Islands alone, there are about 16 different species of Allium, but the Hairy Garlic is amongst the most common. This wild plant with small white flowers prefers moist rocky places. The kitchen of The Cliffs uses wild garlic flowers as garnish, adding a garlic punch to food dishes. Other wild relatives of the onion are the Wild Leek (Kurrat tax-Xatt, Allium commutatum) and the Maltese Leek (Allium melitense), often visible in late spring.
Cruciferous vegetables (Brassica spp.) include various types of vegetables cultivated for food production such as cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, rocket and similar green-leafy vegetables. Wild flora of cultivated cruciferous vegetables include those of the Field mustard/Wild Turnip (Liftija, Brassica rapa subs. sylvestris), Perennial Wall Rocket (Ġarġir Isfar, Diplotaxis tenuifolia,), Rapeseed (Nevew, Brassoca napus subs. oleifera), Wild Beet (Selq, Beta vulgaris subs. vulgaris) and Wild Cabbage (Kaboċċa, Salvaġġa, Brassica oleracea), with many of these plants have edible leaves.
Understanding the presence of crop wild relatives in the Maltese Islands, helps to increase an appreciation of the intricate links between the environment and agricultural practices. To gain more knowledge on edible wild plants, join us in one of our free eco-walks.