Folivory dissected

by Jeremy Cherfas on April 8, 2013

The greens tree: phylogenetic relationships among species whose leaves we eat. Taxon branches are shaded according to taxonomic order. Thanks to The Botanist in the Kitchen

Another tour de force from The Botanist in the Kitchen: why we eat the leaves that we do.

There’s a bunch of good stuff in this post with which to regale fellow diners, should you be that sort of dining companion, and lots with which to take issue too, if you’re feeling argumentative. Despite all the caveats, most of which she anticipates, Jeanne manages a rather startling bottom line:

At the family level, we see that the greens tree has 15 families, but that most of the greens regularly consumed in the Western world are from only five of the 415+ families of seed plants currently recognized: Amaranthaceae (goosefoot family), Apiaceae (the carrot family), Asteraceae (the sunflower family), Lamiaceae (the mints) and Brassicaceae (the mustard family).

How different is it for foodways not contaminated by Meditearranean ancestry?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeanne L. D. Osnas April 8, 2013 at 7:10 pm

Many thanks for the thoughtful review, Jeremy. I would love to know more about the plant species composition of regional diets around the globe. It would be amazing to put this information into a “master greens tree,” so we can evaluate the relative contributions to the greens tree of cultural history of plant use and the organismal and evolutionary biology of the plants themselves.

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Jay Bost April 9, 2013 at 12:42 am

What is the boundary of the ‘western world’ and those contamination by Meditearranean? Cause Mexico is pretty convincingly both! And there would need to be included Cucurbitaceae, Solanaceae, and Euphorbiaceae at least, though these all are indigenous influences into the western Meditearranean culture.. Can’t wait to check the post in detail!! Thanks!

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Jay Bost April 9, 2013 at 12:45 am

Portulacaceae too! Better not tell Hispanos in northern New Mexico that they are not western nor of Meditteranean stock!

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Jeremy Cherfas April 9, 2013 at 9:07 am

Not sure how I would organise data collection, but it seems that with all the ethnographic studies out there, plus Facciola’s Cornucopia, we have the beginnings of the dataset. Would need to add some kind of indicator for quantity in the diet, but I think it could be done.

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