The knowledge of ethno-botany is much older than the history of civilization.  By a trial and error process, the pre-historic people identified some useful food and other important plants around the areas where they lived. But, information on ethno-botany is very scanty and the study of ethno-botany is in itself very recent. The study of ethno-botany can play a vital role in both scientific and socio-cultural studies. India is well known for its wealth of ethno-botany. Even today, people are living amidst vegetation and depending on plants for their needs and livelihood. Only a few references are available for wild edible plants. Studies covering different parts of India, and Tamilnadu in particular, are negligible.

A detailed study to explore the ethno-botanical food plants of Tamilnadu was undertaken during the survey of sacred groves of Tamilnadu.


During the survey of sacred groves, information about wild food plants used by the local people as the food was obtained from the villagers and vendors of such items. Information was also collected on the quantity gathered, parts used, and the method of preparation. Local plant name and their botanical names were identified from books.

Many wild plants and their parts are used as food without much preparation, or in some cases after washing, cooking, or mixing with other edible produce.

The author has recorded a number of plants that find use as food during the course of his survey of sacred groves of the district. The information has been counterchecked with that available in other places. The author himself tasted most of the plants, which have been listed below.

  • Capper bush (Capparis zeylanica) Tamil name: Aathondai

It is a bushy armed shrub found growing in hedges. Both ripe and raw fruits are used as a vegetable in cooking). Sometimes the dried fruit is also used.

  • Wild greens (Portulaca oleracea) Tamil name: Mukkuli keerai

It is a succulent sub-erect herb with fleshy leaves, commonly found growing in fields and moist places. The leaves and succulent stems are used as a green vegetable.

  • Indian plum (Ziziphus mauritiana) Tamil name: Elandhai

It is a much-branched tree with stipular spines found growing on agricultural land, wasteland, and forest foothills. The fruits are of various sizes and tastes, which have now become a seasonal commercial fruit.

  • Jackal jujube (Ziziphus oenoplia) Tamil name : Soorai

It is a straggling shrub with prickles, found in dry tropical forests of India. The small fruits are brown to black when ripe and the seeds find use as an alternative for areca nut.

  • Prickly-pear (Opuntia dillenii) Tamil name: Sappathikalli

It is a low spreading bush found on the roadside and belongs to the cacti group of plants. The fruits are pear-shaped and green when young and deep reddish-purple when ripe. The ripe fruits with their sour and sweet taste are eaten by local native people.

  • Cuddapah almond (Buchanania lanzan) Tamil name: Saraparuppu

It is a tree commonly found in thick forests and along hill slopes. The fruits are eaten by the local people.

  • Indian black plum (Syzygium cumini Skeels) Tamil name: Naval

It is a medium-sized evergreen tree usually seen growing in the wild and on the temple and wastelands. The fruits that are edible are available in the market.

  • Wild bitter gourd (Momordica dioica Ex. Willd) Tamil name: Kattupagal

It is a common climbing shrub found in deciduous forests and also in the garden. The tender fruits are used as a vegetable.

  • Karanda (Carisa carandas) Tamil name : Perungkala

It is a spiny, shrub found throughout the drier parts of the country and gives edible fruits.


to be continued…


Source: Eco News, Vol.8, No.2 (July – September), 2002.

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