Wild edible plant knowledge, distribution and transmission: a case study of the Achí Mayans of Guatemala

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Knowledge about wild edible plants (WEPs) has a high direct-use value. Yet, little is known about factors shaping the distribution and transfer of knowledge of WEPs at global level and there is concern that use of and knowledge about WEPs is decreasing. This study aimed to investigate the distribution, transmission and loss of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) concerning WEPs used by a Mayan community of Guatemala and to enumerate such plants.


The case study was carried out in a semi-isolated community where part of the population took refuge in the mountains in 1982–1985 with WEPs as the main source of food. Major variables possibly determining knowledge and therefore investigated were socio-demographic characteristics, distance to and abundance of natural resources and main source of knowledge transmission. A reference list of species was prepared with the help of three key informants. Information about the theoretical dimension of knowledge was gathered through free listing and a questionnaire survey, while practical skills were assessed using a plant identification test with photographs. All villagers older than 7 years participated in the research (n = 62 including key informants).


A total of 44 WEPs were recorded. Theoretical knowledge was unevenly distributed among the population, and a small group including very few informants (n = 3) mentioned, on average, three times more plants than the rest of the population during the free listing. Practical knowledge was more homogeneously distributed, key informants recognising 23 plants on average and the rest of the population 17. Theoretical and practical knowledge increased with age, the latter decreasing in the late phases of life. Knowledge about WEPs was transmitted through relatives in 76% of the cases, which led to increased knowledge of plants and ability to recognise them.


The WEP survey may serve as a reference point and as a useful compilation of knowledge for the community for their current and future generations. This study shows that the elder and the refugees living in the area for longer time know more than others about WEPs. It also shows the important role of knowledge transmission through relatives to preserve TEK.
TidsskriftJournal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine
Antal sider17
StatusUdgivet - 2015

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