(Screenshot from a webinar on PCAARRD's Facebook page on Oct. 21, 2021)

MANILA – With the goal of increasing the utilization of indigenous vegetables, the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) has announced the recently completed project that documented over a hundred indigenous vegetables from 20 provinces.

A team of researchers from the University of the Philippines - Los Baños (UPLB) conducted focused group discussions with at least 75 communities, and asked them about the vegetables' accessibility, seasonality, marketability, among others.

Project leader Lorna Sister of UPLB's Institute of Crop Science, College of Agriculture and Food Science, shared their findings in a webinar aired on PCAARRD's Facebook page on Oct. 21.

Researchers have rediscovered sunset hibiscus, "saluyot" or jute mallow, "talinum" or waterleaf spinach, and "alugbati" or malabar spinach as among the leafy vegetables which they said are rich in iron and calcium.

There are flower vegetables, too. These include "katuray" or hummingbird tree, which they said can be red, pink, or white, which is the most commonly eaten. "Himbabao" or birch flower, which looks like a worm, is another example. This is being used in Ilocano dishes such as "pinakbet" and "dinengdeng", according to researchers' presentation.

"Kakawate" or Mexican lilac is apparently popular in central Luzon, while "sabsabidukong" or telosma which can be found in the forest margins of northern Luzon is diminishing.

Fruits can also be vegetables. Some examples are "kamansi" or breadnut; "langka" or jackfruit; "karape" or bitter eggplant.

Since eating too much meat is not good for the health, researchers also pointed out that legumes are also high-protein vegetables. "Kadyos" or pigeon pea, "patani" or lima beans, "tapilan" or rice beans, are among them.

Legumes are abundant from December to April, the researchers said.

One may ask why some of the indigenous vegetables are vanishing. The causes, Sister said, may vary from pollution of rivers, creeks, and land; as well as conversion of land to infrastructure or residential areas.

"The use of plant-killing herbicides, and the aggressive introduction of high-yielding varieties by seed companies are other factors," she said.

Sister, meanwhile, noted that people have changed their taste preferences, especially with the growing options of fast foods, canned goods, and processed foods.

"Indigenous vegetables are a part of our legacy, and may hold a key to our survival," she said.

She reiterated that the indigenous vegetables may just be around, in the gardens, and can be grown in one's backyard.

"Indigenous vegetables are low-cost because these are just around and can grow very naturally. They are readily available and very nutritious. Also, because they are suited to the country's environment and climate, they won't be needing chemicals," she said.

Earlier, Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Secretary Fortunato de la Peña announced that Sister's team will conduct a nutritional analysis of 12 indigenous vegetables commonly used by Filipinos, such as wild ampalaya or bitter gourd, "labong" or bush sorrel pea, etc.

The project aims to help popularize the select indigenous vegetables and boost their consumption, and also targets to make the study results serve as a guide to the research and development efforts. (PNA)