From the very beginning, human beings are dependent on plants for food and shelter. Therefore, a great variety of non-cultivated plants have long formed a part of diet of the humans. Fruits play a significant role in human nutrition. They are an important source of minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates, proteins, oils and other antioxidant compounds. The Holy Quran has described date, grape, fig, olive and pomegranate as heavenly fruits. They have cleansing effect on the blood and improve digestion. Taking fruits in daily diet reduces the risk of heart attack, cancer, stroke and other chronic diseases.
God has blessed Pakistan with diverse climatic conditions having greater floral biodiversity. Pakistan possesses the world’s best canal system and fertile land. It is home to more than 8000 plant species among which 600 plants are highly medicinal. In spite of such diverse floral biodiversity, 24 per cent population of Pakistan is undernourished. According to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 37.5 million people in Pakistan are not receiving proper food and nourishment. The main cause of malnutrition is poverty and that the people have limited excess to good quality foods.
The food which is obtained from wild resources like wildly growing plants is called as “wild food”. Many wild edibles are nutritionally rich and can supplement nutritional requirements, especially vitamins and micronutrients. Some wild fruits have been identified to have better nutritional value than cultivated fruits.
There grows a vast majority of wild plants having edible fruits in both tropical and temperate forests of Pakistan. However, these wild edible fruits have not been still explored for their nutritional and medicinal purposes. According to literature survey, more than 90 different wild fruits can be found in Pakistan which is highly nutritious and medicinal. Some of the commonly growing wild plants producing edible fruits are given below.
Wild Olive (Olea ferruginea): This plant species grows in sub tropical, dry temperate and moist temperate forests of Pakistan. It is commonly found in western hills of Baluchistan, Dir, Chitral, Waziristan, Swat, Salt range, Murree hills and lower hills of Azad Kashmir. Its fruits are a good source of antioxidants and minerals. Fresh fruits are collected in summer, dried and recommended to diabetic patient in winter season for reducing blood glucose level.
Indian Barberry (Berberis lyceum): Indigenous plant of the Kshmir and North-East of Pakistan. The fruits of this plant are good source of minerals, carotenes, ascorbic acid and crude fibers. The fruits are reported for their Hypoglycemic, anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic and anticoagulant properties.
Jharber (Ziziphus nummularia): This is a common hardy plant in southeastern Pakistan. Its fruits are a good source of vitamin-B, sugars and exhibit laxative properties. The fruit is either eaten fresh, dried or made into confectionery.
Toothache Tree (Zanthoxylum armatum): This plant species is distributed in Himalays commonly found in Swat. This plant has several uses such as it is carminative, stomachic, also used in cure of fever, toothache and expelling of round worms. The fruit of the plant is reported as good source of alkaloids, flavonoids, sterols, terpenoids and minerals.
Gurgura or Gwargurah (Monotheca buxifolia): In Pakistan it is commonly found in Waziristan, Zhob, Gorakh Hills, Loralai, Kohat, Karak, Drosh Chitral, Attock District and Kala Chitta Hills. Its fruits are good source of natural antioxidants, phenolics, minerals and vitamins.
Public awareness regarding nutritional value of the wild fruits will be helpful in reducing the malnutrtional problems in far flung rural areas of Pakistan. The implication of biotechnological tools will further improve the nutritional quality of these wild fruits. Propagation, preservation and conservation practices will be helpful in marketing wild fruits throughout the country.