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Ascorbic Acid and Vitamin A Content of
Edible Wild Plants of Ohio and Kentucky
THOMAS M. ZENNIE AND C. DWAYNE OGZEWALLA 1
Fresh samples o[ 16 wild edible plants were assayed/or ,4scorbic ,4cid and 10 plants
were assayed 1or Vitamin .4. Many o[ the plants were [ound to be rich sources of these
vitamins when compared with some common garden lruits and vegetables.
There is a renewed awareness today of
the value of natural resources, and this
realization has led to experimentation with
an increased utilization of wild plants
as food sources (3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 13, 17). In
some areas of the United States the utiliza-
tion of such foods is not new. The practice
been handed down through generations
is undoubtedly a carry-over from the
times when some pioneers and American
Indians subsisted wholely on native foods.
Wild spring greens are often available sev-
eral weeks before garden varieties and are
used extensively by individuals familiar
with them. Dandelion and wild Asparagus
are common foods to some people. Tender
Poke greens and Lambs-quarters are con-
sumed in such quantities by some families
that they are a standard part of the diet--
often being preferred to garden greens.
Non-cultivated fruits such as blackberries,
blueberries and plums are collected in suffi-
cient quantities to be used in preserving for
a winter home supply or for sale on the
market. We utilize edible wild plants on a
regular basis and, in fact, are delighted
when various species are in their prime.
Books on wild edible plants often con-
tain such statements as, "Rose hips are rich
in vitamin C," or "Sassafras leaves are anti-
t Professor of Pharmacognosy, College of Phar-
mac),, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio
Paper presented at the Lloyd Library & Museum
Lecture Series, April 27, 1974, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Submitted for publication
July 5, 1974.
scorbutic," but only a few references have
included quantitative analysis of tested wild
foods of particular vitamins, minerals and/
or other ingredients (1, 6, 12). Some refer-
ences are difficult to locate (11) and some
do not include details of the assay pro-
cedures (3, 6, 17). At best there is a paucity
of information regarding the nutritive val-
ues of wild plants, and it is for the purpose
of extending the knowledge of vitamin con-
tent of commonly consumed wild plants
that the study was undertaken.
A selection of wild foods utilized in
southern Ohio and northern Kentucky
were analyzed for their content of the vita-
min A precursor, fl carotene, and ascorbic
acid. The plants were chosen because of
their availability at the time of the experi-
ment and because their vitamin content was
expected to be high. No effort was made to
exhaust all the usable species of the area
and no effort was made to follow the level
of vitamins in the plants through their
growing season, although there are values
reported for several plants collected at dif-
ferent stages of development.
Table I lists the plants assayed with the
following information--common names
used in the southern Ohio and northern
Kentucky area, the part of the plants used,
and the time of year when the plants are
usually collected for food. Specimens of all
plants are on file in the herbarium of the
University of Cincinnati.
76 ECONOMIC BOTANY 31: 76-79. January-March, 1977.
VITAMIN A AND ASCOgBIC ACID VALUES FOR SOME EDIBLE WILD PLANTS
Vitamin A Acid
Name Part Used Season Collected Units/100 g mg/100 g
Alliarla o.Oicinalis L. (1) Leaves and tops just (1) Spring 8,600 (3) 190
Crueiferae prior to flowing 12,000
(Garlic Mustard) (2) Basal leaves (2) All year 19.000
Allium vineale L. Leaves All year (best in 130
Liliaeeae early spring)
AUium tricoccum Ait. Leaves Spring 80
(Ramps or Wild Leeks)
Barbarea vulgaris R. Br. Basal leaves Late winter and 130 (1)
& Barbarea verna Asch. early spring
Capsella bursa-pastoris Basal leaves of first Late winter and 5,000 91
Medic. Crueiferae year plants early spring
Cercis eanadensis L. Flowers Early spring 69
(Redbud, Judas Tree)
Chenopodium albidum L. (1) Whole young plants (1) Early spring 14,000 130
Chenopodiaceae (2) Tops of older plants (2) Later in year 16,000 66 (2)
(Goosefoot, Lambs- 71 (2)
Chyrsanthemum Basal Late winter and 7,000 23
Leucanthemum L. early spring 12,000
Duv~znea indica Leaves All year (best in 79
Focke. Rosaceae spring)
Glexhoma hederacea L. Leaves All year 14,000 44
LaxSuva scariola L. Basal leaves Early spring 9.700 41
(Wild Prickly Lettuce)
Oxalis stricta L. Leaves All year 59 (2)
Oxalidaceae 79 (2)
PhysaUs pubescens L. Ripe fruit only Late fall and early 3,200
Solanaceae winter 2,200
Plantago major L. Leaves Early spring 10,000 19 (2)
Plantaginaceae 11,000 19
Portulaca oleracea L. Overground plant Spring and winter 6,100 26 (2)
Portulacaceae prior to flowering 8,300
Stellaria media Cyrill Overground plant All year (best in 37
Caryophylaceae spring) 49
Viola papilionacea Puesh. Basal leaves All year (best in 15,000 130 (2)
Violaceae spring) 20,000 264
(Common Blue Violets)
(1) Plants collected the day before the assay.
(2) Values from old plants that had gone to seed.
(3) Value from plants collected in late winter.
EDIBLE WILD PLANTS 77
Collection o] plant material. 2 Parts of the
plant suitable and most desirable for hu-
man consumption were used in all cases. In
general this consisted of young, tender
parts; discolored and insect-damaged por-
tions were discarded. Most of the samples
were collected just prior to or during the
flowering period, because it was expected
that the vitamin content would be at its
highest level at that time (1, 14). Some
plants were not at their prime when the
field trips were made or when the assays
were being done, and for that reason por-
tions were collected from some older plants,
ones that had gone to seed, with this differ-
ence noted in Table I. All plants were col-
lected within a 50-mile radius of Cin-
cinnati and taken directly to the laboratory.
The analysis was done immediately upon
arrival and, with one exception as noted on
Table I, all values reported are for fresh
Chemical assays, Vitamin C. The method
used for the ascorbic acid determination
was that of the Association of Vitamin
Chemists (2, 15), a 2,6-dichloroendophenol
method that measures only reduced ascor-
bic acid. The dehydroascorbic acid method
of Roe and Oesterling (2) was not used be-
cause the plants usually were analyzed
within ten or fifteen minutes of collection
and, consequently, the amount of dehydro-
ascorbic acid would have been small in
comparison with what it would have been
in older or frozen samples. The dehydro-
ascorbic acid method is open to question
because the biological activity of the vita-
min is impaired once the ascorbic acid is
oxidized to the dehydro form in the plant
Vitamin A. The method used for the
assay of a vitamin A precursor follows that
of Strohocker and Henning (14) and the
Association of Vitamin Chemists (2). Ex-
tracted carotene was measured against a
highly purified sample of "100% type VI
beta-carotene obtained from carrots" s us-
ing a Spectronic 20 spectrophotometer at
2 The authors are indebted to Warren Wells,
Chief Naturalist, Hamilton County Park Board, for
help in identifying several plants used in this study.
s Sigma Chemicals.
wave length 436 nm. Carotenes from sev-
eral samples were collected and measured
against the purified beta-carotene standard
using a Coleman U.V. spectrophotometer,
Model 124. The scans of the extracted caro-
tenes were qualitatively indistinguishable
from that of the standard, indicating that
beta-carotene was the principal extracted
carotene. Units of vitamin A were calcu-
lated by multiplying the meg/100 g of beta-
carotene by 1.6 (2).
Results of the assays are seen in Table I.
For those plants of which a single collection
was made, a single value is given. This
value represents the average of three as-
sayed portions. For those plants having un-
usually high vitamin contents, additional
collections and assays were performed. Only
the high and low values obtained from the
various different collections are given.
CONCLUSIONS AND DISCUSSION
The carotene values of ten edible wild
plants were determined. On a weight basis,
six had higher values for carotene than
spinach (16), which is reported to have the
highest vitamin A level of the widely mar-
keted garden vegetables (see Table II). For
the following plants-----dlliaria officinalis,
Capsella bursa-pastoris, Chenopodium albi-
dum, Chrysanthemum leucanthemum, Gle-
choma hedaracea, Lactuca scariola, Plan-
tago major, Portulaca oleracea, and Viola
papilionacea--each could provide for at
least a daily dietary allowance (5,000 units)
of vitamin A (5) in a 100 g sample. One
collection of Viola papilionacea contained
AND ASCOEBIC ACID VALUES FOR SOME
COMMON GARDEN FRUIT AND VEGETABLES (15)
Vitamin A, Ascorbic Acid
g mg/100 g
Celery 240 9
lettuce 330 6
Leaf lettuce 1,900 18
Green onions 2,000 32
Green peppers 240 128
Spinach 8,100 5 t
Oranges 200 50
Tomatoes 900 23
78 ECONOMIC BOTANY
a daily dietary allowance in a 25 g quantity.
The ascorbic acid values of 16 edible
wild plants were determined. When com-
pared with oranges, on a weight basis, ten
of the wild plants had higher values of
vitamin C: Alliaria o~cinalis, Allium vin-
eale, Allium tricoccum, Barbarea vulgaris,
Capsella bursa-pastoris, Cercis canaden-
sis, Chenopodium albidum, Duchesnea
indica, Oxalis stricta, and Viola papiliona-
cea. Each would provide more than a daily
dietary amount of vitamin C in a 100 g
sample of the food for an average man or
for a woman during pregnancy and lacta-
tion (60 mg) (5). ~
The edible wild plants tested have rela-
tively high carotene or ascorbic acid values
or both and could be useful components of
the diet, particularly for rural families.
Most of the plants are found in abundance
in Ohio and Kentucky, and collection of a
mess for a family sufficient to provide a
daily dietary allowance of the vitamins
would be a relatively easy task. Many of the
plants may be collected in late winter or
early spring when commercial sources of
fresh foods may be scarce or expensive and
a supply of vitamins from purchased foods
may be relatively low. Preferably the plants
should be consumed prior to wilting or
aging so that the palatability and vitamin
content would be high.
4 One sample of Oxalis stricta had a value of 59
rag/100 g, which would be one milligram short of
the recommended daily dietary allowance.
1. Baird, E. A. and Lane, M. G. 1947. Ca-
nadian Journal of Research, "The seasonal
variation in the ascorbic acid content of
edible wild plants commonly found in New
2. Association of Vitamin Chemists. 1951.
Method o[ Vitamin Assay, Interscience Pub-
3. Angler, B. 1966. Free for The Eating. Stack-
pole Books, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
4. Fernald, M. L. and Kinsey, A. C. 1958.
Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North Amer-
ica, Harper and Bros., N.Y.
5. Food and Nutrition Board. 1969. Reoom-
mended Dietary Allowances, 7th Edition.,
Publication 1694, National Academy of
Sciences, Washington, D.C.
6. Gibbons, E. 1962. Stalking The Wild As-
paragus, David McKay Co., N.Y.
7. Gibbons, E. 1966. Stalking The HealthJul
Herbs, David McKay Co., N.Y.
8. Gibbons, E. 1972. Stalking Wild Foods on
A Desert lsle, National Geographic, July,
9. Gibbons, E. 1973. Stalking The West's Wild
Foods, National Geographic, August, 144:
10. Harrington, H. D. 1967. Edible Native
Plants of The Rocky Mountains. University
of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, N.M.
11. Hedrick, U. P. 1919. Sturtevant's Notes on
Edible Plants, New York Agricultural Ex-
periment Station Geneva, N.Y.
12. Lantz, E. M. and Smith, M. 1944. The
Carotene and Ascorbic Acid Values of Some
Wild Plants Used for Food in New Mexico,
New Mexico Agricultural Experiment Sta-
tion, Bulletin 989.
13. Morton, J. F. 1963. Principal Wild Food
Plants of The United States. Economic
Botany, 47: 319-330.
14. Nelson, A. 1951. Medical Botany, Living-
stone, Edinburgh, Scotland.
15. Stroker, R. and Henning. 1965. Vitamin
Assay, Verlag Chemie, Weinheim, Bergstr.
16. U.S. Department of Agriculture. 1964. Agri-
culture Handbook #8, Composition of
Foods, Government Printing Office, Wash-
17. Weiner, M. A. 1972. Earth Medicine and
Earth Food, The Macmillian Company,
EDIBLE WILD PLANTS 79