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Harvesting of salep orchids in north-western Greece continues to threaten natural populations

  • Anna Kreziou (a1), Hugo de Boer (a2) and Barbara Gravendeel (a2)

In several eastern Mediterranean countries orchids are collected from the wild for the production of salep, a beverage made of dried orchid tubers. The drivers of this collection and trade have changed over time. We investigated which genera and species are harvested for salep production, whether any cultivation takes place, the chain of commercialization, and the economic value of tuber collection. Fieldwork and interviews in north-western Greece included 25 collectors and street vendors, the owners of two companies, and one herbal shop. The results show that several orchid species are traded for the production of salep, and none are cultivated. Tubers collected in Greece, Albania and Turkey are sold in northern Greece for EUR 55–150 per kg on average. Recent catalysts such as the increasing demand for traditional, organic and alternative foodstuffs, and the 2009 economic downturn, have led to a revival of salep consumption, with an increasing number of salep harvesters from Greece and Albania scouring the mountains for harvestable tubers, using unsustainable harvesting practices.

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