Quelites—Agrobiodiversity beyond our crops


The monoculture of a handful of energy-dense crops that dominates contemporary agriculture has resulted in an erosion of agrobiodiversity, environmental issues, agroecosystem dependency on off-farm inputs, and diets with poor diversity in nutrients and flavors. However, diversified agriculture persists in communities characterized by subsistence farming, many of them Indigenous. Although movements across Latin America aim to rescue agrobiodiversity, they are widely limited to cropping system diversification, including practices such as crop rotations, intercropping, and cover crops. The agrobiodiversity of plants associated with crops, often labeled as weeds, is commonly not considered in this context. Yet edible weeds are the essential components of traditional food systems where they increase the functional diversity of agroecosystems and contribute to human nutrition. In Mexico, the term “quelite” describes noncultivated but edible plants growing on a crop field. Across the American continent, there are nutritious quelites that are commonly perceived as “weeds.” In this article, we discuss the concept of quelites, their origin in traditional Mexican agriculture, their significance for agroecosystem diversification, and their potential for the future. We demonstrate, with 12 examples, that quelites have always been part of agroecosystems across the Americas. We aim to spread the concept of quelites beyond traditional farming in Mexico to promote the use of these promising plants. We conclude the article with suggestions for strategies to achieve this goal.



Quelite, Maleza (weed), Mesoamerica, taditional ecological knowledge, agroecology, food sovereignty


Ebel, R, Menalled, FD, Morales Payán, JP, Baldinelli, GM, Berríos Ortiz, L, Castillo Cocom, JA. 2024. Quelites—Agrobiodiversity beyond our crops. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene 12(1). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/elementa.2022.00141
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