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Research Article

Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms Sold at Traditional Markets in Tanzania

Donatha Damian Tibuhwa
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Background and Objective: Mushrooms are non timber forest products that are sparingly studied. Ethnomycological studies are thus important to cut the need of knowledge on the consumption of medicinal mushrooms and their cultural values to people of different socio-economic levels. This study is conducted to present ethnomycological study on 31 traditional markets in Tanzania. Also to bestow a novel list of edible and medicinal mushrooms sold in these markets, highlighting the most sold and their tradition therapeutic applications. Materials and Methods: This study focused on ethnomycological information from vendors of both edible and medicinal mushrooms from 31 traditional markets in Tanzania. Semi-structured and face-to-face interviews were used to collect information from 151 individuals. The interviewees included rural harvesters (25%), renowned wholesale traders (10%), formal and informal vendors (43%), prominent consumers (16%) and some local traditional healers (6%). Agreement among vendors about the therapeutic uses of medicinal mushrooms was measured using the Factor of Informant Consensus (FIC) while the Fidelity Level (FL) was used to assess the most used medicinal mushroom species. Results: One hundred thirty three mushroom species were registered out of which 128 are edible whereas, 28 possessed health beneficial uses grouped into eight medical categories. The categories include ailments related to digestive, genitourinary, gynecologic, hormonal, circulatory, dermatological, respiratory system and general disorder. Vendor agreement for the ethno-medicinal uses varied (FIC = 0.95-0.82) with highest value reported in the digestive and circulatory systems medical categories. The highest FL values were observed in four species led by Ganoderma tsugae (FL = 0.85) while the least value was reported in Armillaria mellea (FL = 0.1). Conclusion: Studies in traditional markets are important for conserving ethnomycological knowledge transfer across generations. The four mushroom species which reported high FL values are recommended for further pharmacological and phytochemical studies into possible drug development.

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Donatha Damian Tibuhwa , 2018. Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms Sold at Traditional Markets in Tanzania. Research Journal of Forestry, 12: 1-14.

DOI: 10.3923/rjf.2018.1.14

Received: January 16, 2018; Accepted: April 17, 2018; Published: June 02, 2018


Markets are special meeting places to display diverse goods and products including manufactured goods, natural products from farms. Goods are sold locally from neighboring communities that generally differs culturally, ecologically and economically1-2. Unlike big markets, traditional markets around the world are renowned as places where people meet for trading different products including vegetables, mushrooms, plants and their derivative products as well as potential centers where cultures are expressed, exchanged and transformed across generations. It is in traditional markets where medicinal mushrooms and medicinal plants market value chain runs. In order for scientists to tap the ethnomycological information of these essential medicinal mushrooms, they need to do survey in these traditional markets. Such surveys are essential in ensuring the understanding of the networks of collectors, consumers, sellers and healers by the supply and demand of medicinal and edible mushroom and their imitative products3. Wild mushroom consumptions and traditional markets have been studied since ancient times as far back as 1930’s as reported by Szulczewski4. A global overview of mushroom consumption and their use is reported by Boa5 while a more recent study on wild and native plants and mushrooms sold in the open-air markets of Southeastern Poland was reported by Kasper-Pakosz et al.6.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 80% of the population still relies on traditional medicine, spiritual therapies and ancestral healing practices as their primary healthcare7,8. The practices are more evident in traditional communities living in rural areas and are of high demand. Traditional medicines healing and remedies play a very important role in the health of millions of people in Africa. Generally in African countries, the ratios of traditional practitioners and medical doctors in relation to the whole population shows that traditional practitioner has low ratios compared to medical doctors. For example in Swaziland, it is 110 people for every traditional healer versus 10,000 people for every medical doctor. In Ghana, it is 224 people for every traditional practitioner compared to nearly 21,000 people for one medical doctor. In Zambia, 60% of the population receives medical care from traditional practitioners while in Tanzania there are 75,000 traditional healers in comparison to 600 medical doctors9,10. Traditional medicines are popularly preferred because they are generally cheaper than Western medicine. For those who live in rural villages, they are easier to access than city hospitals.

Studies on the role of traditional markets in ethnobotanical aspects have been carried out in different parts of the world including Bolivia, Venezuela, Peru and Colombia11-15. In Tanzania, a few ethnobotanical studies based on vendor interviews have been also conducted for different markets16-19. However, these studies did not include collecting voucher material for further identification by a botanist, for comparison and matching the vernacular names to scientific names20. For ethnomycological studies it is sparingly studied. So far the only ethnomycological study done is by Tibuhwa21 and the study was confined to the areas surrounding the Serengeti National Park with a dominance of two tribes, the Kuria and Maasai. Nevertheless the study revealed vast folk taxonomy knowledge and pointed out several mushroom traditional uses including medicinal and ritual applications. It further pointed the knowledge gap and gender dominance of the mushroom market chain21. Therefore, this research study was conducted to prepare and present a novel list of edible and medicinal mushrooms sold at 31 traditional markets from 12 regions in Tanzania and established the most sold and used medicinal mushroom species.


Study area: The study was conducted since 2011-2016 in 31 traditional markets from 12 regions in Tanzania. The regions include Tabora, Morogoro, Tanga, Kigoma, Kagera, Mwanza, Geita, Shinyanga, Iringa, Morogoro, Mara and Coast (Fig. 1). The spoken languages, estimated population and other ethnic characteristics found in these regions are summarized in Table 1. The studied regions posses quite diversified hydrographic features, including mountains, natural forests, rivers and lakes which make them portray a very irregular topography and altitudes hence considerable variation in local climate, with conditions represented by hot to dry tropical, subtropical humid and cold humid. Their principal economic activities range from agriculture, cattle raising, fishing as well as hunting and collection of wild products, which is reflected in their diversified diets summarized in Table 1. Some of their languages have a very composite folk taxonomy of both local plants and mushrooms such that they can distinguish several taxa of mushrooms up to species level, which indicates how competent they are in the ecology and environment surrounding them. In their languages, most of the plants, animals and mushrooms have their names associated with myths, practical or ritual uses and original history.

Fig. 1:
Map of Tanzania showing the sampling sites in 12 regions

Table 1:
Ethnic characteristics pertaining the studied regions

For example in Tanga region, people living near Eastern Usambara mountains have their diets based on products obtained from corn and sisal plantations, direct hunting and collections from wild forests. Their main economic activities are agriculture and are generically characterized by having a profound knowledge in both wild plants, mushroom and have a strong dependence on them. However, in Mara region their economic activities are varied. For example, they are primarily extensive cattle raisers, farmers and partly practices fishing and hunting. Besides, they practice mixed agriculture and it is relatively intensive, reaping two crops a year. Their diet is composed of agriculture products, wild products including wild mushrooms and fish from nearby water bodies, animals they keep and hunt from the nearby animal parks.

Fieldwork: The fieldwork involved visiting markets to determine the most sold mushroom species and their medicinal uses in 31 markets from 12 regions in Tanzania (Table 1). Markets were classified based on the modalities they operate as summarized in Table 2.

Table 2:
Groups and characteristics of the studied market

Fig. 2:
Characteristics and number of the interviewees

The established market, known locally as "soko mjinga/soko la mkulima", included mainly agricultural products such as legumes, fruits, vegetables, tubers, cooked food, personal use items, electronic equipments, groceries and dairy products. Vendors at these markets were many and not less than 50 sellers, with permanent specific selling table or points in the market facility. They buy mushrooms in wholesale and sell in retails to final consumers. Mobile market locally known as ‘gulio’ like in established markets usually included mainly agricultural products, cooked food, personal use items, electronic equipments, groceries, dairy products and forest products such as edible and medicinal mushrooms as well as medicinal plants. It was however not fixed and operated all week or just one day in a week (day local market). Vendors at mobile open markets were rural harvesters and/or small retailers who sold edible and medicinal mushrooms in fresh or dry forms. Peasant stand locally as ‘gengeni’ were permanent like established market but in small scale, 1-10 sellers in one place. Modern stand known locally as "mnadani" traded manufactured product and agricultural edible products including mushrooms and vegetables. They were in large-scale usually more than 50 people but operated once or few specified days in a week. Roadside markets were selling any locally made product, poultry and agriculture products, including forest harvests such as edible and medicinal mushrooms, vegetables and medicinal plants. They sell their products along the highways and operated throughout the week.

Semi-structured questionnaires and face-to-face interviews were used to collect the information from 151 individuals who were main actors involved in the harvest, sales of edible and medicinal mushrooms at the studied markets. These actors mainly included rural harvester for selling and self-uses, renowned mushroom whole seller traders, formal and informal vendors, prominent consumers and some local traditional healers. Types of each actor in a market chain were recognized based on how they auto-recognized their own role as summarized in Fig. 2. From 151 interviewees, 91 were women and 60 were men. About 96% of the interviewees were able to speak Swahili national language while 4% spoke some indigenous language and thus the study employed the participant observation method and applied non-structured and semi-structured interviews according to Bernard22. Information of gathering process involved participatory techniques by carrying out field trips in the forest with informants whenever necessary especially to enable successful identification. Edibility of the studied mushrooms were conceptually distinguished by mainly the collectors on the basis of very few morphological characters such as Mushroom color, size of the basidiomata, shape and size of the pseudorhiza, habitat such as termite mounds associations and leaf litter as detailed in Tibuhwa21 while medicinal uses was revealed and recorded during the interviews.

Data analysis: The percentage of informants asserting the use of a certain medicinal mushroom for the same major purpose was calculated as the Fidelity level (FL) for the most frequently reported diseases or ailments as:

where, Np is the number of informants that claim a use of a medicinal mushroom species to treat a particular disease and N is the number of informants that use the medicinal mushroom as a medicine to treat any given disease according to Alexiades23. Likewise factor of informant consensus was numerically determined using the equation:

where, Nur is the number of use citations in each category and Nt is the number of species reported in each category.


The study enumerated 133 mushroom species all belonging to 19 families and 28 genera (Table 3). The edible and medicinal mushrooms were sold at 10 established markets, 5 mobile markets, 6 peasant stands, 4 modern stands and 6 roadside markets located in 12 regions (Fig. 1).

Table 3:
Studied mushroom species their edibility and medicinal applications

Table 4:
Therapeutic uses of medicinal mushrooms used to treat local ailments in 12 regions from Tanzania grouped in medical categories adapted from the World Health Organization27

Mushrooms are ephemeral in nature, thus usually fresh edible mushrooms are sold in these markets during the rain season and in places not far away from the forest where they were harvested5,24-26. Nevertheless, dry mushrooms for food and medicinal uses were found throughout the year in some markets including, Tabora, Geita, Coast, Iringa and Kigoma. The venders usually collected or bought them in large stock and sun dry or smoke those to increase their shelf life hence make them available for selling throughout the year.

Medicinal mushroom and factor of informant consensus (FIC): In this study, 28 medicinal mushrooms were found sold in different 31 traditional markets and were claimed to treat different ailments classified into 8 medical categories adapted from the catalogue of International Classification of Diseases made by the WHO27 summarized in Table 4. In this study, ‘illness’ refers to being ill as conceived from a sociocultural personal perception, while ‘disease’ was considered from the biomedical perspective adopted from Tinitana et al.2. For the used medical category, WHO27 recognizes them in relation to the health practice systems of traditional population. The most popular medicinal mushrooms that were found sold in different markets are Ganoderma applanatum, Ganoderma tsugae, Ganoderma lucidum and Termitomyces microcarpus. However, the species which were recorded to have many medicinal applications, were all the Ganoderma and unidentified Polyporus species. For example, the number of usage for these species: Ganoderma tsugae, Ganoderma applanatum and Ganoderma lucidum were 6 different uses categorized into 4 medical categories while unidentified Polyporus species recorded 5 different uses categorized into 5 medical categories. Further analysis on the family level taxa showed that family Lyophyllaceae was represented by the highest number of species (6 species) followed by Polyporaceae and Ganodermataceae both represented by 4 species. The least were in families Amanitaceae, Cantharellaceae, Physalacriaceae, Schizophyllaceae and Suillaceae all represented by one species each (Table 5). Factor of Informant Consensus (FIC) has been largely used in studies related to medicinal plants to represent a measure of reliability for specific statement of evidence regarding agreement amongst human groups1,28-33. It is for the first time is applied for the studied 28 medicinal mushrooms. Analysis of the information recorded in the structured ethnomycological questionnaires revealed two medicinal uses to posses the highest level of agreement amongst the interviewees; Improving the health of long ill people or boosting immunity and helping in digestion disorder. The medicinal mushrooms responsible are three Ganoderma species (G. tsugae, G. applanatum and G. lucidum) and one Termitomyces species (T. microcarpus) with FL value of 0.85, 0. 82, 0.83 and 0.81, respectively. The two Ganoderma species which were also confirmed by participative observation are believed by local communities to be efficient in the treatment of 6 local ailments belonging to the four medical categories which includes general disorders, genitourinary system, dermatological system as well as respiratory system (Table 5). There was a variation on the agreement among the vendors for the 8 medical categories pertaining to the 28 medicinal mushrooms studied with Factor of Informants Consensus values ranging from 0.95-0.82 with an average value of 0.87 to treat ailments related to digestive system, genitourinary system, gynecologic system, hormonal system, circulatory system, dermatological system, respiratory system and general disorder (Table 6).

The FIC reflects homogeneity of information provided by different informants regarding medicinal mushroom species used to treat a specific category of ailments. This therefore, imply that the observed medicinal mushroom species with high FIC could be efficient in treating a particular ailment as it has been also noted in medicinal plant studies34,35.

For the assessment of the most used medicinal mushroom species in this study, four mushroom species were revealed to posses high FL values. It was interesting to note that, the highest FL value were in the three Ganoderma species with values 0.85-0.82 while the least value was observed in Armillaria mellea with FL value of 0.12 (Table 5). The low FL values shows a low agreement amongst medicinal mushroom market vendors with respect to the treatment of the symptoms related to the claimed ailments or to the fact that they do not know it as it is also observed in medicinal plants36. The four medicinal mushroom species found with high FL values are thus recommended to be given priorities for further pharmacological and phytochemical studies into possible drug development. Beside this study, results shows that edible and medicinal mushrooms are very important resources especially for local people practicing auto-medication thus country polices should allows beneficial utilization of these resources for the betterment of the benefiting societies.

Medicinal mushroom and associated medical categories: The medicinal mushrooms were found used in treating somatic and psychosomatic health afflictions. For example, In the case of respiratory system and other medical categories including digestive system, dermatological and hormonal systems do not usually posses definite therapeutical prescriptions. Furthermore, the clear distinction between illnesses and diseases and its associated therapeutic administration and treatment is also lacking. For example, unrelated taxa of Ganoderma species and unidentified Polypore (Table 5) were all recorded to improve health of long ill people, boost immunity, aphrodisiac in men, anti tumor and general unwell of the body. The agreement among 151 market vendors in the use of four specific most sold medicinal mushroom species for the 8 medical categories were generally high. It should be understood that for the case of the three Ganoderma species (G. tsugae, G. lucidum and G. applanatum) they were generally undistinguished by most of the venders and they referred to them as one folk species. The 4 most sold medicinal mushrooms have been well evaluated for their medicinal potentials in other studies.

Table 5:
Mushrooms with medical applications and their associated medical category and Fidelity level among the informants

For example Tibuhwa37 established that T. microcarpus possessed high content of phenols, flavonoid as well as highest antiradical activity unit (EAU515) compared with other studied termiterian mushrooms. Likewise a study by Mshandete38 on Ganoderma tsugae found it to possess high antioxidants and portrayed good radical scavenging ability. It is important to note that, although the species Cantharellus miomboensis possessed less agreement among the interviewees in this study and found to be used in digestive system illness and general disorder, it has been clearly established that its crude extract is able to induce apoptosis in human cervical cancer cell line (HeLa) and the resistance to small cell lung carcinoma (H157)39. This medicinal mushroom thus is recommended for further investigations especially in its unique antitumor properties.

Mushroom market dynamics: This study visited a total of 31 markets out of which 10 were established markets and 21 were either mobile or semi permanent markets (peasant and modern stand, roadside) characterized by small-scale sellers. It was interesting to note a variety of actors involved in the sale of edible and medicinal mushrooms chain at the studied markets. The majority of these actors included rural harvester for selling and self-uses (25%), renowned whole seller traders (10%), formal and informal vendors (43%), prominent consumers (16%) and some local traditional healers (6%) (Fig. 2, Table 7).

Table 6:
FIC for studied 28 medicinal mushrooms
Nur: Number of use citations in each category, Nt: Number of species reported in each category

Good numbers of wild edible mushrooms were found sold in six established markets in Geita, Morogoro, Iringa, Tabora, Coast and Kigoma where the mushrooms sold mainly coming from nearby forests (Fig. 3, 4). This is contrary to what was observed in Mexico by Ruan-Soto et al.40, who did not observe any wild mushroom being sold in established markets. However, those collected from nearby cultivated fields and close patches of bushes and open grassland mainly dominated sold mushrooms in the mobile markets as it has been also noted by Ruan-Soto et al.40. On mobile markets venders sell mushrooms one day after they were gathered. Selling is throughout depending on the catch thus there no specific day or period for selling the mushrooms. This is different from temperate areas where mushroom-gatherer undertake very long trips to collect mushrooms40-42. Depending on the season, some mobile markets were found with no sold mushrooms although informers testified them being intermittently sold during rain seasons. In the mobile markets of Ilula in Iringa, Rwamgasa Geita and Newala Mtwara in fact, mushroom selling was completely not observed and even the renowned indigenous mushroom sellers were not present.

Biodata and gender patterns in relation to edible and medicinal mushroom market dynamics: Throughout the mushroom market survey, it was interesting to note that women comprised the majority of the sellers up to 90% especially in the category of mushroom gathering from forests and formal and informal venders. This trend has been also noted in other studies showing women dominating in Mushroom value chains. For example Tibuhwa43 found that mushroom gathering is gender oriented, dominated by women (76.25%) in Tanzania, while Ruan-Soto et al.40 noted that women represented 81.82% of mushroom sellers in his study done in Mexico.

Table 7:
Types of mushroom vendors of edible and medicinal mushrooms and their role in the studied traditional markets

Fig. 3(a-g):
Medicinal and edible mushrooms sold in different traditional markets in Tanzania
Photo plates: a, e and f source from Tibuhwa43. The rest taken by the author during this study

Interestingly, the traditional healer category was dominated by male (represented by 90%) while those who collect for home consumption were almost gender balanced (represented by 50% each) but was skewed toward old age and children who usually accompany their grandparents in the field for mushroom hunting. Other reports showing the predominance of women in mushroom gathering and selling are reported in Nigeria and the Brazilian Amazon44-45. In this study, the majority of the observed men engaged in mushroom gathering and selling were occasional except for traditional healers found in established markets with permanent desks/tables where they sell their medicinal mushrooms together with other medicinal plants. The dominance of males in the traditional healer category may be attributed to the fact that traditional healers usually refuse to share their knowledge, because of cultural implications9. The knowledge is usually passed by a father to one of the selected son, the one liked most, described as one with good character and shows interest whilst young in his father’s work.

Knowledge conservation, marketing and value added products: The study results reveal an erosion of indigenous folk medical knowledge with 95% of the interviewed traditional health practitioners being old. It was interesting to note that all traditional health practitioners interviewed in this study were old above 65 years.

Fig. 4(a-d):
Rural mushroom vendors holding different Termitomyces species along the road sides in Mara region for sell and for a meal
Photo plates: b, source from Tibuhwa21. The rest taken by the author during this study

Based on the general life expectancy in Tanzania given by the World Bank, Macroeconomics and Fiscal Management Global Practice and Poverty Global Practice46, this is a generically a near dying age, while the expected youths to inherit the practice showed no interest or shy away from the practices although they confessed to often use it. This tremendous loss of indigenous knowledge has also been noted in other studies including47,48. Likewise the study done in Ecuador by Tinitana et al.2 also established large gaps between knowledge on medicinal plants trades. Unfortunately, this traditional medical knowledge is so diverse, varying from one community to another and deeply rooted in a specific socio-cultural context of the respective community. Due to its pluralistic nature, general cultural dependence and traditional inheritance across generations set up, it is important to document this knowledge for future generation references and possible uses. More studies should focus on folk knowledge inventories and establishment of the common medicinal species and how they are related to local health ailments as well as their resources and products.


In this study, 128 mushroom species were reported to be edible and 28 species used by different ethnic groups in the treatment of eight different categories of human ailments. Four medicinal mushrooms possessed high Fidelity level values (FL) which were also associated with the obtained high values on the agreement among vendors about the therapeutic uses of these medicinal mushrooms (FIC). These high values call for further pharmacological and phytochemical studies on these medicinal mushrooms into possible drug development.


This study established four medicinal mushrooms with high reliability for specific statement of evidence regarding therapeutic agreement amongst people who uses them portrayed by high values of Factor of Informant Consensus (FIC). This together with the established high Fidelity level values for the same mushrooms strongly support the need for further pharmacological and phytochemical studies for possible drug development.


The data for this study were collected during the implementation of three different projects, Sida-SAREC, through the International Science Programme at Uppsala University and the Molecular Biology project of the University of Dar es Salaam, The Association of Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa the (ASARECA) and the Bijzonder Onderzoeksfonds of Ghent University. The author also expresses a very sincere gratefulness to all the people that collaborated in this work in all twelve studied markets especially the 151 interviewees who volunteered to give their information and their unrestricted use of their photos.

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