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Native herbs from the Negev will soon become the region's hottest product, an agricultural research and development expert says.

"The Israeli desert has a unique wealth of wild plants that are almost completely unknown at modern markets," said Shabtai Cohen, a researcher at the Negev's experimental research station. "The Bedouin once had huge amounts of knowledge that they passed down by word of mouth over hundreds of years of wandering, knowledge that allowed them to survive and meet their nutritional needs."

Cohen is scheduled to present the plan to promote the native herbs at the station's agricultural fair today.

One such plant, desert stork's bill (Erodium crassifolium ), was once used by Bedouin shepherds as a sweetener and is now in the final phase of domestication.

Domestication means "persuading the plant to do what we want," said Cohen. "The goal is to create strains of the plant that can be marketed and have a long shelf life. Our clients are Israeli farmers and we have to provide the knowledge that will enable them to achieve a high quality harvest."

They also have high hopes for the sea aster (Aster tripolium ), which they want to be seen grown as a vegetable. The plant is high in iron, calcium, protein, vitamin C and other healthful components.

Common Purslane (Portulaca oleracea ) is a wild annual that already has become higher in demand over the past few years. It has been known for thousands of years and is commonly eaten in Arab countries. It is rich in anti-oxidants and is believed to prevent heart disease and strengthen the immune system. The researchers are looking to derive a more nutritious version of the plant.