The criteria to establish the meaning of minor vegetable crops (MVC) are discussed. Italy, due to the climatic condition and long tradition in domestication, feature a great diversity of MVC, some grown from ancient time; for 168 mentioned, the common and latin name are reported. The Italian gene bank and the collection holders of some MVC genetic resources are indicated. The evolution of harvested outdoor and greenhouse crops in the last 30 years are reported; surprisingly fennel in Italy is grown outdoor in about 23,000 ha, while lamb’s lettuce and wild or sand rocket in greenhouse on about 450 and 1,100 ha respectively. The organically grown MVC amount to 3,165 ha and leaders are cabbage and savoy cabbage. Family, social and elderly gardens play an important role on the cultivation and usage of MVC and in Bologna province, over 5,000 are counted. Seed production take place on more than 6,000 ha of which 1,500 are destinated to radish. The resistance and tolerance on some soil, climatic stress and gaseous pollutant are mentioned. Take into consideration the future importance of the soilless cultivation, researches conducted in Italy on 20 MVC, especially on leafy vegetables, but also on radish, cima di rapa, eggplant, cucumber, immature melon such as carosello and barattiere are discussed. Considering that the European quality seals are key factors in boosting the economy of rural areas, the MVC awarded of PDO and PGI such as asparagus, artichoke, caper, radicchio, shallot, basil and saffron are indicated. Moreover, in the Italian National list of traditional agri-food products, 49 MVC and 206 landraces are included and among them 26 refer to artichoke and 22 to asparagus. Furthermore the usage of the MVC for processing, fresh cut or ready to eat or to cook products, miniature or baby vegetables, sprouted seeds, edible flowers and species used by immigrants are assessed. As an example of exceptional nutrient value and the health promoting compounds of MVC, the composition of some Brassicaceae that possess highly active phytochemicals containing anticarcinogenic potentials is discussed. It appears that curly kale is very rich on Ca, Fe, Mg, K, Vit. C, and A, lutein and zeaxanthin and gamma linolenic acid. To expand consumption and advertise some MVC, 250 italian municipalities promoted festivals, shows and fairs and among them 68 are dedicated to asparagus, 45 to artichoke and 40 to squash. At the end, the story of the transition of Diplotaxis tenuifolia from wild to cultivated vegetables is discussed.
Keywords: family and social gardens, seed production, organic, seal and traditional products, soilless, nutrients, festivals, wild rocket