Wildlife trade is a threat to species survival and wild collected orchids are a notable component of it. In the first systematic patent review of any wild species, we find many innovative and industrial uses of orchids, using the example of traditional product salep made with wild harvested Mediterranean and Central Asian terrestrial orchids. Despite considerable interest in the conservation of these orchids, no systematic analysis of innovation and technology transfer had been conducted for natural products using them. Our systematic review on salep found 244 patent applications, of which 89 were granted, spanning 163 years from 1855 to 2018. Uses included industrial materials and contemporary medicine formulations. This recalibration of the value of salep using patent analysis shows that, rather than being restricted to two specific products of limited regional circulation, these orchids are a rich source of unique materials with myriad applications around the world. In order to conserve wild terrestrial orchids collected for salep, conservation science must engage with the full extent of the utility of and commercial interest in these particular orchids. Additionally we demonstrate how conservationists can use patents as a source of information on incipient commercial interest in wild species.
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