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Open Access Research

Intracultural variation of knowledge about wild plant uses in the Biosphere Reserve Grosses Walsertal (Austria)

Christoph Schunko*, Susanne Grasser and Christian R Vogl

Author Affiliations

Working Group: Knowledge Systems and Innovations, Division of Organic Farming, Department for Sustainable Agricultural Systems, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU), Gregor-Mendel Straße 33, Vienna, 1180, Austria

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Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 2012, 8:23  doi:10.1186/1746-4269-8-23

Published: 6 July 2012



Leading scholars in ethnobiology and ethnomedicine continuously stress the need for moving beyond the bare description of local knowledge and to additionally analyse and theorise about the characteristics and dynamics of human interactions with plants and related local knowledge. Analyses of the variation of local knowledge are thereby perceived as minimal standard. In this study we investigate the distribution and variation of wild plant knowledge in five domains: food, drinks, human medicine, veterinary medicine and customs. We assess relations between the wild plant knowledge of informants and their socio-demographic as well as geographic background.


Research was conducted in the Biosphere Reserve Grosses Walsertal, Austria. Structured questionnaires were used to inquire wild plant knowledge from 433 informants with varying socio-demographic and geographic background. Children assisted in the data collection. Data was analysed using descriptive statistics and generalized linear models.

Results and discussion

A majority of respondents is familiar with wild plant uses, however to varying degrees. Knowledge variations depend on the socio-demographic and geographic background of the informants as well as on the domains of knowledge under investigation: women, older informants and homegardeners report more human medicinal applications and applications in drinks than men, younger informants and non-homegardeners; farmers know a greater variety of veterinary medicinal applications than non-farmers; the place of residence relates significantly to food and veterinary uses. Customs are difficult to investigate in standardized matrices. The household-related distribution of work and the general socio-cultural context are especially helpful in order to explain intracultural variation of knowledge in the Grosses Walsertal.


Research on the intracultural variation of local knowledge exposes cultural characteristics and highlights the cultural embeddedness of local knowledge. The impact of socio-cultural developments on local knowledge may be anticipated from understanding the intracultural variation of knowledge.