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Open Access Research

Wild edible plants of Belarus: from Rostafiński’s questionnaire of 1883 to the present

Łukasz Łuczaj1*, Piotr Köhler2, Ewa Pirożnikow3, Maja Graniszewska4, Andrea Pieroni5 and Tanya Gervasi5

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Applied Biotechnology and Basic Sciences, Department of Botany and Biotechnology of Economic Plants, University of Rzeszów, Werynia 502, 36-100 Kolbuszowa, Poland

2 Institute of Botany, The Jagiellonian University, ul. Kopernika 27,31-501 Kraków, Poland

3 Department of Botany, Institute of Biology, University of Białystok, ul. Świerkowa 20B, 15-950 Białystok, Poland

4 Herbarium of the Institute of Botany of the University of Warsaw, University of Warsaw, Al. Ujazdowskie 4, 00-478 Warszawa, Poland

5 University of Gastronomic Sciences, Piazza Vittorio Emanuele 9, I-12060 Bra/Pollenzo, Cuneo, Italy

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Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 2013, 9:21  doi:10.1186/1746-4269-9-21

Published: 4 April 2013

Abstract

Background

Belarus is an Eastern European country, which has been little studied ethnobotanically. The aim of the study was to compare largely unpublished 19th century sources with more contemporary data on the use of wild food plants.

Methods

The information on 19th century uses is based on twelve, mainly unpublished, responses to Józef Rostafiński’s questionnaire from 1883, and the newly discovered materials of the ethnographer Michał Federowski, who structured his data according to Rostafiński’s questionnaire and documented it with voucher specimens. Rostafiński’s questionnaire was concerned mainly with Polish territories, but for historical reasons this also encompassed a large part of Belarus, and we analyzed only the twelve responses (out of the few hundred Rostafiński obtained), which concerned the present Belarus. These data were compared with a few 20th century ethnographic sources, and our own 40 interviews and questionnaires from Belarus.

Results and discussion

58 taxa of wild food plants used in the 19th century were identified. Some of them are still used in modern Belarus, others are probably completely forgotten. In the 19th century several species of wild greens were widely used for making soups. Apart from Rumex, other wild greens are now either forgotten or rarely used. The list of species used in the 20th and 21st century encompasses 67 taxa. Nearly half of them were mentioned by Rostafiński’s respondents. The list of fruit species has not changed much, although in the 19th century fruits were mainly eaten raw, or with dairy or floury dishes, and now apart from being eaten raw, they are incorporated in sweet dishes like jams or cakes. Modern comparative data also contain several alien species, some of which have escaped from cultivation and are gathered from a semi-wild state, as well as children's snacks, which were probably collected in the 19th century but were not recorded back then.

Conclusion

The responses to Rostafiński from 1883 present extremely valuable historical material as the use of wild food plants in Belarus has since undergone drastic changes, similar to those, which have taken place in other Eastern European countries.

Keywords:
Historical ethnobotany; Wild green vegetables; Wild food plants; Non-timber forest products; Belarus