The disappearing wild food and medicinal plant knowledge in a few mountain villages of North-Eastern Albania
In recent years, an increasing number of ethnobotanical investigations have focused on the documentation of folk plant knowledge systems in mountainous areas of the Balkans, as this area is considered a very important reservoir of bio-cultural heritage. An ethnobotanical field study was carried out among (Gheg) Albanians living in eight villages of North-Eastern Albania. The field survey was conducted by interviewing 45 local, elderly informants, who retain folk plant knowledge.
Sixty-three wild food and medicinal folk taxa and approx. 150 plant reports, as well as other domestic remedies, were recorded and re-present a crucial portion of the local cultural heritage related to traditional food, medicinal, and veterinary practices; approximately one-third of the reports were not previously recorded in Albania or Kosovo. Among these findings, the uncommon, yet abandoned utilizations of wild pears to produce home-made vinegar, unripe wild apples, and grapes as starters/yeasts for baking, and a few unripe wild fruits, as well as beech cambium and Sedum album leaves as yogurt starters deserve further in-depth food technological and nutraceutical investigation. The fact that the most interesting findings are represented by obsolete and past practices and that most of the selected villages were chosen expressly because of their disadvantaged economic conditions and, in a few cases, remarkable geographical isolation, demonstrates that even in remote areas of SE Europe ethnobotanical knowledge is vanishing. Nevertheless, this study supports the idea that territories which are less economically advantaged may retain more ethnobotanical knowledge than other, more “developed” ones. Initiatives aimed at revitalizing traditional practices of wild food and medicinal plant use may be crucial in the study area for implementing rural development programs focusing on local food resources and associated small scale trade.
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