Human Ecology

, Volume 40, Issue 5, pp 721-733

First online:

The Use and Economic Value of Manna grass (Glyceria) in Poland from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century

  • Łukasz Jakub ŁuczajAffiliated withDepartment of Ecotoxicology, University of Rzeszów Email author 
  • , Jarosław DumanowskiAffiliated withInstitute of History and Archival Studies, Centre for the Studies of the History and Culture of Food (Scientific Station of the Polish Historical Society), University of Nicolaus Copernicus
  • , Piotr KöhlerAffiliated withInstitute of Botany, The Jagiellonian University
  • , Aldona Mueller-BieniekAffiliated withDepartment of Palaeobotany, Institute of Botany of the Polish Academy of Sciences

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Manna grass (mainly but not exclusively G. fluitans) used to be widely gathered in most lowland areas of the present territory of Poland and western and southern Belarus. It had an important function as a component of tribute paid to local landowners by villagers, which led to the persistence of manna gathering even when this was not sustainable for peasants themselves. Manna grass was always an expensive food due to its time consuming gathering, but appreciated for its sweet taste and often served as dessert. In the nineteenth century marshes shrank significantly and the payment of tribute disappeared from the local economy, which gradually led to the total abandonment of Glyceria use around 1914. This article provides a detailed overview of Glyceria use as food within the borders of the former Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom (now Poland, Lithuania, western Belarus and western Ukraine) based on archaeobotanical, historical and ethnographic sources. The evidence for the continued use of manna since at least medieval times is abundant in historical accounts and ethnographic studies, but little has been reported in archaeobotanical findings due to the relatively small amounts of Glyceria consumed.


Glyceria fluitans Glyceria maxima Digitaria sanguinalis Historical ethnobotany Foraging Wild cereals Edible grasses Archaeobotany Poland