Economic Botany

, Volume 70, Issue 3, pp 235–253

Current and Remembered Past Uses of Wild Food Plants in Saaremaa, Estonia: Changes in the Context of Unlearning Debt



It is widely agreed that in industrialized Europe, knowledge on the use of wild food plants shows a decreasing trend with few instances of valorization. We employed a folk history approach in order to understand the changes that have occurred in the use of wild food plants within the lifetime of the older generation living on Saaremaa Island. Comparing current and remembered past uses and evaluating temporal encounters afforded the understanding that, while the general picture of the use of wild food plants seems diverse and promising (89 plant taxa used, median 20 taxa used per person, Informant Consensus Index of 0.9), only 36% of uses have been practiced throughout life. Another third (34%) of uses existed as a childhood memory, which also encompassed taxa useful during times of food shortage, and 20% of the uses recorded were recently abandoned. The uses of wild food plants acquired later in life, at some point during adulthood (4%) or recently (6%), were few in number, rather temporal in nature and affected by fashion trends. To understand the temporal changes in the use of wild food plants and to identify the reasons causing those changes, it may be important for future researchers to document the exact time of the actual use. To ensure the survival of food security–related knowledge, during times of relative food abundance, it is important to ensure the continuity of the use of wild food plants on the family level by educating children through their participation in making food from wild plants.

Key Words

Ethnobotany food security food shortage wild food plants childhood memories folk history 

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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Estonian Literary MuseumTartuEstonia
  2. 2.Department of BotanyEstonian University of Life Science, Institute of Agricultural and Environmental SciencesTartuEstonia

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