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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Alarcόn, R., M. Pardo-de-Santayana, C. Priestley, R. Morales, and M. Heinrich. 2015. Medicinal and local food plants in the south of Alava (Basque Country, Spain). Journal of Ethnopharmacology 176:207–224.
Bellia, G. and A. Pieroni. 2015. Isolated, but transnational: The glocal nature of Waldensian ethnobotany, Western Alps, NW Italy. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 11:37.
Biscotti, N. and A. Pieroni. 2015. The hidden Mediterranean diet: Wild vegetables traditionally gathered and consumed in the Gargano area, Apulia, SE Italy. Acta Societatis Botanicorum Poloniae 84(3):327–338.
Cruz-Garcia, G. S. and L. Price. 2011. Ethnobotanical investigation of ‘wild’ food plants used by rice farmers in Kalasin, Northeast Thailand. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 7:33.
———, and ———. 2014. Human-induced movement of wild food plant biodiversity across farming systems is essential to ensure their availability. Journal of Ethnobiology 34: 68–83.
Dolina, K. and Ł. Łuczaj. 2014. Wild food plants used on the Dubrovnik coast (south-eastern Croatia). Acta Societatis Botanicorum Poloniae 83(3):175–181.
Eesti statistika. 2016. National statistical database of Estonia: population. Available at: http://pub.stat.ee/px-web.2001/I_Databas/Population (assessed at 09.06.2016)
Garbarino, M. and E. Bergmeier. 2014. Plant and vegetation diversity in European wood-pastures. In: European wood-pastures in transition: a social-ecological approach. Earthscan (pp. 113–131). Routledge: Abingdon, New York.
Ghirardini, M., M . Carli, N. del Vecchio, A. Rovati, O. Cova, F. Valigi, G. Agnetti, M. Macconi, D. Adamo, M. Traina, F. Laudini, I. Marcheselli, N. Caruso, T. Gedda, F. Donati, A. Marzadro, P. Russi, C. Spaggiari, M. Bianco, R. Binda, E. Barattieri, A. Tognacci, M. Girardo, L. Vaschetti, P. Caprino, E. Sesti, G. Andreozzi, E. Coletto, G. Belzer, and A. Pieroni. 2007. The importance of a taste. A comparative study on wild food plant consumption in twenty-one local communities in Italy. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 3: 22.
Helm, A., T. Oja, L. Saar, K. Takkis, T. Talve, and M. Pärtel. 2009. Human influence lowers plant genetic diversity in communities with extinction debt. Journal of Ecology 97(6):1329–1336.
Hernández-Morcillo, M., J. Hoberg, E. Oteros-Rozas, T. Plieninger, E. Gómez-Baggethun, and V. Reyes-García. 2014. Traditional ecological knowledge in Europe: Status quo and insights for the environmental policy agenda. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development 56:3–17.
Hudson, C. 1966. Folk history and ethnohistory. Ethnohistory 13:52–70.
ISE 2008. The ISE (International Society of Ethnobiology) Code of Ethics. Available at: http://www.ethnobiology.net/what-we-do/core-programs/ise-ethics-program/code-of-ethics/ (accessed 17.10.2015).
Johns, T., J. O. Kokwaro, and E. K. Kimanani. 1990. Herbal remedies of the Luo of Siaya District, Kenya: Establishing quantitative criteria for consensus. Economic Botany 44:369–381.
Kaliszewska, I. and I. Kołodziejska-Degórska. 2015. The social context of wild leafy vegetables uses in Shiri, Daghestan. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 11:63.
Kalle, R. and R. Sõukand. 2012. Historical ethnobotanical review of wild edible plants of Estonia (1770s–1960s). Acta Societatis Botanicorum Poloniae 81(4):271–281.
——— and ———. 2013. Wild plants eaten in childhood: retrospective of 1970s-1990s Estonia. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 172:239–253.
Kull, A., J. Idavain, A. Kull, T. Oja, Ü.Ehrlich, and Ü. Mander. 2007. The changing landscapes of transitional economies: The Estonian coastal zone. In Multifunctional Land Use (pp. 327–340). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
Licata, M., T. Tuttolomondo, C. Leto, G. Virga, G. Bonsangue, I. Cammalleri, M. C. Gennaro, and S. L. Bella. 2016. A survey of wild plant species for food use in Sicily (Italy)—results of a 3-year study in four Regional Parks. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 12:12.
Luce, J. W. L. v. 1823. Topographische Nachrichten von der Insel Oesel, in medicinischer und ökonomischer Hinsicht. Riga: Häcker.
Łuczaj, Ł. and M. Kujawska. 2012. Botanists and their childhood memories: An underutilized expert source in ethnobotanical research. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 168:334–343.
———, P. Köhler, E. Pirożnikow, M. Graniszewska, A. Pieroni, and T. Gervasi. 2013. Wild edible plants of Belarus: from Rostafiński’s questionnaire of 1883 to the present. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 9: 1.
Łuczaj Ł., A. Pieroni, J. Tardío, M. Pardo-de-Santayana, R. Sõukand, I. Svanberg, and R. Kalle. 2012. Wild food plant use in 21st century Europe: The disappearance of old traditions and the search for new cuisines involving wild edibles. Acta Societatis Botanicorum Poloniae. 81: 359–370.
Łuczaj, Ł., K. Stawarczyk, T. Kosiek, M. Pietras, and A. Kujawa. 2015. Wild food plants and fungi used by Ukrainians in the western part of the Maramureş region in Romania. Acta Societatis Botanicorum Poloniae 84:339–346.
Mander, Ü. 1994. Changes of landscape structure in Estonia during the Soviet period. GeoJournal 33:45–54.
Menendez-Baceta, G., L. Aceituno-Mata, J. Tardío, V. Reyes-García, and M. Pardo-de-Santayana. 2012. Wild edible plants traditionally gathered in Gorbeialdea (Biscay, Basque Country). Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution 59(7):1329–1347.
Mustafa, B., A. Hajdari, A. Pieroni, B. Pulaj, X. Koro, and C. L. Quave. 2015. A cross-cultural comparison of folk plant uses among Albanians, Bosniaks, Gorani and Turks living in south Kosovo. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 11:39.
Palang, H. 2010. Time boundaries and landscape change: Collective farms 1947–1994. European Countryside 2(3):169–181.
Pardo-de-Santayana, M., C.L. Quave, R. Sõukand, and A. Pieroni. 2015. Medical ethnobotany and ethnopharmacology of Europe. Michael Heinrich, Anna Jäger (Eds.). Ethnopharmacology—a Reader. Wiley-Blackwell, pp 339–351.
———, J. Tardío, E. Blanco, A. M. Carvalho, J. J. Lastra, E. San Miguel, and R. Morales. 2007. Traditional knowledge of wild edible plants used in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal): A comparative study. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 3:27.
Pieroni, A., B. Rexhepi, A. Nedelcheva, A. Hajdari, B. Mustafa, V. Kolosova, K. Cianfaglione, and C. L. Quave. 2013. One century later: the folk botanical knowledge of the last remaining Albanians of the upper Reka Valley, Mount Korab, Western Macedonia. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 9:22.
Quave, C. L. and A. Pieroni. 2015. A reservoir of ethnobotanical knowledge informs resilient food security and health strategies in the Balkans. Nature Plants 1:14021.
Redžić, S. 2010a. Use of wild and semi-wild edible plants in nutrition and survival of people in 1430 Days of Siege of Sarajevo During the War in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992–1995). Collegium Antropologicum 34(2):551–570.
——— 2010b. Wild mushrooms and lichens used as human food for survival in war conditions; Podrinje-Zepa Region (Bosnia and Herzegovina, W. Balkan). Human Ecology Review 17(2):175–187.
Reyes-García, V., G. Menendez-Baceta, L. Aceituno-Mata, R. Acosta-Naranjo, L. Calvet-Mir, P. Domínguez, T. Garnatje, E. Gómez-Baggethun, M. Molina-Bustamante, M. Molina, and R. Rodríguez-Franco. 2015. From famine foods to delicatessen: Interpreting trends in the use of wild edible plants through cultural ecosystem services. Ecological Economics 120:303–311.
———, V. Vadez, T. Huanca, W. Leonard, and D. Wilkie. 2005. Knowledge and consumption of wild plants: A comparative study in two Tsimane’ villages in the Bolivian Amazon. Ethnobotany Research & Applications 3:201–208.
Rockström, J., W. Steffen, K. Noone, Å. Persson, F. S. Chapin, E. F. Lambin, T. M. Lenton, M. Scheffer, C. Folke, H. J. Schellnhuber, and B. Nykvist. 2009. A safe operating space for humanity. Nature 461:472–475.
Serrasolses, G., L. Calvet-Mir, E. Carrió, U. D’Ambrosio, T. Garnatje, M. Parada, J. Vallès, and V. Reyes-García. 2016. A matter of taste: local explanations for the consumption of wild food plants in the Catalan Pyrenees and the Balearic Islands. Economic Botany 70:176–189.
Sooväli, H., H. Palang, E. Kaur, T. Peil, and I. Vermandere. 2003. Combining approaches in landscape research. In Landscape Interfaces (pp. 357–374). Springer Netherlands.
Sõukand, R. and R. Kalle. 2013. Where does the border lie: locally grown plants used for making tea for recreation and/or healing, 1970s–1990s Estonia. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 150(1):162–174.
——— and ———. 2015. Emic conceptualization of a ‘wild edible plant’ in Estonia in the second half of the 20th century. Trames 19:15–34.
——— and ———. 2016. Perceiving the biodiversity of food at chest-height: Use of the fleshy fruits of wild trees and shrubs in Saaremaa, Estonia. Human Ecology 44:265–272.
———, and ———. 2016b. Use of wild food plants in Estonia: 18th to 21st century. Springer. [In press]
——— and A. Pieroni. 2016. The importance of a border: medical, veterinary, and wild food ethnobotany of the Hutsuls living on the Romanian and Ukrainian sides of Bukovina. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 85:17–40.
———, C. L. Quave, A. Pieroni, M. Pardo-de-Santayana, J. Tardío, R. Kalle, Ł. Łuczaj, I. Svanberg, V. Kolosova, L. Aceituno-Mata, G. Menendez, I. Kołodziejska-Degórska, E. Pirożnikow, R. Petkevičius, A. Hajdari, and B. Mustafa. 2013. Plants used for making recreational tea in Europe: A review based on specific research sites. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 9:58.
Stevens, P. F. 2015. Angiosperm Phylogeny Website, version 13. Available at: http://www.mobot.org/MOBOT/research/APweb/ (accessed 08.06.2016).
Stryamets, N., M. Elbakidze, M. Ceuterick, P. Angelstam, and R. Axelsson. 2015. From economic survival to recreation: Contemporary uses of wild food and medicine in rural Sweden, Ukraine and NW Russia. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 11:53.
Svanberg, I., R. Sõukand, Ł. Łuczaj, R. Kalle, O. Zyryanova, A. Dénes, N. Papp, A. Nedelcheva, D. Seskauskaite, I. Kolodziejska-Degorska, and V. Kolosova. 2012. Uses of tree saps in northern and eastern parts of Europe. Acta Societatis Botanicorum Poloniae 81:343–357.
Tardìo, J. and M. Pardo-de-Santayana. 2008. Cultural importance indices: A comparative analysis based on the useful wild plants of Southern Cantabria (Northern Spain). Economic Botany 62:24–39.
Tilman, D., R. M. May, C. L. Lehman, and M. A. Nowak. 1994. Habitat destruction and the extinction debt. Nature 371(6492):65–66.
The Plant List. 2013. Available at: http://www.theplantlist.org/ (accessed 15.09.2015).
Trotter, R. T. and M. H. Logan. 1986. Informant consensus: A new approach for identifying potentially effective medicinal plants. Pages 91–112 in N. L. Etkin, ed., Plants in Indigenous Medicine and Diet. Behavioural Approaches. Redgrave Publishing Company, Bredford Hills, New York.
Tutin, T., V. Heywood, N. Burges, D. Valentine, S. Walters, and D. Webb. 1964. Flora Europaea. University Press, Cambridge, UK.
This research has been supported by ESF grants ETF9419, EKKM14-300, and IUT22-5; writing of the paper was partially supported by the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund (Centre of Excellence in Estonian Studies, CEES), and accommodation during the fieldworks was provided by the State Forest Management Centre. The authors are grateful to all our inspiring interviewees, to P. James Macaluso for English editing, and three anonymous reviewers for insightful comments on the previous version of this manuscript. The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Kalle, R., Sõukand, R. Current and Remembered Past Uses of Wild Food Plants in Saaremaa, Estonia: Changes in the Context of Unlearning Debt. Econ Bot 70, 235–253 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12231-016-9355-x
- food security
- food shortage
- wild food plants
- childhood memories
- folk history