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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.

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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.

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Correspondence to Renata Sõukand.

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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).

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Key Words

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