Multi-functionality of the few: current and past uses of wild plants for food and healing in Liubań region, Belarus

J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2017 Feb 8;13(1):10. doi: 10.1186/s13002-017-0139-x.


Background: This study examined the use of wild plants in the food, medicinal and veterinary areas within a small territory limited to one village council in the Liubań district of Belarus. The objectives of the research were to document the current and past uses of wild plants in this region for food and human/animal medication; to analyse the food, medicinal and veterinary areas in the context of wild plants; and to qualitatively compare the results with relevant publications concerning the wild food plants of Belarus.

Methods: Fieldwork was carried out as a practical part of a development cooperation project in May 2016 in 11 villages of the Liubań district. One hundred thirty-four respondents were selected randomly. Information about local uses of wild plants was obtained via semi-structured interviews and the folk-history method. Interview records were digitalized and the data structured in Detailed Use Records (DUR), which were divided into food, medicinal and veterinary areas and then analysed to ascertain local perceptions.

Results: A total of 2252 DUR of wild plants were recorded. Eighty-eight wild plant taxa belonging to 45 plant families were used across all three areas. Of these, 58 taxa were used in the food, 74 in the medicinal and 23 in the veterinary areas. A relatively high percentage of the taxa were used in both the food and medicinal areas (55%) and an even greater percentage in both the medicinal and veterinary areas (87%). Comparison with earlier research on wild food plants shows the considerable difference among seldom-mentioned taxa or uses, showing possible regional differences despite the homogenization of the population during the Soviet era.

Conclusions: As the majority of taxa with overlapping uses belonged to the most utilized plants, there appears to be clear a tendency to use plants in several different areas once they are brought into the home. This may be due to the need to maximize the versatility of limited resources. While the number of wild taxa used is relatively high, the mean number of taxa used per person is quite low, which indicates the relatively minor importance of wild plants in the respective areas in the study region. The low importance of snacks signals that unintended contact with nature has been lost.

Keywords: Belarus; Ethnobotany; Ethnopharmacology; Ethnoveterinary; Food plants; Food-medicine; Liubań; Local knowledge; Medicinal plants; Wild plants.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ethnobotany
  • Food* / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Plants, Edible*
  • Plants, Medicinal*
  • Republic of Belarus