Ethnobotany of divided generations in the context of centralization

Understanding the logics of obtaining, managing and perceiving of local natural resources, particularly plants, is crucial for ensuring sustainability of human life, as the use of plants is a key for survival of humans.

DiGe aims to create an advanced understanding of the mechanisms of changes in ethnobotanical knowledge experienced by traditional societies/minor ethnic groups when dominating group try to unify and/or erode this practical knowledge. It will also evaluate the effects of the sudden cease to existence of such centralization and following impact of the trial of revival of discontinued traditional etnobotanical knowledge.

Research will observe the effect of several social and cultural factors on the evolution of ethnobotanical knowledge of four compact, but divided ethnic minorities that had experienced for shorter (25 years) or longer (70 years) period different influences affecting their plant use and very different social conditions (including welfare and economy).

As a long-term outcome is possibility to predict the extent and depth of the changes occurring in the ethnobotanical knowledge and as a applied outcome learn to direct and educate people in the way that the knowledge necessary for sustainable maintenance and utilization of local plant resources will be constantly evolving in the way supporting health and well-being of different populations.



26–28 February 2020, St Petersburg, Russia. Russian Ethnographical Museum. The 8th Sjögren Readings. "North-West: Ethno-Confessional History and Historical-Cultural Landscape".

Karelian Banya in Ethnobotanical Context. Valeria Kolosova. Abstract: The report concerns using plants by people in Karelia in connection with banya. The data were collected during the field work in the framework of the project “Ethnobotany of Separated Generations in the Context of Centralization” in 2018 and 2019. A special “banya questionnaire” was used for conducting interviews. The following plant functions were identified: building material, firewood, washing utensils, material for banya brooms, as well as the use for washing and cosmetic purposes. Most respondents prefer to build banya of pine wood while inner parts and most utensils were made of aspen. As caulking material, moss is used. The preferred type of firewood is birch, as well as banya brooms, with specific rules of preparing them; still, a number of other plants are used for banya brooms, both for healing (juniper, nettle) and for pleasure (oak, willow herb, eucalyptus, spiraea). The paper also concerns solutions, decoctions and infusions of plants used for pouring onto stove, washing body and hair, dying hair, skin care, as well as preferred drinks after banya. The interview materials demonstrate that using banya in Karelian culture is very sustainable, and changes are minimal.


21–22 November 2019, Sofia, Bulgaria Plant Diversity Towards Society 2019 - International Scientific Conference Plant Diversity: sociocultural dimensions and interdisciplinary projections

Abstract: Karelian Folk Medicine: Potentilla Erecta (L.) Rauesch. Valeria Kolosova.
The paper is based on the field materials collected in the summer of 2018 in the Republic of Karelia, Russian Federation. Most respondents mentioned the root of the plant called in Russain калган ‘(common) tormentil Potentilla erecta (L.) Raeusch’ as a widely-used medicine. The paper contains analysis of field data about Potentilla erecta. The respondents mentioned it as a remedy for a wide variety of diseases: diarrhea and stomach disorders in general, radiculitis, pain in joints, skin problems, and even dysentery and staphylococcus. They also described details of collecting, preparing, and storage of the plant, as well as the peculiarities of its use for adult patients and for children. Another sphere of plant use is folk veterinary. It is especially interesting that among the users of the plant there are professional medical workers who both use it themselves and advise to their patients. Many of our respondents spent their early years in remote villages, where state medicine and veterinary were not easily accessible, and medicinal plants played an important role in maintaining health. Still, many people continued to use medicinal herbs during the Soviet period and have been doing it nowadays. The reason may lay in the habit to rely mostly on one’s own resources as well as in the abrupt decrease of the medical care availability after the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the supporting role of the modern turn to natural remedies as a part of bio- and eco- life style.

24–25 October 2019, Petrozavodsk, Russia. International Scientific and Practical Conference "Indigenous Peoples of Karelia: History and Modernity"

Using plants by Karelians and Russians of Karelia: Past and Present. Valeria Kolosova
Abstract: The report concerns the relations of people in Karelia with the plant world. The data were collected during the field work in the framework of the project “Ethnobotany of Separated Generations in the Context of Centralization” in 2018 and 2019. The interaction between various actors – the local population, state institutions, private entrepreneurs – based on the use of wild plants in cooking, traditional medicine, veterinary medicine, cosmetics, crafts, and other areas of life, is considered. The list of plants used is determined, as well as the role of each of them in the region. The statistical approach allowed identifying the most significant (pine, cowberry) and peripheral (wild rosemary, oak) plants, the ones with narrow use (common tormentil, plantain, willow) and with a wide range of applications (birch, nettle), etc. There are “statistical disturbances” caused by enthusiasts searching for information about plants in the reference literature, actively using them in their practice and sharing knowledge in their circle of friends, or producing plant products for sale. Special attention is paid to changes having occurred in the assortment of plants and their use (methods of processing and storage of products, insecticidal treatment of homes and clothes, treatment of livestock, etc.) from the 1930ies to date. Recently, the use of such exotic plants for Karelia as eucalyptus, moringa, and others has been noted. The most resistant to changes turned out to be such spheres as the ritual use of plants in calendar rites, the banya procedure; most subject to changes are folk veterinary medicine, cosmetics, tea substitutes. Traditional medicine is a complex structure in which some plants have retained their function, while others have changed it over time; a number of plants is for many diseases; others are called extremely rarely. In conclusion, the opinions of informants about changes in the ecology of the region, their impact on the plant world and everyday life of the population of the republic are given.


16-19 October 2019, Recife, Brazil - VII International Congress of Ethnobotany and I ICEZO International Congress of ethnozoology

Oral presentation. Stryamets N., Mattalia G., Prokofyeva Y., Khomyn I., Sõukand R. Resistance of rituals: use of wild plants in cultural practices in case studies in Ukraine and Lithuania. Book of abstracts, VII International Congress of Ethnobotany and I ICEZO International Congress of ethnozoology, 16-19 October 2019, Recife, Brazil, p. 163

29 September - 5 October 2019, Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil - XXV IUFRO World Congress

Attended 3000 participants

Oral presentation: Non-timber forest products as cultural ecosystem services: A case study from the Western Ukraine. Stryamets Nataliya, Mattalia Giulia, Soukand, Renata.

Short oral presentation

Shift in the use of forest and consequences on traditional ecological knowledge among Hutsuls in the Carpathians, Western Ukraine. Mattalia Giulia, Stryamets Nataliya, Soukand, Renata.

2-4 September 2019, Lviv, Ukraine - Temperate and boreal primeval forests in the face of global change

Attended 130 participants

Oral presentation: Stryamets N., Mattalia G., Sõukand R., Stryamets, S. Beech forests for livelihoods: cases from Western Ukraine. Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL, 2019: Temperate and boreal primeval forests in the face of global change Conference, 2-4 September 2019, Lviv (Ukraine). Birmensdorf, Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, 139 pp.

2–6 June, 2019 Kazanj, Russia. XIII Congress of Anthropologists and Ethnologists of Russia

Digital ethnobotany": computer programs in ethnobotanical researches. Valeria Kolosova, Olga Belichenko, Kira Kovalenko Abstract: The report discusses software products used in ethnobotanical studies at different stages. An overview of the programs used in the project DiGe - Ethnobotany of divided generations in the context of centralization (Ca’ Foscari University, Venice) is given. At the stage of decoding the interviews, the F4 program is used, which allows managing the audio recording and the text file simultaneously without switching between windows, setting the time of the recorded segments automatically, etc. The transcribed materials are entered into the Excel program with information about the informant and the plant being described. Then, data is processed by the ANTHROPAC program, which is designed to analyze cultural domain data. It allows analysing structured qualitative and quantitative data, conducting paired comparisons, building ratings, etc. At the stage of writing scientific articles, the Mendeley program is used, which allows searching by authors and keywords within the texts of articles, as well as automating the compilation of a bibliography, making it in accordance with the requirements of various scientific journals. Similar functions can be performed by Zotero. http://iea-ras.ru/index.php?go=Ethno&in=view&id=112 

4 June 2019, Cincinnati, OH, USA - The future of forests: perspectives from indigenous people, traditional practices and conservation

Guilia Mattalia attended, 150 participants, organized by the Society for Economic Botany

Abstract: The emotional tie to the forest: contrasting perspectives from Carpathians mountains (SW Ukraine) and Apennines mountains (Central Italy). Giulia Mattalia, Nataliya Stryamets, Andrea Pieroni, Renata Soukand. In many mountain areas of Europe, lives of local dwellers and forests have been deeply interweaved for centuries. For long time, local inhabitants of Hutsulshchyna (SW Ukraine) and Casentino (Central Italy) had been working in forest-related activities. However, economic and social shifts occurred in both areas in the XX century caused a sudden abandonment of these forestry activities. This led to a strong depopulation of both the studied rural areas. In this study, we aimed at discussing the current perceptions and legacy toward the forest of both Ukrainian and Italian local communities. Specifically, we studied the current and past uses of wild plant and mushroom taxa gathered in the forest to analyse the perception of the ecological consequences of such economic and ecologic shifts. Between 2017 and 2018, we gathered respectively 30 and 45 interviews in Casentino and Hutsulshchyna.  The semi-structured interviews pointed out different aptitudes. The Ukrainian communities recognized the unicity of their local ecological practices regarding forest management and highlighted their emotional tie and deep identification between themselves and the forest that provided economic valuable products such as Vaccinium myrtillus and Boletus edulis. This occurs despite abrupt socio-ecological changes including abandonment of pastoral activity and deforestation. Conversely, inhabitants of the Casentino forests, showed relevant emotional distance to the forest, mainly due to the bureaucracy caused by the institution of a national park in 1993 and the full abandonment of traditional forest-related activities. These factors contributed to creating a deep gap between forest and local communities that feel overwhelmed by conservation measures and complain the overgrowing of the forest and the disappearance of undergrowth berries such as Rubus ideaus and Fragaria vesca.  We discuss that these different aptitudes are crucial to develop local strategies for achieving overall ecological, economic and social sustainability to preserve the whole ecosystem. This project has received funding from ERC, grant agreement No 714874 and PRIN 2015P8524C.

29 May – 2 June 2019, Renmin University of China, Beijing, China - The Nature of Health, the Health of Nature: Perspectives from History and the Humanities

Cosponsored by the Rachel Carson Center, Munich, and the Center for Ecological History, Renmin University of China, Beijing. Number of participants – 61.

Abstract: Perceptions of health and medications on the border: crossing barriers, transferring contents. Julia Prakofjewa. Nowadays borders are not only physical or mental barriers but often also opportunities. It produces various forms of people interactions, relations and activities across them which would not exist without the border. In this context, the modern Belarusian-Lithuanian borderland is an interesting case study of the perceptions of health and medications after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the completely different political, social, educational, medical systems. Reflecting on 162 semi-structured interviews with local residents, collected in Hrodna region (Belarus) and Vilnius region (Lithuania) in June - August 2018, I discussed the local health practices and use of healthcare services among the Lithuanians, Poles, Belarusians and Russians living on the borderland. I examined perceptions of current health interventions, accessibility to health care, prioritisation of health problems, and their perceptions regarding the national health systems. The results revealed the gross importance of self-medication and especially significant role played by plants in the health care systems of the inhabitants in the borderland region, which is relatively distant from academic health. An important element reinforcing self-medication and especially the use of plants is the popular literature, which easily penetrates the borders, providing thus a potent external influence that may, or more often may not correspond to local environmental conditions.

6-7 May 2019, Paris, France - Indigenous and local knowledge dialogue workshop for the IPBES assessment on sustainable use of wild species workshop Paris

35 experts from all over the globe discussed the question concerning the use of wild species by local communities. Nataliya Stryamets took part in round tables discussion and workshop.

28 April – 4 May 2019, Gülnar, Mersin, Turkey - Land-sparing vs. land-sharing for functional green infrastructure that sustains biodiversity and ecosystem services? – European landscape approach initiatives provide regionally adapted solutions

16 Participants from 7 countries were describing their study sites and the activities within their project connected to natural resource uses. Nataliya Stryamets was presenting Ukrainian part of the Bukovina area and the ethnobotanical uses of wild plants within the region.

Abstract: Ethnobotany of Ukrainian and Romanian Border. Nataliya Stryamets. Forests provide a diversity of tangible and intangible benefits for sustaining local rural livelihoods. The analysis of the intangible benefits provided by forest landscapes have been highlighted as significant research question recently. Within the framework of intimate human-nature interaction, the aim of our research was to analyze the role of non-wood forest products (NWFPs) as cultural and provisioning ecosystem services for rural residents in the Western Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania. We conducted seventy-two in-depth semi-structured interviews with local rural residents during summer 2018 in Bukovina region in Ukraine to understand the role of forest resources as cultural and provisioning ecosystem services, focusing on spiritual uses of different wild and semi-domesticated plant taxa. We conclude that the role of NTFPs as cultural and provisioning ecosystem services for local livelihoods is crucial. This research was supported by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme (grant agreement No 714874).

13 March 2019, University of Gastronomic Sciences, Pollenzo, Italy - UNISG 2019 Research Day

Abstract: Research and Narrative of Local Gastronomic Knowledge. Renata Soukand. Until recently, a narrative has been perceived as storytelling that, before the development of writing, was the only way of communicating events from one generation to the next. Although mainly regarded as an exclusive research subject of cultural studies, it is now entering other spheres of research and education. Inspired by the idea of narrative economics proposed by Nobel Laureate Robert J. Shiller in 2017, and relying on the first research results of our ethnobotanical project funded by the European Research Council (ERC grant agreement No 714874), I discuss the various types of narrative currently influencing research on Local Gastronomic Knowledge (LGK). In the light of the success of the Slow Food movement and the enthusiasm of young environmental activists inspired by Greta Thunberg, there is a hope that academia as a research institution has the power to create and “implant” the “great narrative” that supports the importance of LGK as a means of sustainability. If properly harmonized with the personal narratives of individuals, it has the potential to eventually change the ways people think and act, which may give us, as well as many other species, a greater chance of survival

1-5 April 2019, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. UAS Spring Campus - The Future is Now: Driving Sustainable Development

Olga Belichenko presentation title: “The invention of organic: rosebay willowherb (Epilobium angustifolium) in Post-Soviet Russian culture”. 


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Latest publications

  • Sõukand R, Stryamets N, Fontefrancesco MF, Pieroni A. 2020. The importance of tolerating interstices: Babushka markets in Ukraine and Eastern Europe and their role in maintaining local food knowledge and diversity. Heliyon, e03222, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e03222
  • Sõukand R, Mattalia G, Kolosova V, Stryamets N, Prakofjewa J, Belichenko O, Kuznetsova N, Minuzzi S, Keedus L, Prūse B, Simanova A, and Kalle R. 2020. Inventing a herbal tradition: The complex roots of the current popularity of Epilobium angustifolium in Eastern Europe. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 112254. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2019.112254
  • Kalle R, Belichenko O, Kuznetsova N, Kolosova V, Prakofjewa J, Stryamets N, Mattalia G, Šarka P, Simanova A, Pruse B, Mežaka I, Soukand R. 2020. Gaining momentum: popularization of Epilobium angustifolium as food and recreational tea on the Eastern edge of Europe. Appetite. DOOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2020.104638

The team