Sulejman Redžić


Research about wild mushrooms and lichens in War conditions and hunger at Podrinje – Zepa Region, Bosnia and Herzegovina, West Balkan region


Wild Mushrooms and Lichens used as Human Food for Survival in War Conditions




Divlja gljiva za potenciju wild mooshroms Morchella genus

During 2002-2005, research has been conducted within eastern Bosnia, on the use of mushrooms and lichens and their effect on people’s survival in war shelters and on isolated guerilla fighters in the area during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992-95). 51 adults have been contacted for this research, including former soldiers who were holedup in the enclave during the siege between April 1992 and June 1995, when free territory was overtaken. At that time, residents of the area escaped and a number of defense soldiers formed guerilla groups.

Using the method of “ethnobotanical” interview, 25 species of mushrooms and 7 species of lichens were used by interviewees during the siege. The most used mushrooms were: Agaricus campestris, Boletus edulis, and Cantharellus cibarius.

The most used lichens were Evernia prunastri (oak lichen) and Usnea sp. (Old Man’s Beard), used for porridge and for lichen flour.


Besides chronic and acute hunger caused by different economic and social issues (WHO 2000; FAO/WHO 2002; Allen et al. 2006) in some countries, common causes of hunger are war, exodus and ghettoes. Such patterns of human interaction are, unfortunately, becoming more present. (Goto et al. 1958; Guggenheim 1982; Smith Fawzi et al. 1997; Huxley et al. 2000). One example of such an occurrence is the four-year long war (1992-1995) in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) followed by exoduses of civil victims (ICMP 2007), a constant lack of food, drinking water and medicines (Redzic et al. 1997).

A particularly difficult and incertitude situation was in the occupied and completely blocked Sarajevo, as well as isolated enclaves in eastern Bosnia — Zepa and Srebrenica, as well as in other places where humanitarian aid wasn’t distributed. Wars, exoduses and ghettoes around the world are causes of malnutrition in all residents, including soldiers. A number of syndromes are direct result of malnutrition. It was noted that these situations can lead to a growth in cases of diabetes (Goto et al. 1958), reproductive problems (Wynn and Wynn 1993), a decrease of body mass index in children (Redzic and Hadzihalilovic 2007) and a high number of miscarriages (Redzic 1999).

Circumstances during the war were extremely tough. It was particularly difficult to accept them as conditions in which one could organize an ordinary life. After a certain period of time, some kind of hidden instinct and urge to struggle for life emerged. Among the population, certain psychoecological patterns in approach and concept of living were developed. With time, people even became used to living with bombshells and everyday explosions. In the next phase, a form of “war syndrome as survival necessity” appeared.

During the initial few months, people’s weight loss was significant, sometimes up to 30kg. Mass undernourishment developed (Smaijki´c et al. 1995). Afterward, people developed a stronger instinct for living and desire for survival. The first reaction to the new conditions was to search for food in the
immediate environment (Redzic 1993).

The lack of conventional food during was emphasized in urban areas, especially in surrounded Sarajevo (Redzic 1993; Vespa and Watson 1993-95). Besides the lack of food, there were huge shortages in dietetics and medicines, which mostly influenced elderly and chronic patients (Redzic 1999a). Therefore, a plan of obtaining additional nutrition from the natural environment was used (Redzic 1993), including gathering medicinal plants in free territories that were used as dietetics products (Redzic et al. 1997).

Conditions in villages were slightly different. Residents were oriented toward nature and natural food sources, toward surviving in difficult everyday conditions. Despite that, reserves of conventional food were exhausted in time and the population suffered from severe hunger. Hunger influenced civilians and soldiers to find ways to use available food. An especially difficult situation was in the occupied and surrounded area of Podrinje, in a town called Zepa. People from this area were under siege for three and half years, and were forcibly expelled in June 1995. Several thousand people sought refuge toward free territories through nearby cliffs, while haunted by panic and hit by severe hunger. For some of them, this fight for survival lasted up to six months. People ate anything. Centuries long held myths about wild food, especially about mushrooms and lichens, and some small animals, were disregarded. It is all about prejudices. People have rather died of hunger than reached after food from the wilderness. They preferred to consume either beech bark or shoe soles than to look after the alternative food sources in nature.

In general, mushrooms were considered to be dangerous and poisonous, which is why they were avoided in human nutrition. Thus, many species of high nutritional values, such as those from genera Coprinus, Boletus, Russula and others, have not been used at all. Even today, one can hear the stories about killing of unwanted persons with mushrooms (women used to poison spouses they didn’t like or daughters in law used to poison their mothers in law). For some of the mushrooms, such as Morchella genus, it is common belief that they increase sexual potential in men. Therefore, young women used to keep pulverized mushrooms, hidden away from other household’s members, and to administrate it in secret to their husbands, just before going to bed. And if they have found Phallus impudicus, girls believed that it was a sign how well equipped would be their future spouse.

Even though mushrooms were very unpopular in conventional nutrition in these areas due to genuine fear of poisonous mushrooms, the situation during the war was completely different. Increased interest was not only toward two or three previously known species (Agaricus, Lactarius and Morchella) but toward a number of other species. This improved the human protein intake that they were lacking. Previous research on the use of mushrooms in human nutrition, especially on their nutritive and curative aspects, proved without doubt that mushrooms are extremely important (Grlic 1980; Miles and Chang 1997; Manzi et al. 1999; Mattila et al. 2000; Pieroni et al. 2005; Ruan-Soto et al. 2006).

Mushrooms are also known to be a very healthy food and good as a dietetic and medicine (Breene 1990; Johl et al. 1995-96; Falandysz et al. 2001; Dabour and Takruri 2002; Hossain et al. 2003; Dursun et al. 2006). For these reasons, more attention has been given to mushrooms. This is particularly due to the fact that a great number of mushrooms are still unknown biologically in relation to their nutritional and medicinal value.

As wars and other catastrophes are followed by lack of conventional food, greater attention is given to the discovery of new food sources (Ertug 2004; GRIN 2005; PFAF 2006; Tardio et al. 2006; Redzic 2006a). Such sources could be found in already known, as well as still unknown, plants, mushrooms and wild animals (CBD 2005). If compared to wild plants, mushrooms have much better nutritive advantages, as a good source of proteins, minerals and fats. (Petrovska et al. 2001; Savage et al. 2002).

Lichens or lichenized fungi are important but a still poorly affirmed source in human nutrition. There are cases where people would rather die from chronic hunger than eat a wild plant, animal or lichen (Vracaric 1977). Unlike plants and mushrooms, lichens are not poisonous or are far less poisonous and therefore are more suitable for human use. According to recent studies, lichens are an extraordinary source of nutrients, dietetics and medicines (Gorin and Iacomini 1984; Esimone et Adikwu 1999; Gulcin et al. 2002). Most recent results in food science studies have indicated an extraordinary importance on a global level of an in creased need for new sources of food and new means of food preparation. (Pieroni et al. 2005; Luczaj and Szymanski 2007).

Wild mushrooms and lichens, in particular, are still fairly unknown and poorly affirmed in human nutrition, especially in extraordinary conditions such as war. This study gives special attention to such biodiversity with the goal to promote them as new sources in production of different dietetics, both in war and peaceful situations. Previous experience in these areas showed that only a few plants are known as supplements for flour (Vracaric et al. 1967; Vracaric 1977; Redzic 2006a). In this aspect, lichens are additional and important resources.

The main goals of this study are:

(1) to provide an inventory of mushrooms and lichens used by humans as a food source during the war in eastern Bosnia;

(2) to offer ways of preparation, preservation and storage of these food sources;

(3) to identified original nutrition patterns in cases of food shortages during war and in occupied areas and shelters;

(4) and to investigate changes in behavior of affected individuals and amplitudes of their adaptation on a given environmental conditions.

. . .

Full paperwork and study for download as pdf file is here: Wild Mushrooms and Lichens used as Human Food – Sulejman Redžic