Wild plants for food in the War conditions

Use of Wild plants 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)



Wild plants in nutrition and war conditions Kopriva urtica dioca

This study is a systematic overview of data on use of wild plants and semi-wild edible plants in nutrition of people in 1430 days of the siege of Sarajevo during aggression on Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992–1995). The author of this study spent all that time in Sarajevo.

In 1993, the author prepared a survival program for people that included usage of edible wild plants. In addition, he conducted a detailed survey, including special interviews, on 630 people of average age 37.4 years (55% residential inhabitants, the rest were refuges), 310 males and the rest were females.

According to survey, 91 species of mostly wild plants and three species of fungus were used: Küchneromyces mutabilis, Armillariella mellea and Coprinus comatus. Wild vegetables included 49 species, spices 24, wild fruits 16, and 2 species of bread-plants. They belong to 26 plants communities, and grew on 24 different habitats (urban surfaces, river coasts, low forest and scrubs, meadows and rocky grasslands). The 156 plant parts (leaves, young branches, fruit, flower, seed, root and rhizome) from 91 plant species were used. Vegetables were dominant category of use (soups, pottages, sauces) with 80 ways of preparation (30.53%), then salads 41 (15.65%), spices 39 (14.89%), different beverages 38 (14.50%), sweets 21 (8.02%), nutritive teas 15 (5.73%), and other preparations. In order to improve conventional food (war pasta, rice, lentils, old beans) people used spices made from different wild plants.


Nutrition is one of the most important factors for all living organisms, including humans. It is an important factor in peace and during the war. Wars, as special form of human interaction, are accompanied by a number of shortages, for example, shortage of food, water and medicines.

Therefore, wars often cause acute and chronic hunger. Wars, as a way of interaction among people, unfortunately, are becoming more and more present in the world. One of them is was the four-years long war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) (1992–1996) followed by exoduses, civilian casualties, gethoisation, sieges of cities and whole regions. Among others, the war in BiH is characterized by chronic shortages of food, drinking water and medicines. During a relatively short period of time this caused malnutrition of all groups of people in BiH. Specially difficult and vague situation was in occupied and completely blocked Sarajevo. Circumstances were not better in Tuzla, Zenica, Podrinje and a number of smaller cities were  humanitarian aid programs had difficulties reaching.

Previous wars and extraordinary circumstances around the world were accompanied by shortages in food, malnutrition of people of all ages, as well as soldiers. Malnutrition initiates appearance of a number of syndromes. Specially emphasized is development of diabetes and reproduction issues, decrease of body mass index at boys in surrounded Tuzla, high level of miscarriages of women in the surrounded Sarajevo. In all wars to date the food was a big problem. During the First World War there was great want to feed the entire world.

Part of the experience in the field of Central Europe, as well as measures to combat hunger in different periods provides an exhaustive presented of Adam Maurizio.

The city of Sarajevo was totally blocked for 1443 days – between April 6, 1992 and November 25th, 1995. In such conditions, with everyday bomb shelling, shortages of food, water, heating, and people spontaneously organized among themselves. One of first forms of organization of civilians was attempt to provide food. Conventional forms were significantly reduced. Especially difficult and complicated, even lethal, was period of 1992 and 1993, both for local inhabitants and refugees. That winter was extremely cold and long. People began making habits of living in war, under bomb shelling, with shortages of water, in cold apartments. However, most difficult was to get accustomed to being hungry or to monotonous food and shortages of food. Even when humanitarian aid program began, it was limited and very monotonous, consisting of rice, lentil, old beans and cans that were dozens of years old. As there was no electricity and natural gas, and no fire wood, preparation of available food was very inadequate. Aside from non-ordinary taste of food, it additionally aggravated already difficult situation.

Especially endangered were infants, children and elderly people. During first couple of months people significantly lost weight, some over 20–30 kg. Mass undernourishment appeared. After that, people developed accented urge for living. First reaction to new conditions was search for food in direct environment. Living conditions in surrounded Sarajevo were additionally compliated by lack of dietetics and medicines, necessary for elderly chronic patients. That is the reason why programs of alternative treatments from natural environment were conducted8, so medicinal herbs, found on free territories were collected and used for preparation of dietetics.

Study as pdf file is free for download here: Wild and semi wild plants in Nutrition in the War conditions in Sarajevo, BiH


Sulejman Redžić
Academy of Sciences and Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

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