Wild plants and their use in the human nutrition in Bosnia

Traditional usage of wild, edible, vitaminous, and aromatic plants in the human nutrition of population in Bosnia and Herzegovina


Wild edible plants and their traditional use in the human nutrition in BiH vaccinium myrtillus

This article presents first systematical procedure results on traditional usage of wild, edible, vitaminous, and aromatic plants in the nutrition of human population in Bosnia and Herzegovina (W. Balkan peninsula; SE Europe). By method of an ethnobotanical interview, which comprised of over 250 persons, whose average age was 55, and by research on edible wild flora all around Bosnia and Herzegovina that extended over many years, detected were 308 plants belonging to 73 plant families that are being used in nutrition and diet of indigenous population. Edible wild plants are used as delicious vegetables, fruits, peer and spices, in either fresh, raw, or dried condition.

Plants are being used for the making of cooked food (33%), fresh salads (19%), mush and bread (17%), or as fresh, wild fruits and drinks (13%) or as spices and ethno-pharmacological potions (10%). The majority of identified, wild edible plants may satisfy the daily human need for elementary nutrition material, particularly those of vitamins C and A, and for some minerals, according to the regulations of World Health Organization (WHO).



One of the most important problems of the current era is hunger. Despite the fact of stepping into the 21st century, according to World Health Organizations (WHO’s) estimation, more than one-third of human population suffers from hunger or severe malnutrition, one-third goes to bed semi-hungry or hungry, while only one-third of the world population fully enjoys all the benefits of adequate food supply (ACC/SCN, 1992–1993).

On the other hand, there has been an increasing trend of food contamination by various kind of toxic compounds (pesticides, fertilizers, all sorts of pollutants from the environment), which is prevalent most factor that influences human health. This kind of food additives cause a wide spectrum of pathological conditions in the human body, including different forms of cancer (WHO, 1995). It would be impossible to exclude these food from the human diet entirely due to an increase in hunger all additives over the world. However, certain preventive measures and steps can be undertaken in order to improve the current situation as much as possible.

Hence, there are two major problems facing mankind when it comes to the human diet: First, how to discover potential food resources and decrease hunger that becomes more prevalent everyday, and second how to provide sources of healthy food that would be acceptable for humans. One part of the solution should be looked for in the bio-technology and new technological discoveries. It is commonly believed that this dilemma will be successfully solved in future and that hunger will be minimized in general, or at least evenly distributed on the planet. But in these modern days, there are hungry people who require only minimal assistance to be sufficiently supplied with food, while the rest of the population urgently needs a larger amount of healthy and ecologically safe food.

Wilderness in many parts of the world rich in self-grown vitaminous and spicy plant species that could be a solid base for solving these problems. Although these resources are not an adequate basis for human diet, they could be an important source of supplementary food for starving populations and a dietary replacement for populations that in their daily diet consume unhealthy food (Colic 1962; Becker, 1983; Agrahar-Murugkar and Subbulakshmi, 2005; Addis et al., 2005).

Usage of self-grown plants in human diet has been present since the early age of mans existence (Moffett, 1991; Kubiak-Martens, 1999). That kind of practice has continued up to modern age, especially in countries that have been struck by chronic hunger or periodical hunger cycles (Vracaric, 1977; Sena et al., 1998; Hanazaki et al., 2000; Ladio, 2000; Lockett and Grivetti, 2000; Britta et al., 2003; Kristensen and Balslev, 2003; Tabuti et al., 2004; Glew et al., 2005).

Besides, usage of plants belonging to the wild flora, is common today as a supplement for healthy diet, even in the most developed regions of the world. Thus Nasturtium officinale is a necessary ingredient of salads in Scandinavian dishes and Valerianella locusta and Asparagus officinale are irreplaceable vegetables in Mediterranean countries (Grlie, 1952; 1954; Bonet and Valles, 2002; Guarrerra, 2003). Wild fruits of the following species: Fragaria vesca, Rubus ideaeus, R. fruticosus, R. hirtus, R. caesius, R. dalmatinus, Vaccinium myrtillus, V. vitis-idaea, Cornus mas, Sorbus torminalis, and S. aucuparia are highly valued in many developed countries (Fleischhauer, 2003; Sanghvi, 2004).

The problem of nutrition and a supply of sufficient food quantities has been present in the regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the entire Balkan Peninsula over the past centuries, especially in the western parts. Since the beginning of human settlement on the Balkan Peninsula, which goes back to the early neolith era, man has been fighting for his survival (Fukarek, 1954; Kusan, 1956; Josifovic, 1989). This area was often stricken by crises that were followed by a lack of food over the past historical eras. People were starving not only during dry seasons of the years, but also during the wars or similar disasters, despite the fact that there was a very rich wild flora and fauna surrounding them. Wild flora and fauna were not utilized fully in human nutrition, which was brought about by widespread beliefs and prejudices. Especially in some parts of Bosnia, the following organisms were seldom used in human diet: snakes, snails, frogs, and wild vegetables. Inland people were very conservative in this point-of-view, while inhabitants of the coastline have cherished customs to use both flora and fauna in their daily nutrition since early ages. This can be explained by a small yield of cultivated plants due to common drought during the vegetative season, and progressive land erosion.

Thus, inhabitants of coastline and southern Herzegovina were pushed to eat “everything that was green” in order to survive and maintain a basic existence (Bakic and Skare-Kavric, 1967; Bakota, 1967). In other areas during the years of hunger, people preferred to eat cord (leather pieces from their shoes) or beech’s bark, rather than wild fauna or delicious wild vegetables. Flowering plants were not even considered (Filipovic, 1953).

Despite a lack of education in possible sources of food that are to be found in nature, the population of this part of the Balkan Peninsula in its quite long history has developed and cherished the knowledge of nutrition with the dominance of wild edible vitaminous and aromatic plants over a particular year’s seasons. Even today in some parts of Herzegovina, such as the Mediterranean Mountains, during the period of cold and strong winds, fundamental fruits for the local population are fruits of wild plants: Crataegus monogyna, Cornus mas, Sorbus torminalis, Prunus avium, especially for the children. When the richness of local flora and fauna, as well as possibility of its usage in both daily life and extraordinary situations, became obvious to humans, systematic investigation have been started in edible wild flora and fauna. One reason for this was to fulfill army requirements for development of techniques for survival in nature (Drobnjak, 1962; Ivanisevic, 1962; Colic, 1967; Rajsic, 1974; Vracaric et al., 1966, 1967; Vracaric, 1977; Grlic, 1980). These investigations have continued in cooperation with several scientific and research institutions, as well as with some groups interested in the application of surviving activities in nature.


Sulejman Redzic

Center of Ecology and Natural Resources, University of Sarajevo, Department of Botany, Sarajevo, Bosnia, Herzegovina

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