Recently, taking studies in phytotherapy, I happened to follow a lesson on ethnobotany; even if initially the name didn't tell me almost anything, it was instead a very stimulating lesson, so much so that I'm here writing about this topic.
I discovered that ethnobotany is an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary science (on the border between cultural and botanical anthropology) that deals with the use and perception of plant species within one or more societies.
It therefore studies the traditional use of plants taking into account the socio-cultural, economic and historical characteristics of a population and has as its ultimate goal to document the history, use and study of alternative medical therapies. Personally I have always been intrigued by the "popular" use of plants, although I often felt undecided whether to consider them a valid therapeutic alternative or not, even today, where science warns us about everything and we are offered sophisticated and elaborate preparations according to the strictest quality, safety and manufacturing regulations.
Ethnobotany tries to go beyond all this: the ambition is to observe the cultural anthropology of a group of people, to analyze why some plants have been used in some therapeutic fields, finding or not scientific confirmation, convergences or divergences with the use of the same plants in other populations or eras.
But the thing that struck me most of all is not the discovery of a new scientific discipline related to phytotherapy, but the discovery of a discipline that serves as a meeting point between modernity and tradition, under the same common denominator: plants . It is a science that allows us to discover the "new" by searching in the "past" ... as when one searches among the jewels of the grandmother and finds a detail from another era to boast about and to wear with pride.
Sucked into the vortex of this new enthusiasm, I began my search among the "jewels of my grandmother" ... and as always, the most powerful impulses direct us towards what belongs to us, what is inside us and wants to be explored . So I started doing bibliographical research by researching ethnobotanical studies on my country of origin, Albania, and I surprisingly found dozens of recent studies on the subject. Most were conducted thanks to the collaboration between the University of Tirana (Albania) and that of Pollenzo (Italy), and often the subject populations of these studies are located in isolated mountainous areas of Albania, where the wind of Western culture still struggling to penetrate, just as the Ottomans struggled during the Ottoman occupation (15th-20th centuries) and the communist regime during the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha (1940-1991).
So ethnobotany was a trampoline that brought me closer to a part of me: thanks to these studies I learned about the thousands of plants that Albania hosts in its territory, biodiversity, uses and traditions linked to them . Reading the articles I identified with the various locations described in an analytical and scientific way, and the familiarity with the culture made me immerse myself in a traveling journey between different places ... starting from the majestic mountains of the North, to Theth, where in the month of July begin to collect plums to make a unique grappa in the Balkans, the raki, based on various species of plums (Prunus domestica L. e Prunus cerasifera).
Here the inhabitants also prepare the raki a basis of Gentiana lutea, plant that is used for cardiovascular diseases. The use is quite interesting and very different from the digestive use made of it in the West. Probably the cardiovascular effect is linked more to the action of the alcohol produced by the fermentation process itself than by the plant of Gentiana in itself. Moreover Gentiana is a plant discovered by a King of these parts, King Gentian, who gave it its name in the 2 century a.
C. using it as a medicinal plant against malaria.
Another research talks about botanical traditions in the south-east, in the area of Mokra on the border with Macedonia, where 13 March is gathered flowers and twigs of cornol, apples, walnut and boxwood to place them under the pillow on the night of the lunar eclipse , which would correspond to the Albanian Spring Festival. The following day is celebrated on Spring Day (Fingers and veres) and tradition has it that the collected flowers are used to make a warm bath, purifying from the long stagnant winter. The inhabitants of this area use another type of apple-based raki (Malus domestica), which when drunk hot with a little sugar turns into a soothing cough syrup (punch). In winter there is also mountain tea Galinica o Caj Mali (Sideritis spp), used in case of colds, sore throat or flu. Caj mali it is an aromatic tea that grows up to 1000 m, used almost everywhere in Albania; its consumption dates back to ancient times.
Other studies continue to speak to me of culinary traditions, phytotherapics that the inhabitants of these territories preserve, unaware of their wealth. It is therefore essential that sciences such as ethnobotany exist and continue their research, a historical mirror of traditions that change quickly. I hope to be able to write more about this subject after a thorough study done in Albania.
/ Klodiana Dosti
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