Medicinal and local food plants in the south of Alava (Basque Country, Spain)

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Abstract

Ethnobotanical relevance Medicinal and food plants in the Basque Country are an integral part of a fast changing culture. With a distinct tradition and language, this region of Europe provides an important example demonstrating the changing role of local and traditional knowledge in industrial countries. As other Mediterranean regions it preserves a rich heritage of using plants as medicine and food, offering a unique opportunity for studying the medicine food interface in an ethnopharmacological context. Therefore, the key goal of this study has been to contribute to an understanding of local and traditional plant usage, to evaluate their uses as food and medicine as well as to critically assess the role of these plants in the south of the Basque Country contributing to an understanding of how foods and medicines are used. Methods A mixed methods approach, including participant observation; open and semi structured interviews was used. Ethnobotanical field work included 183 people, ages ranged from 24 to 98 years old with a majority being between 70 and 80 years old (mean age 71) from 31 towns of three different regions. The basic interview was a one-to-one meeting, which often included field walking and collection of samples as directed by the informants. 700 voucher specimens (most of them with duplicates) were collected for the data obtained. Using SPSS version 20 the gathered information was processed and the replies of the different informants were subsequently organised in variables like medicine and food plants, part of the plants used, forms of preparations, zones preferred for collecting these plants. The data were analysed based on the frequency of records. This type of approach allows us to understand the way the informant's categorize the species, and how these categories are distributed along the sample. In order to analyse the data three main categories of use were distinguished: Medicine (M), Food (F) and an intermediate Health-Food (H-F). The three categories were divided in 27 subcategories (common uses). Results and discussion The informants recognise and use a total of 184 species from 49 families. During interviews, 5658 individual use-reports were collected relating to three use-categories - as medicines, food and health-food. The two main groups with almost the same number of species each are health-food (75 species) and (locally gathered) food only (73), with medicinal uses only (36) being the smallest group. This highlights the important overlap between food and medicines. Overall, three core families were identified (based on the number of use reports and in the number of species): Asteraceae (25 species), Lamiaceae and Rosaceae (24 each). The most frequently reported species are Jasonia glutinosa, Chamaemelum nobile, Prunus spinosa and Quercus ilex subsp. ballota. The most important general use-subcategories are as raw vegetables (27.43% of the use-reports and including 81 species), infusions (14.74%/42) and gastrointestinal (12.53%/42). Conceptually foods and medicines are clearly distinguished but the intermediate group of health foods is more ambiguous. Conclusion Food and medicinal uses of plants are culturally closely linked. A wide range of plants are known and many still used. The analysis shows that the Basques use a wide range of species which are typical for Western European cultures. In comparison to other studies in the Mediterranean countries there are many similarities in the uses of different families, species of plants and their use and preparations. Some of these plants are key Mediterranean species, often used for a multitude of uses as food and medicine.

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Alarcón, R., Pardo-De-Santayana, M., Priestley, C., Morales, R., & Heinrich, M. (2015). Medicinal and local food plants in the south of Alava (Basque Country, Spain). Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 176, 207–224. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2015.10.022

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