Ethnic and religious affiliations affect traditional wild plant foraging in Central Azerbaijan

Abstract

Gathering and consuming wild food plants are traditional practices in many areas of the world and their role in fostering food security has been increasingly discussed in recent years. In this field study, we focused on traditional foraging among Azeris, Tats, Russian Molokans, and Udis in Central Azerbaijan. Via 78 semi-structured interviews, with an equal number of individuals from the four ethnic/religious communities, 73 wild food folk taxa were recorded. While Caucasian autochthonous Udis have a restricted use of wild food plants in comparison with the other groups, possibly due to the fact that they live in a plains area that is horticultural-driven and well-connected, the most divergent ethnobotany was exhibited by the Tats (10 folk taxa exclusively used by them) which may be related to both their cultural and geographical isolation and the fact that this community was endogamic until only a few decades ago. Whereas the Azeri plant cultural markers are mainly retained by refugees from Karabakh, Russian Molokans, who represent a distinct, conservative ethno-religious group, seem to have preserved a few ancient Slavic culinary uses of wild plants (Armoracia rusticana Gaertn., B.Mey. and Scherb., Crataegus spp., Rumex acetosella L., and especially Viburnum opulus). Tat cultural markers were represented by barberries (especially in their original lacto-fermented preparation) and Ornithogalum spp., while for Udis Smilax excelsa L. shoots were particularly salient, as were wild Allium, Chaerophyllum, Prangos, Smyrnium, and Tragopogon spp. among the Azeris. Overall, the practice of traditional foraging is alive in the Azeri Caucasus in the most remote mountainous areas and this heritage is the result of a complex co-evolution, in which both human ecological trajectories and cultural attachment to certain plant tastes have possibly shaped specific foraging patterns over centuries.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the study participants who shared their plant knowledge with the authors; the University of Gastronomic Sciences, Pollenzo and the Department of Environmental Sciences, Informatics, and Statistics at the Ca’ Foscari Ca’ Foscari University of Venice (departmental funds) for having funded the field study. This research made use of Venn diagrams from BioVinci version 1.1.5, developed by BioTuring Inc., San Diego California USA (www.bioturing.com).

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Correspondence to Andrea Pieroni.

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Pieroni, A., Sõukand, R. Ethnic and religious affiliations affect traditional wild plant foraging in Central Azerbaijan. Genet Resour Crop Evol 66, 1495–1513 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10722-019-00802-9

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Keywords

  • Ethnobotany
  • Wild food plants
  • Foraging
  • Local knowledge
  • Minorities
  • Caucasus
  • Azerbaijan
  • Plant genetic resources