Herbal Landscape: The Perception of Landscape as a Source of Medicinal Plants

By Soukand, Renata; Kalle, Raivo | Trames, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Herbal Landscape: The Perception of Landscape as a Source of Medicinal Plants


Soukand, Renata, Kalle, Raivo, Trames


1. Introduction

Early ethnobotanical studies were usually focused on simply documenting the traditional botanical knowledge (Guarrera 1999, Giday et al. 2003, Ali-Shtayeh et al. 2000), often taking the data out of its context. In recent times, more attention has been paid to the fact that using wild plants is a relevant component of local traditional ecological knowledge, which requires complex interactions between human beings and their natural resources (Lozada et al. 2006, Eyssartier et al. 2008, Lira et al. 2009, Jaric et al. 2007), and should be looked upon as a complex phenomenon covering historical, geographical, cultural, cross-cultural, economic, social, etc. aspects (Lozada et al. 2006, De Natale 2009, Liu et al. 2009, Molares and Ladio 2009, Thomas et al. 2009b, Vandebroek et al. 2004, Reyes-Garcia et al. 2006). Many researchers have observed different aspects of knowledge transmission (Lozada et al. 2006), trying to apply the Doctrine of Signature to the plant selection process (Bennett 2007, Dafni and Lev 2002), or have explored the categorization and the adaptation of plant knowledge (Muller-Schwarze 2006), and there is an ongoing debate about the classification of the environment and its elements that cause certain species to be used and others to be rejected (Rivera et al. 2007).

Although some authors have discovered positive correlation between the accessibility of plant species and their perceived usefulness, indicating that more frequently accessed plants are considered more useful (Thomas et al. 2009a), the mechanisms by which humans identify and choose such specific resources like medicinal plants, remain largely unknown. Moreover, seen as s physical part of the traditional landscape, medicinal plants have rarely been described as an integral part of a wild or cultivated field, perceived as a well-stocked pharmacy available at hand. To fill in this epistemological gap, we introduce the idea of herbal landscape. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study that defines such an idea. We argue that the idea of herbal landscapes provides ethnobotanists with a new model for understanding the mechanism of perception of medicinal plants.

2. Defining the study area

Estonia is located in northern Europe (58[degrees]-60[degrees] N, 22[degrees]-28[degrees] E) on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. Covering an area of 45 230 [km.sup.2], Estonia belongs to the northern part of the temperate zone and to the transition zone between maritime and continental climates (Raukas 1995). The duration of the vegetation period is 185-190 days and the frost-free period is 105-160 days; both are longer on the coast, as is the number of hours of sunshine, which varies between 1600 and 1900 hours. The average duration of snow cover during winter is 75-135 days, characterized by large territorial and temporal variations. The annual average temperature in Estonia (5.2[degrees]C) is higher than that in eastern areas at the same latitude, which have more continental climate. The average temperature in February, the coldest month of the year, is -5.7[degrees]C. The average temperature in July, which is considered the warmest month of the year, is 16.4[degrees]C. The air humidity is higher in winter and lower in spring, with an average of 82%. The coastal zone receives less rainfall than the inland area, the annual average precipitation varies between 530-750 mm. There are between 102 and 127 rainy days a year.

The vegetation of Estonia is very diverse. Almost half of the territory is covered with forests and about 30% with peaty soils. Estonia belongs to the boreo-nemoral vegetation zone or to the northern part of the temperate hardwood-coniferous forest zone (Masing et al. 2000). The first scientific studies of Estonian flora originate already from the 18th century, but the first proper list of vascular plants growing in Estonia and Livonia was published by the Baltic German publicist, Estophile and linguist August Wilhelm Hupel (1737-1819) in 1777 in his Topografische Nachricten von Lief- und Ehstland. …

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