Open Access

Contribution to the knowledge of the veterinary science and of the ethnobotany in Calabria region (Southern Italy)

  • Nicodemo G Passalacqua1,
  • Giuseppe De Fine2 and
  • Paolo Maria Guarrera3Email author
Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine20062:52

DOI: 10.1186/1746-4269-2-52

Received: 26 July 2006

Accepted: 11 December 2006

Published: 11 December 2006

Abstract

Background

A series of preliminary research projects on plants used in Calabria (Southern Italy) in veterinary science and in other ethno-botanical fields (minor nourishment, domestic and handicraft sector) was carried out in the last twenty years. From the ethno-botanical point of view, Calabria is one of the most interesting region, since in the ancient times it was subject to the dominant cultures of several people (Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans etc.). Until some decades ago the road network was poorly developed and villages were isolated, so that the culture of the "subsistence" and some archaic customs were kept.

Methods

Data were collected by means of "open" interviews to farmers, shepherds and housewives in the last twenty years. More than 100 informants were interviewed, mostly over 50 years old. Plants were identified by local informants through gathering in the area or through examination of the fresh plants collected by the researchers. The collected data were compared with pharmacobotanical papers mainly of southern Italy and with other studies, in order to highlight novelties or concordances of uses.

Results

The use of 62 taxa distributed into 34 families are described. Among these, 8 are or were employed in veterinary science, 8 as anti-parasitic agents, 19 in minor nourishment, 5 as seasoning, 38 for other uses. Some toxic species for cattle are also mentioned.

Conclusion

Among the major findings: the use of Helleborus bocconei for bronchitis of bovines and of Scrophularia canina for lameness in veterinary science; Nerium oleander and Urginea maritima as anti-parasitic agents; Epilobium angustifolium, Centaurea napifolia L. and C. sphaerocephala L. in minor nourishment.

Background

A research was carried out in some localities of Calabria region (Italy) in the last twenty years on the traditions relevant to the plants used in veterinary science and in other ethno-botanical fields (minor nourishment, domestic and handicraft sector) in order to preserve the historical "memory" of the territory and of the local culture.

The only papers existing on the ethno-botany of Calabria region (mainly on uses in human medicine) are by Leporatti and Pavesi [1] and by Barone [2]; some information is also furnished by Bernardo [3], La Sorsa [4] and Lupia [5]. In the food field, two recent contributions were published by Picchi and Pieroni [6] and by Nebel et al. [7].

Calabria region (15080 km2) extends about 250 km north to south in the center of the Mediterranean Sea, bordering with Ionian Sea to east and south, with Tyrrhenian Sea to west, and with Basilicata region to north; the Messina Strait separates Calabria from Sicily. The region is mostly mountainous and about 90% of the surface is occupied by two section of Apennine chain: southern Apennines, calcareous, with Pollino Massif (Serra Dolcedorme, 2267 m a.s.l.), and Calabrian Apennines, mainly siliceous, with Coastal Chain (M.Cocuzzo,1541 m), Sila Massif (Botte Donato,1929 m), Serre Calabre (M. Pecoraro, 1423 m) and Aspromonte Massif (Montalto, 1956 m). Plains are few, linked to the presence of rivers.

The climate is of Mediterranean type, with maximum precipitation during the winter and minimum in the summer and vice versa for temperature, but strong meso-climatic variations occur depending on altitude, topographic features and location respect to the sea. As consequence, the typical Mediterranean bioclimate is restricted to a belt mainly close to the coast, flowing to the European one going up to the top of mountains. Vegetation varies with bioclimate: xerophile oaks (Quercus virgiliana, Q. suber, Q. ilex), Mediterranean maquis (Pistacia lentiscus, Rhamnus alaternus, Myrtus communis, etc.) and therophytic pastures dominate the coastal thermo-Mediterranean belt; mesophile oaks and mixed woods (Quercus cerris, Q. pubescens s.l., Castanea sativa, Acer sp. pl., Ostrya carpinifolia, etc.) in the meso-Mediterranean hilly belt; beech woods (but also Pinus laricio and P. leucodermis woods), brooms and mountain pastures in the mountain European belt.

From the ethno-botanical point of view, Calabria is one of the most interesting region, for the dominant cultures of several people in the past (Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans etc.). Until some decades ago the road network was poorly developed and villages were isolated, so that the culture of the "subsistence" and some archaic customs were kept. Today agricultural (cereals, vegetables, grapes, olives and citrus fruits), pastoral and tourist activities characterize above all the way of life of people.

In order to make a first sampling of data in Calabria region, a preliminary ethnobotanical research was carried out both in some mountain areas and in coastal places.

In the mountain belt, data are presented for Castrovillari (foothill of Pollino Massif) and for Acri (in the upland plain of the Sila), in Cosenza district, in the northern part of the region. Other information was collected in the southern Calabria near S.Stefano di Aspromonte, Cittanova and S. Giorgio Morgeto (Aspromonte Massif), Reggio Calabria district. The cited villages are located into or near important protected areas (Pollino National Park, Sila National Park, Aspromonte National Park, Tarsia lake natural reserve).

Castrovillari and Morano are starting points of interesting excursions in the upland of the Pollino National Park (with the rare Pinus leucodermis), or of itineraries in canoe along torrents. Acri, S.Stefano di Aspromonte, Cittanova, S. Giorgio Morgeto are at the centre of interesting naturalistic areas where the endemic Pinus calabrica but also the tropical fern Woodwardia radicans grow.

Other data were collected in coastal or hilly areas of Crotone district (Cirò), Reggio Calabria district (Scilla) and Catanzaro district (Montauro and S.Elia).

Brief news was also collected for Crucoli, Umbriatico (Crotone), Vallefiorita (Catanzaro); Ardore (Reggio Calabria); Morano and Tarsia (Cosenza) (Fig. 1).
https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1186%2F1746-4269-2-52/MediaObjects/13002_2006_Article_64_Fig1_HTML.jpg
Figure 1

Map of the investigated areas in Calabria region. (AC Acri; AR Ardore; CI Cirò; CR Crùcoli; CS Castrovillari; CT Cittanova; MT Montauro; MR Morano; SC Scilla; SE S.Elia; SG S.Giorgio Morgeto; SS S.Stefano di Aspromonte; TA Tarsia; UM Umbriatico; VA Vallefiorita).

The colonies of the "Magna Graecia" were above all located along the Ionian and southern coasts. The name of Scilla is associated to the sea monster that, according to the Odissea, terrorized the sailors of the Messina Strait (for the strong streams that are present in the Strait). This village is known for the fishing of the swordfish, but it lives also with agriculture and tourism. Cirò is the ancient Ypsicron (Krimisa in the Magna Graecia), now famous for the full-bodied wine.

Several internal towns date back to the presence of the Normans (e.g. Montauro) or have medioeval aspect (e.g. S.Giorgio Morgeto).

Methods

In the "open" interviews informants (farmers, shepherds, housewives) were asked to furnish for each plant: local name, folk use (in veterinary science, as anti-parasitic agent, in the nourishment, in domestic and ritual fields), formulation and used parts, possible recipes, possible association with other plants. More than 100 informants were interviewed, mostly over 50 years old (near Cirò 5 informants were between 90 and 96 years old, others between 80 and 86 years old). Plants were identified by local informants through gathering in the area or through examination of the fresh plants which were showed them by the researchers. Cited voucher herbarium specimens are kept in the herbarium of the Università della Calabria (acronym CLU) and in the Museo Nazionale Arti e Tradizioni Popolari (Rome)(acronym Mat). Taxa are reported according to Pignatti [8]. The collected data were compared with those quoted by Gastaldo [9], with the pharmacobotanical literature of southern Italy and of the near Sicily [17, 1028], and with other studies cited in the text, in order to highlight possible novelties or concordances of uses.

Results and discussion

The uses of 62 plants belonging to 34 families are reported in Table 1, 2, 3: 8 taxa are employed in veterinary science and 8 as anti-parasitic agents (Tab. 1), 19 in human nourishment (Tab. 2), 5 as seasoning and 38 for other uses (cosmesis, illegal fishing, domestic or handicraft field, agriculture, rituals) (Tab. 3). Plants are listed according to the families' alphabetical order, even inside them. Some species (4) particularly toxic for the livestock (according to the effects referred by the informants) are described in Table 4. The most represented families are: Compositae (7 species), Labiatae (7 species) and Leguminosae (4 species).
Table 1

Ethnoveterinary and anti-parasitic uses of plants in some areas of Calabria (Southern Italy)

Family, scientific name, local name (voucher specimen)

Used Part

Use

Preparation/Administration

N *

Locality

Habitat

APOCYNACEAE

      

Nerium oleander L. – liantru – CLU2

Br

The plant is considered enemy of the moles, well-known eaters of roots of vegetables

According to the folk opinion the branches of oleander were stuck into the ground in order to poison the moles (use still actual).

3

CI

To, he

CAPRIFOLIACEAE

      

Sambucus nigra L. CLU5

Fle

To attract the flies that were killed

Leaves were put in small bunches in the houses

1

CS

Ru, di,to

COMPOSITAE

      

Inula viscosa (L.) Aiton – spulitru CLU7

Ap

Elderly people used it to eliminate the parasites of the rectum

The whole plant was inserted in the anus (veterinary use for asses and mules)

5

CI

Unc, ru, caso

Matricaria chamomilla L. – galumedda, camomilla

Dfh

Repellent for woodworms and other insects

They were put among the linen

2

SC,CT

Cu, ru

EQUISETACEAE

      

Equisetum telmateja Ehrh. – stocca e ammenta CLU10

Ep

To make cow-beds for bovines, horses and sheep without evaluate the toxicity of the plant

Shepherds and herdsmen use it dry

5

CI

Di, ed-wo, da

JUGLANDACEAE

      

Juglans regia L. – noce CLU17

Le

Anti-parasitic (above all for bugs)

Decoction (it was poured in the bed)

1

AC

Wo, di

 

Le

Anti-parasitic also for furnishings, garments and pieces of furniture

 

1

CI

 

LABIATAE

      

Lavandula angustifolia Miller – ramaietto(MR), spigaddossa (CS)

Ft

Repellent, deodorant of linen

Picked before the complete flowering, dried and put in small bugs

6

MR, CS, MT, SE, CT, SC

Cu

Ocimum basilicum L. – basilico CLU18

Ep

Repellent for flies and mosquitoes

The plant is put on the windows

1

AC

Cu

LAURACEAE

      

Laurus nobilis L. CLU22

Fr

Repellent for flies (veterinary use)

Macerate in olive oil applied onto the coat of the animal

3

MT

Tewo

Vicia faba L. – fava

Se

Fodder for animals

 

5

CI

Cu

LILIACEAE

      

Ruscus aculeatus L. – vruscia

Br

To keep mice at a distance

They are hung in the houses

1

TA

Tewo

Urginea marittima (L.) Baker – cipuddazzu CLU26

Ep

Repellent and anti-parasitic agent for insect and mice

The farmers put the whole plant in granaries and silos, above all in "canizze" (containers woven of reeds) that contained broad beans of various type

5

CI

Sl

MALVACEAE

      

Malva sylvestris L. CLU 27

Le

Gastritis

Decoction (veterinary use)

2

MT, SE

Unc, ru, edro

MORACEAE

      

Ficus carica L. – see footnote (1) CLU28

Le

To increase the output of milk

Leaves were given as fodder to cows

5

CI

Ru, wa

RANUNCULACEAE

      

Helleborus bocconei Ten. – aricchja CLU32

Ro

For the bronchitis of bovines. The animal would be recovered in short, and it was recognizable for the hole remained on it. Then, it seems that it would have become immune from diseases, after this remedy. No possibility of recovery existed in the case in which the disease was in advanced stage; in this case it occurred atrophy of the hole containing the 3 pieces of the stalk, then expelled.

According an ancient tradition, the cowherds of Calabria region let dry the long petiole of the basal leaves, divided into 3 parts; it was inserted in a hole practised on the back of the ear of the animal (from here the vernacular name), or under the fur of the lateral part of the neck. If the animal reacted "in positive way" to this graft, a swelling of the surrounding region developed around the stem, with a necrotic area of the diameter of approximately 1 cm, provoking a small hole on the ear, or a small cavity (on the neck).

4

CI, UM

He, mo-wo (su-cl)

SCROPHULARIA-CEAE

      

Scrophularia canina L. – erva lupara CLU34

Ap

To treat the lameness ("pedàina") of the sheep.

Veterinary use. There is not a breeder who not used this plant for whichever problem, both in human medicine and in veterinary science. The breeders whom speak about this plant are many.

5

CI

Sa, gr, st

Verbascum thapsus L. – lingua e voiju CLU35

Le

Against the lameness ("pedàina") of cows

Not communicated

5

CI

Drme

SOLANACEAE

      

Cestrum parqui L'Hér – erva fetusa CLU36

Ep

Repellent for animals

Cowherds planted it at the edges of the bushes in order to discourage the entrance of other animals, because it gives off a bad smell (poisonous plant).

3

CI

To, he, be

THYMELAEACEAE

      

Daphne gnidium L. – junastrum, paparina ("ppè ntassari")

Ep

Used against the invasions of water snakes.

Put in lakes where domestic animals drink after the transhumance

5

CI

To, ro, cla, sa

CLU38

Ep

Some fishermen use it to capture ells of streams.

Thrown in the water

5

CI

 
 

Ba

To treat "papillomas" (veterinary-magical use)

A plaiting with the bark was made and then it was knot around the papilloma; the animal would be recovered in a short time.

5

CI

 

URTICACEAE

      

Urtica dioica L. – ortica CLU40

Ap

Once a mash with bread was made

By boiling (it was the only fodder for chicks of Turkey)

5

CI

Ru

* = citations

Localities: AC Acri; CI Cirò; CR Crùcoli; CS Castrovillari; CT Cittanova; MT Montauro; MR Morano; SC Scilla; SE S.Elia; TA Tarsia; UM Umbriatico

Plant parts used: Ap aerial part; Ba bark; Br branches; Dfh dry flower heads; Ep entire plant; Fle fresh leaves; Fr fruit; Ft flowery tops; Le leaves; Ro root; Se seeds

Habitat: Be beachs; Caso calcareous soils near to the water; Cla clayey grounds; Cu cultivated species or cultivations; Da damp areas; Di ditches; Drme dry meadows; Edro edges of roads; Edwo edges of woods; Gr gravels; He hedges; Mowo mountain woods; Ro rocks; Ru ruins; Sa sandy places (grounds); Sl slopes with rocks and silt, areas with sand and silt facing West; St stony grounds; Su sunny grounds; Sucl sunny clearings; Tewo termophile woods; To along torrents; Unc uncultivated areas; Wa walls; Wo woods.

(1) In Cirò the first ripe figs are named 'botta', those ripening in summer 'fichi'.

Table 2

Food uses of plants in some areas of Calabria (Southern Italy)

Family, scientific name, local name (voucher specimen)

Used Part

Use

Preparation/Administration

N *

Locality

Habitat

AMARANTHACEAE

      

Amaranthus retroflexus L.

Ys

Food use

Picked before the flowering

1

CR

Cu, ru

BORAGINACEAE

      

Borago officinalis L. – borragina CLU3

Le

Food use

In salad (finely minced leaves)

1

AC

Unc, pig,

 

Fl

Dye for aromatic vinegars

 

1

AC

co

CAPRIFOLIACEAE

      

Sambucus nigra L. CLU 5

Fl

Used in cookery

Flowers in oil to make the classic fritters ("pitte ccu majiu")

5

CI

Ru, di,to

COMPOSITAE

      

Centaurea napifolia L. – zimurro Mat1, C. sphaerocephala L. – zimurro Mat2

Ap

Food use

Plants, peeled from thorns, were eaten cooked

1

AR

Be

Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertner – cardu marianu

Yle

Food use

In salad

2

MT, SE

Fi, unc,ru

 

Ro, fh

Food use

Boiled with other vegetables

2

MT, SE

 

Taraxacum officinale Weber – ricottedda, cicorione

Le

Food use

In mixed salad or as boiled vegetable

3

CS, MT,SE

Unc, ru, me

ERICACEAE

      

Arbutus unedo L.

Fr

Food use

Astringent jam

2

CT, SS

Tema

FAGACEAE

      

Castanea sativa Miller – castagno CLU12

Fr

Fruits were the main food in periods of famine for people that carried out heavy jobs

Cooked fruits

5

CI

Oawo*

JUGLANDACEAE

      

Juglans regia L. – noce CLU17

Hu

To make a liqueur ("nocino")

Macerate in alcohol

5

CI

Wo, di

LABIATAE

      

Mentha spicata L. – amenta Mat4

Le

Seasoning

To season dishes

1

VA

Dame

Origanum heracleoticum L. – rigunu CLU19

Le

To season the salad

It was collected in summer

5

CI

Drme

Rosmarinus officinalis L. – rosimarinu CLU20

Le

Seasoning

On meats

5

CI

Sa, tema

Salvia officinalis L. – sarbia CLU21

Le

Flavouring in cookery

 

5

CI

Drme, ru

LAURACEAE

      

Laurus nobilis L. CLU22

Le

To obtain the "panicottu", bread seasoned with oil

As basis of broth for the "panicottu" (given to children)

5

CI

 
 

Le

As spice in cookery

On meats, among dried figs etc.

5

CI

 

LEGUMINOSAE

      

Phaseolus vulgaris L. – fagiuoli

Se

Substitute of the coffee

Roasted seeds

1

AC

Cu

Spartium junceum L. CLU23

Fbu

Food use

Eaten after preserving in vinegar (above all in the past)

2

SS, CT

 

MORACEAE

      

Ficus carica L. – see footnote (1) CLU28

Fr

Food use ("fichi 'mbottiti")

Dried figs are cut and filled with almonds, walnuts, chocolate, spices; then they are browned in oven

1

CS

Ru,wa

MYRTACEAE

      

Myrtus communis L. – Murzìla (CS), murtidda (MR) CLU29

Br

To obtain the "tortaniddi"

White dried figs are run through partly pruned branches

2

CS, MR

Tema

ONAGRACEAE

      

Epilobium angustifolium L. – garofanino

Ys, st

Food use

In salad

1

MT

Dame, cle (be-wo)

PLANTAGINACEAE

      

Plantago major L. – simula

Le

Food use

Tender leaves are good ingredient for soups

1

AC

Ro, ru, da

PORTULACACEAE

      

Portulaca oleracea L. – purchiacchia – CLU31

Yle

Food use

In salad or boiled

2

MT, SE

Cu, ru

RANUNCULA-CEAE

      

Clematis vitalba L. – grambuntine

Ys

Food use

Boiled in soups or in omelette

1

MR

He, wo

Ranunculus ficaria L – favucello

Yle

Food use

In salad

2

MT, SE

Dame

 

Ap

Food use

As a vegetable (soups, other dishes)

2

CT, SS

 

URTICACEAE

      

Urtica dioica L. – ardicela CLU40

Ap

Food use for children in growth (tonic treatment)

By boiling and seasoning with oil

5

CI

Ru

* = citations

Localities: AC Acri; AR Ardore; CI Cirò; CR Crùcoli; CS Castrovillari; CT Cittanova; MR Morano; MT Montauro; SE S.Elia ; SS S.Stefano di Aspromonte; VA Vallefiorita

Plant parts used: Ap aerial part; Br branches; Fl flowers; Fr fruit; Hu husk; Le leaves; Ro root; Se seeds; St stem; Yle young leaves; Ys young sprouts.

Habitat: Be beachs; Bewo beech woods; Cle clearings; Co cowsheds; Cu cultivated species or cultivations; Da damp areas; Dame = damp meadows; Di ditches; Drme dry meadows; Fi fields; He hedges; Me meadows; Oawo* oak woods included Q. cerris woods; Pig around the pigsties; Ro rocks; Roa roads; Ru ruins; Sa sandy places (grounds); Tema termophile maquises; To along torrents; Unc uncultivated areas; Wa walls; Wo woods.

(1) The small unripe fruit is named 'cuzzummeru', and when in May-June it become ripe, it is named 'botta'. In August other 'cuzzummeri' (the true figs) mature (CS).

Table 3

Domestic, handicraft and miscellaneous uses of plants in some areas of Calabria (Southern Italy)

Family, scientific name, local name (voucher specimen)

Used Part

Use

Preparation/Administration

N *

Locality

Habitat

ACERACEAE

      

Acer sp. – occhjiajnu

W

To make spoons

 

1

CI

Ma, Mewo

ANACARDIACEAE

      

Pistacia lentiscus L. – scinu CLU1

Fr,Ap

Ointment

Oil for lamps

5

CI

 
 

Ap

It was used to make brooms and during the funerals in the past

For the use in funerals the leafy branches were put between the coffin and the dead men in order to allow that the corpse could be preserved for a long time

5

CI

Tema

APOCYNACEAE

      

Nerium oleander L.

Br

To make the sling (better with olive-tree)

 

1

AR

To, he

ARALIACEAE

      

Hedera helix L. – L'edira (CI)

Le

To wash hairs (they become shining)

Infusion

1

CT

Wo, wa

CARIOPHYLLA-CEAE

      

Saponaria officinalis L. – saponaria

Le, ro

Detergent

Plant parts were used by the farmers instead of the soap

2

MT, SE

Da, ru

CHENOPODIACEAE

      

Spinacia oleracea L. – spinaci

Ap

To make the garments of black wool shining and bright

To rinse the garments with cooking water

1

AC

 

COMPOSITAE

      

Cynara cardunculus L. subsp. scolymus (L.) Hayek

Le

To make shining dark clothes

Decoction

1

AC

Cu

Inula viscosa (L.) Aiton – spulitru CLU7

Ap

To make brooms

It was collected by elderly people

5

CI

Unc, ru caso

Matricaria chamomilla L. – galumedda, camomilla

Fh

To wash blond hairs

Decoction

1

CS

Cu, ru

CORNACEAE

      

Cornus sanguinea L. – russula, sanguinella

W

To make tools for kitchen (spoons, goblets etc.) and collars for goats

 

1

CI

Wo, edwo

EUPHORBIACEAE

      

Euphorbia amygdaloides L. – tutumagghu – CLU11

La

Child practice

Children used to spread with latex wounds or mucous membranes, only to widen that part and as test of endurance of the pain. The latex provokes swelling of the sex male organ, with persistent pain

5

CI

Oawo*

FAGACEAE

      

Castanea sativa Miller – castagno CLU12

Frb

To wash the hairs

Decoction

2

MT, SE

Oawo*

GRAMINEAE

      

Arundo donax L. – canna CLU14

St

Stake in kitchen gardens/vineyards

 

5

CI

Di, edwa

 

St

To make baskets (see Olea europaea subsp. oleaster)

 

1

CI

 

HYPOLEPIDACEAE

      

Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn – filici CLU16

Ap

It was used for its aroma by the herdsmen to wrap dairy products

 

5

CI

Cle,da, edro

JUGLANDACEAE

      

Juglans regia L. – noce CLU17

Hu

To dye hairs

Infusion or decoction

5

CI

Wo, di

LABIATAE

      

Salvia officinalis L. CLU21

Le

It was used to obtain white teeth

Leaves were rubbed on the teeth

5

CI

Drme, ru

LEGUMINOSAE

      

Lupinus albus L. – lupino

Ep

Fertilizer

It's buried underground in the vineyards because it "would strengthen" the grapevines

1

AC

Cu, ru

Phaseolus vulgaris L. – fagiuoli

Se

To wash woollen and cotton coloured clothes

Decoction with pods and shelled beans to brighten up and to fix the colours

1

AC

 

Spartium junceum L. CLU23

Br

Domestic and agricultural use

To make brooms and laces for vines

5

CI

 
 

Br

Domestic use

To make brooms, hides and shelters for cattle

5

SC, CT, SS, SG

 
 

Br

Textile use

In the first post-war period, not having available enough clothes, the branches of the broom were weaved. The plant, after gathering, was kept in the running water of torrents ("fiumare"); then it was beaten on the stones of these streams, and was dried in the sun. Successively it was combed to extract an excellent fibre, the one that the elder women wove for their family. Also bags and carpets were made with it.

5

CI

 

MORACEAE

      

Ficus carica L. CLU28

Fr ('pas-si-luni'),

Magical use: for being sure not come in contact with snakes for an entire year. If in the case, snakes would not bitten

Fruits gathered on the ground or dried to the sun were kept by grandmothers and given to eat in May 1° rigorously (this practice assured what exposed in 'use')

5

CI

Ru, wa

OLEACEAE

      

Olea europaea L.

Br

To make the sling and spoons

 

1

AR

Cu

Olea europaea L. subsp. oleaster (Hoffmans & Link) Negodi – u ghjastru

Br

Baskets for bread, desserts, clothes for washing; "sporte", containers for vintage; "panàri", baskets to gather fruit, once indispensable trousseau of brides

Baskets are made together with Arundo donax slices and Clematis vitalba stems. Reeds are gathered in January and cut to strips in August. In this month C. vitalba and wild olive-tree young branches ("vrinchi") are collected and put in water for 2 days. The higher edges of the baskets are made with the branches of wild olive-tree.

1

CI

Ma

Phillyrea latifolia L.

W

To make collars for animals; good fuel

See proverbs in the text

5

CI

Ma

RANUNCULACEAE

      

Clematis vitalba L. – viteriva

St

To make baskets (see Olea europaea subsp. oleaster)

 

1

CI

Wo, ma

ROSACEAE

      

Pyrus communis L. – pero; pirajnu (the wild pear tree)

W

To make the dish ("coppa") of the poor men. Also the wood of wild pear tree was used.

A big trunk was chosen, it was divided in half along its axis and then it was carved with some tools ("gajru" and "martelletta"). This wood was very hard.

1

CI

Cu

SALICACEAE

      

Populus sp.

W

To make collars for cows

 

1

CI

Edwa

Salix sp.

W

To make collars for cows (if poplar not was found)

 

1

CI

Edwa

SCROPHULARIA-CEAE

      

Verbascum thapsus L. V. phlomoides L. – tassu

Le

To make wicks for oil lamps

 

2

MT, SE

Drme

 

St

They were used to light the fire in old ovens for the bread

 

2

MT,SE

 

UMBELLIFERAE

      

Ferula communis L. – feddurazzu CLU39

St

To make bungs for barrels, flasks and sculptures; once it was also used by the artisans to make chairs and baskets

The dry stem is cut by the farmers. It is employed still today from the elderly in the local handicraft

2

CI

Ru, ro, unc

Pimpinella anisum L. – anice

Fr

They can be used as bait

Food for fishes

1

AC

Cu

URTICACEAE

      

Parietaria officinalis L., P. diffusa Mert. et Koch. – erba vetriola

Ap

To clean glasses, bottles and demijohns put in pulping

To rub the aerial part with water

4

MT, SE CT, SS

 

Urtica dioica L. – ardicela CLU40

Ap

To wash clothes and wools

Decoction

2

MT,SE

 

VERBENACEAE

      

Vitex agnus castus L. – vrigna marina CLU41

Br

Farmers utilized them to make peculiar baskets ("sporteddi")

Dry branches

5

CI

Da, sa, to

VITACEAE

      

Vitis vinifera L. – vite

Br

Branches ("sarmienti") to soothe the pain (magical ritual)

An odd number of trimmed shoots (or their decoction) to put on the stomach of the patient

1

AC

Cu

* = citations

Localities: AC Acri; AR Ardore; CI Cirò; CS Castrovillari; CT Cittanova; MT Montauro; SC Scilla; SE S.Elia; SG S.Giorgio Morgeto; SS S.Stefano di Aspromonte

Plant parts used: Ap aerial part; Ep entire plant; Fh flower heads; Fr fruit; Frb fruit bark; Hu husk; La latex; Le leaves; Ro root; Se seeds; St stem; W wood.

Habitat: Caso calcareous soils near to the water; Cle clearings; Cu cultivated species or cultivations; Da damp areas; Di ditches; Drme dry meadows; Edro edges of roads; Edwa edges of water-courses; Edwo edges of woods; He hedges; Ma maquises; Mewo mesophile woods; Oawo* oak woods included Q. cerris woods; Ro rocks; Ru ruins; Sa sandy places (grounds); Tema termophile maquises; To along torrents; Unc uncultivated areas; Wa walls; Wo woods.

Table 4

Toxic plants for animals in the folk knowledges of Cirò, Calabria (Southern Italy)

Family, scientific name, local name (voucher specimen)

Toxicity

N *

Locality

Habitat

EQUISETACEAE

    

Equisetum telmateja Ehrh – stocca e ammenta

Plant with high toxicity for animals, above all for bovines and sheep (these animals usually refuse this plant)

5

CI

To, da, di,edwo

OXALIDACEAE

    

Oxalis pes-caprae L. – campanedda; campanelle, trifoglio delle tortore° ; erba viscida, visciola °° – C45

People referred cases of sheep that, after eating a great amount of this plant (in fields infested by the plant in flower in a percentage of 80%), died or aborted. The sick animals showed: colic, tympanitis, paralysis for the limbs, coma. The herb is harmful above all for sheep (sometimes for goats), but innocuous for bovines and horses

5

CI

Ru, cu (cla,si,su in hill)

SOLANACEAE

    

Cestrum parqui L'Hér – erva fetusa C46

Cases of mortality of bovines due to the ingestion of the plant have been referred

3

CI

To, he (in low hill), be

UMBELLIFERAE

    

Ferula communis L. – feddurazzu C47

Plant toxic for grazing animals. The stem, if dried, loses its toxicity

2

CI

Ru, to, roa, unc

* = citations ° modern name °° old name

Localities: CI Cirò

Habitat: Be beachs; Cla clayey grounds; Cu cultivated species or cultivations; Da damp areas; Di ditches; Edwo edges of woods; He hedges; Roa roads; Ru ruins; Si silt grounds; Su sunny grounds; To along torrents; Unc uncultivated areas.

Veterinary medicine

In Calabria the breeding of animals is a very important activity and many dishes are realized e.g. with pork meat (a primary resource), or with products derived from goats, sheep and cows (pecorino, ricotta, mozzarella etc.) mainly in the hilly and mountain areas.

A particularly in-depth research was carried out near Cirò (Crotone).

The plants described in this section are mainly of clearings of oak woods, chestnut and mixed woods (Helleborus bocconei), garrigues and maquises (Daphne gnidium), meadows (Inula viscosa, Malva sylvestris), gravels, sandy and stony grounds (Scrophularia canina).

Helleborus bocconei

In the past, since the first years of XX century, it was the only remedy known by the cowherds in case of bronchitis of bovines. This species, toxic as fresh plant due to poisonous substances (glycosides elleborin and elleborein, and some alkaloids), loses its toxicity after drying [29]. H. bocconei is named "aricchja" in Cirò, "radicchia" in other localities of Calabria [4], "radicchia" or "raricchia" in Sicily, where the subsp. siculus is used to diagnose and cure the pneumonia of cattle [22, 26]. The gathering occurred on Friday and only in those places that because of their geographical position faced either at the sea and at the mountain. People thought that this procedure exalted the curative properties of the plant. We don't know if this is true, but it is a sure thing that this species is an excellent remedy, so that it still survives in the most internal rural areas of Calabria. Its "secret" still hands down from father to son. An analogous use is documented for other areas [30].

Scrophularia canina

The use as an antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and cicatrising in veterinary science of S. canina (a medicinal plant for excellence in the Crotone district) is reported for some regions of central Italy [3033]. In Calabria this practice is still now alive.

Cestrum parqui

This subspontaneous ornamental species is rather unusually used as arepellent for animals; its unpleasant smell probably represents probably a guard signal against more serious effects (being a toxic plant for cattle).

Inula viscosa

It was used to eliminate the parasites of the rectum in asses and mules. Bernardo [3] reports the cicatrising use of this herb.

Daphne gnidium

The use for papillomas seems to be more a magic remedy than a medical one.

Anti-parasitic uses

The reported plants are cultivated (Juglans regia), or species growing in the Mediterranean maquis (Laurus nobilis, Nerium oleander) and garrigues (Daphne gnidium, Urginea maritima). Some species are still now employed.

Nerium oleander is a plant dear to the farmers and very requested, since considered enemy of the moles, known eaters of roots and vegetables. In Cirò, planting branches of this plant is still now a means to kept out holes. This fact could perhaps be explained through the branches eated by these animals, which after die because of the poison. The use is not cited for other regions, but in Sicily the flowers are spread on the ground of areas infested with cockroaches [22].

Lavandula angustifolia

The presence of this plant in the Pollino Mountain and other areas of the region can account for its common use as repellent agent.

Among other repellent agents: Juglans regia leaves for bugs, Ocimum basilicum for mosquitos and Laurus nobilis fruits (macerate in olive oil) for flies, put on the coat of cattle [34]. Sambucus nigra branches were hung in rooms to attract flies, then captured.

A particular still practised use is that of Urginea maritima bulb, as a repellent for insects and mice in granaries, silos and containers of broad beans [13]. In Sicily this bulb is analogously used as a repellent for mice [21] or as rat poison [22].

The memory of the anti-parasitic use of Delphinium consolida is kept in the vernacular name of Cirò: "erba ppè pidocchi" (herb for louses).

Human nourishment

The plants reported in this section grow above all in meadows (Borago officinalis, Origanum heracleoticum, Plantago major), ruderal areas (Amaranthus retroflexus), edges of roads (Silybum marianum), woods (Castanea sativa), clearings of wood (Epilobium angustifolium), open environments (Spartium junceum) and in the Mediterranean maquis (Myrtus communis). Even some species are gathered on beachs (Centaurea napifolia, C. sphaerocephala). Some cultivated species were used for peculiar purposes (e.g. roasted seeds of Phaseolus vulgaris as a substitute of the coffee in Acri, upland of Sila). Almost all the described species are still employed nowadays in Calabria, except for the more thorny species (Centaurea sp. pl.).

Calabrian people resorts in the nourishment to a lot of vegetables like the aubergine, with properties useful to reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood [35]. Like in other regions, several species are eaten, e.g, Borago officinalis, Taraxacum officinale, Urtica dioica. Flowers of Sambucus nigra ("maju") are fried to make classic fritters ("pitte ccu majiu"). The young leaves of Ranunculus ficaria, the only edible plant of the Ranunculaceae family (apart from Clematis vitalba cooked buds), are eaten in salad, but also in soups. Among the less common food uses we cite that of Amaranthus retroflexus young buds [15, 26], a ruderal species gathered in Cirò. This use is cited for Calabria region also by Picchi and Pieroni [6],that reported another species of Amaranthus, A. lividus, as food plant. Uncommon is also the food use of Plantago major (tender leaves in soups), described in the upland of Sila near Acri.

Some thorny plants (Carduae, e.g. Silybum marianum) are eaten also in the near Basilicata region [15, 26], while the food use of Centaurea napifolia, C. sphaerocephala and Spartium junceum pickled buds, not cited elsewhere, is probably linked with the extreme poverty of past periods. S. junceum should have some toxicity for the presence of cardioactive principles. The use of young buds and pith of Epilobium angustifolium in salad is also new.

Contributions on wild food plants of Calabria region were made by Bernardo [3], by Picchi and Pieroni [6] and by Nebel et al. [7]. Bernardo [3] reports the use of Asphodelus fistulosus roots, Leopoldia comosa bulbs, "qepez", and Tordylium apulum leaves, in addition to Asparagus acutifolius, Chenopodium bonus-henricus, Cichorium intybus, Clematis vitalba. Picchi and Pieroni [6] highlight particularly the food use of Allium triquetrum (kept in olive oil after boiling in water and vinegar), of Lythrum salicaria (young buds in salad, stem without cortex boiled in vinegar or in olive oil), of Hypochoeris glabra, Lotus edulis (leaves and fruits), Chrysanthemum segetum (the more gathered species in Aspromonte), Reseda alba and other wild herbs.

Among the seasoning herbs, we cite Myrtus communis whose branches are utilized to make small spits to which figs are skewered for a winter eating (see also [3]). An analogous unpublished use was described in the Tyrrhenian area of Basilicata [36]. Also Mentha spicata, Laurus nobilis and Origanum heracleoticum are used as seasoning, together with Salvia officinalis (this last species in Calabria is subspontaneous in dry meadows and ruderal areas). The dye properties of Borago officinalis flowers are exploited for aromatic vinegars. Some practices cited in other Calabrian papers (e.g. that one of Ficus carica cinder in order to preserve seasoned salami)[5] have not been found by us.

Domestic and handicraft uses

In Cirò the use of Spartium junceum to make clothes, sacks and carpets dates back to the first decade of XIX century, as testified by some elderly men born in the first years of the XX century, whose parents were devoted to this work. In the Graecanic area the textile use of this broom was particularly practised in Aspromonte, e.g. in Bova [37] and near some Albanian minorities. At the present, it survives in few Calabrian countries (e.g. Serrastretta) [38] and Cerzeto [39] and in some folkloristic events [40]. It is also well documented in the Museum of. S.Paolo Albanese (Basilicata region) [3]. Several fabrics (knapsacks, blankets, towels, napkins etc.) from Calabria made with Spartium junceum are kept in the Museum of Arts and Folks Traditions (Rome); they were collected at the beginning of the XX century.

In Calabria the basketry is now particularly practised in San Giorgio Morgeto, Delianuova, San Roberto and Crucoli, but above all in Soriano Calabro [41]. From the inventories of the Museum of Arts and Folks Traditions (Rome) result that some Calabrian baskets were made with Fagus sylvatica, Ulmus minor and Abies alba, Arundo sp.pl., Salix sp., straw, but also small containers ("fiscelle") were made with brooms and other baskets ("nasse") with reeds and Juncus sp. The use of Salix caprea branches is documented for the Mt. Pollino area [3].

Moreover, in this paper we report the use of the branches of Vitex agnus castus – typical plant of riverbeds and edges of torrents ("fiumàre") – to make baskets ("sporteddi") near Cirò. This use is known since ancient times: in fact, the first term of the scientific binomial Vitex agnus castus (Vitex) means flexible shoot to bend, from the Latin "vieo" [42] (= to bend, to interwoven). This last word corresponds to the Greek "lìgos" (used also by Omero = Italian agnocasto) [8], with its verb "ligòo"(= to bend, to interwoven) [43] because – according to Dioscoride – the branches of this plant are long and pliable [44]. Rocci [43] writes that Vitex agnus castus (also called αγνος) is named in Italian "agnocasto" but also "vetrice". This term "vetrice" is attributed to Vitex agnus castus by Palazzi [45] too, while Zingarelli [46] calls it "a willow for baskets". In the dialects of central-southern Italy the word "vetrice" corresponds to some species of Salix [15, 31, 32]. Therefore Vitex agnus castus and Salix sp. pl. are called with the same term since their branches are used to bend.

The use for baskets of Vitex agnus castus is undescribed in the current Italian ethnobotanical papers, included the enormous work of Atzei [47]. Lieutaghi [48] writes that the Latins interwove its branches as those of a willow and that the plant is used in southern areas (of the France, where the willows are rare) to make baskets. Pirone [49] reports that the priestesses of Cerere slept on pallets interwoven with its branches.

Also Ferula communis is still used for this purpose and to make rustic chairs, as it happen in Sicily [23, 24]. Other species are employed for brooms (Pistacia lentiscus, Inula viscosa,etc.), while there are some memories of wicks for oil lamps made with Verbascum phlomoides and V. Thapsus. An oil for lamps was obtained from P. lentiscus [5].

Two trees furnished the matter of various Calabrian artefacts (from the inventories of the Museum of Arts and Folks Traditions, Rome): Fagus sylvatica (chests for storaging bread, baskets, cradles) and Citrus bergamia (snuff-boxes)[50]. The very original Calabrian craft is art of the shepherds" (that engrave the wood) of the Serre and Sila Greca should be described from an ethnobotanical point of view. Hand looms with Fagus sylvatica wood are still made in Cariati (Cosenza) and Castelsilano (Crotone) [51]. Some plants are used in Cirò to make collars for animals (Phyllirea latifolia, Populus sp., Salix sp., Cornus sanguinea) and tools for kitchen (Cornus sanguinea). Elderly people says in Cirò with regard to Phyllirea latifolia wood: "Liternu lignu eternu", that is "P. latifolia wood is eternal due to its hardness when it is dried". Another proverb says: "Liternu ppe focu e ppe mprnu", that is "P. latifolia wood to make a fire and for the hell", since it burns much.

In the Calabrian economy of subsistence, a discreet number of plants were used in decoction to brighten up the colour of clothes: Spinacia oleracea, Cynara scolymus and Urtica dioica (leaves), in addition to Phaseolus vulgaris. Hanging the thorny Ruscus aculeatus in the houses, in order to keep the rats away, is perhaps magical; or it could be a residual of the use to wrap cheeses or ropes (these last ones employed to hang cheeses to the ceiling).

Other uses

A few plants are used in the cosmetic field: e.g. Hedera helix and Matricaria chamomilla in order to hair dye, and Abies alba, whose twigs are used in decoction to prepare deodorant footbaths. A limited number of plants is described also in agriculture: Arundo donax as a 'stake', Lupinus albus as a fertilizer for ground, Spartium junceum for laces in vineyards and vegetable gardens.

Toxic plants

Among these we can cite Daphne gnidium, called "junastrum" (ginestraccio, that is bad broom) but also "paparina ppè ntassari" (that is a plant that sleeps in order to poison) – 10 fruits can kill a men [52]. The fishes caught with this system (illegal fishing) are always more or less toxic for men [53]. Toxic plants for cattle are cited in Table 4 (the information was collected near Cirò). Among these, Oxalis pes-caprae introduced from South-Africa. The excessive consumption of this plant provokes intestinal inflammations, blood in the urines and often death by collapse in ovines, bovines and horses [54], due to the high amount of calcium oxalate. Milk cows were infected in 1818 by the "Morbo Ignoto" (unknown disease), also named "Pinzanese". It was treated with vinegar, salt and rubbing human dung [55].

Other toxic plants for animals are Ferula communis (oleoresins, resins)[56], Cestrum parqui (parquine, solasonine), Equisetum telmateja (silica and thiaminase). The folk name of this last plant is "stocca e ammenta" (that is you divide and unite) because the different parts of the plant can be detached and again inserted on the stem.

Plants and vernacular names

Some vernacular names derive from the culture of the "Magna Graecia" or from the following Bizantine rule. Pistacia lentiscus is named "scinu", "scine", which comes from the Greek "schinus". This last word comes from "to cut through, to carve", because the bark of the mastic tree is cut throughout to bleed the mastex [44]. Plantago major is called "peltinervia". This vernacular name results from "pentinervia" (from the Greek "pentà" = 5), whereas in several regions of Italy it is called "cinquenervia". Regarding the shape of the leaves, Verbascum thapsus is called "lingua 'e voiju" (that is tongue of ox), while Adonis annua "eriva bedda" (erba bella, that is beautiful herb) for the peculiar red colour of the corollas. Cestrum parqui is named "erva fetusa" (that is stinking herb) for its unpleasant smell. The sap of the vine is poetically called "pianto della vite" (the tears of the vine).

Conclusion

The preliminary reported data – in comparison with those from other Calabrian ethno-botanical papers – show that a big work is still to carry out in this region, where each village is "an island" for the past geographical difficulties of communication and for the above described culture of "subsistence". These data can appear fragmentary, because found out in the course of many years – in various stages – but they contribute to rebuild some plugs of a very rich patrimony in the past.

From the research it emerges that the practice or the memory of the veterinary, food, anti-parasitic, cosmetic, agricultural and domestic uses are still alive near the inhabitants of the investigated areas of Calabria region, particularly for the food uses. Among these practices, some are curious but consolidated, e.g. those for veterinary and anti-parasitic purposes, and worthy of further scientific investigation.

This recovery can have relapses in the ethno-pharmacological field, but also in the handicraft, economic and tourist sector. The preservation of traditional knowledge e.g. in the food or artisan fields may be source of some income in local enterprises.

This research is also offered as a contribute to the knowledge of the ethno-biological roots of the investigated region.

Declarations

Acknowledgements

We thank Dr. M.L. Leporatti, Dr. Ameruso P., Malarico V., Iamello A, Capalbo M., Mannella G. and Mascianà B.A. for the useful information, and all the people interviewed. Our thanks to Virginia Filippelli and to Luciana Mariotti for the English language review.

Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
Museo di Storia Naturale della Calabria ed Orto Botanico, Università della Calabria
(2)
(3)
Museo Nazionale Arti e Tradizioni Popolari

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