Open Access

Medical ethnobotany of the Albanian Alps in Kosovo

  • Behxhet Mustafa1,
  • Avni Hajdari1Email author,
  • Feriz Krasniqi2,
  • Esat Hoxha1,
  • Hatixhe Ademi1,
  • Cassandra L Quave3 and
  • Andrea Pieroni4
Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine20128:6

DOI: 10.1186/1746-4269-8-6

Received: 7 December 2011

Accepted: 28 January 2012

Published: 28 January 2012

Abstract

Background

Ethnobotanical studies are crucial in South-Eastern Europe for fostering local development and also for investigating the dynamics of Traditional Environmental Knowledge (TEK) related to plants in one of the most crucial European hotspots for biocultural diversity. The current medico-ethnobotanical survey was conducted in rural alpine communities in Kosovo. The aims of the study were twofold: 1) to document the state of TEK of medicinal plants in these communities; 2) to compare these findings with that of similar field studies previously conducted among local populations inhabiting the Montenegrin and Albanian side of the same Alpine range.

Methods

Field research was conducted in 36 villages on the Kosovar side of the Albanian Alps. Snowball sampling techniques were used to recruit 91 elderly informants (≥ 50 years-old) for participation in semi-structured interviews and structured surveys regarding the use of the local flora for medicinal and food purposes. Standard ethnobotanical methods were employed and prior informed consent was obtained for all study participants.

Results and Conclusion

The uses of 98 plants species belonging to 39 families were recorded; the most quoted botanical families were Rosaceae, Asteraceae, and Lamiaceae. Mainly decoctions and infusions were quoted as folk medicinal preparations and the most common uses referred to gastrointestinal and respiratory disorders, as well as illnesses of the uro-genital system. Among the most uncommon medicinal taxa quoted by the informants, Carduus nutans L., Echinops bannaticus Rochel ex Schrad., and Orlaya grandiflora Hoffm. may merit phytochemical and phytopharmacological investigations.

Comparison of the data with other ethnobotanical field studies recently conducted on the Albanian and Montenegrin sides of the same Alps has shown a remarkable link between the medical ethnobotany of Montenegrin and Kosovar side of the Albanian Alps. Moreover, folk uses of the most quoted wild medicinal taxa recorded in Kosovo often include those recorded both in Albania and in Montenegro, thus suggesting a hybrid character of the Kosovar local plant knowledge. This may be also explained with the fact that Montenegro and Kosovo, despite their differences in the ethnic composition, have shared a common history during the last Century.

Keywords

Albanian Alps Ethnobotany Traditional Medicine Kosovo Medicinal plants

Background

Ethnobotanical studies in South-Eastern Europe are seen as a crucial initial step for local rural development based on eco-tourism, small-scale trade of local medicinal plants, high-quality local foods, eco-museums, and community-based bio-conservation strategies [1].

However, this region is also considered very special for conducting studies having a human ecological focus, since it represents a unique hotspot of biological and cultural diversity in Europe, thus allowing cross-cultural comparisons of traditional environmental knowledge (TEK) concerning medicinal plants. In very recent years, the Western Balkans have been the focus of a remarkable number of ethnobotanical studies [29], mainly focused on mountainous communities [1015].

In this study, we investigated the Kosovo side of the Albanian Alps (in Albanian known as Bjeshkët e Nemuna or Alpet Shqipëtare; in Serbo-Croatian known as Prokletije), which extends within a triangle among the Dinaric Mountains in the North-West, the Sharri (Šar) Mountains in the South-East and the Rhodope Mountains in the East and North-East. This covers a very pristine, and sometimes, remote area of ca. 3,500 km2, which is geo-politically divided among the sovereign states of Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro.

About 1,000 km2 of these mountains belong to the Kosovo territory. The Albanian Alps system consists of 24 groups of mountains with 152 peaks higher than 2,000 m a.s.l. (the highest altitude in the Kosovo territory is reached by Maja e Gjeravicës at 2,460 m a.s.l.), with a large number of gorges, canyons, valleys, which make them among the most inaccessible [16], but also magnificent areas of the Balkans [17].

Due to the rich levels of biodiversity characteristic to this region, three national parks were established in the past in the Albanian Alps: one in Montenegro (Prokletije National Park) and two others in Albania (Theth and Valbona National Parks). A fourth national park in the area has been proposed to be located in Kosovo. Furthermore, Kosovo, Albania, and Montenegro are planning to join these parks and to create the cross-border Balkan Peace Park [18].

In general, Kosovo is characterised by a continental climate and in higher altitudes it is influenced by Alpine features [19]; for this reason, it has cold winters and hot summers, with an average temperature of 11.4°C. The Alpine area of Kosovo is characterised by total annual precipitation levels exceeding 2,000 mm. Specific geo-morphological, soil and climatic features provide an interesting richness and diversity of plant life in the Albanian Alps massif, with a flora belonging to three different bio-geographic zones: the Mediterranean, the Central-European and the Central-South European regions [17, 2022].

These unique features are reflected in the high plant biodiversity, which includes 1,609 taxa and ca. 150 vegetation units [23]. The most representative vegetation unites are: oriental hornbeam forest (Carpinetum orientalis scardicu), hop hornbeam mixed and with oriental hornbeam forest (Ostryo-Carpinion orientalis), thermophilous oak forests community (Quercus frainetto Ten., Quercetum frainetto-cerris scardicum, and Quercetum petraeae-cerris), chestnut forests (Castanetum sativae), beech forests (Fagetum montanum), and pine forests (Pinetum heldreichii typicum, Pinetum heldreichii thalictretum, Pinetum peucis, and Pinetum mughi typicum) [22, 24].

People have withstood the extreme conditions of these areas for centuries - including very harsh winters. Until very recent decades, limitations in infrastructure and communication forced local residents to be self-sufficient in the provision of their healthcare. As a result, their primary pharmacopoeia consisted of local medicinal plants.

While recent studies on the Albanian and Montenegrin sides of the Albanian Alps have reported findings on TEK of wild medicinal and food plants [10, 12, 13, 15], no ethnobotanical surveys have been conducted thus far in Kosovo, with the exception of a very recent work carried out by our research group in the Gollak area [9], and a review on folk botanical names in diverse Albanian-speaking areas in South-Eastern and Southern Europe [25].

The aims of this study were twofold: 1) to document the ethnobotanical knowledge related to the use of local medicinal plants in the Albanian Alps region of Kosovo; and 2) to compare the recorded data with the ethnobotanical studies recently conducted in the Albanian and Montenegrin sides of the same Albanian Alps. This was done with the overarching goal in mind of elucidating the role played by cultural/ethnic components in shaping use patterns of wild medicinal plants.

Methods

Field study

Ethnobotanical field research was conducted in 36 villages belonging to the municipalities of Pejë and Deçan, located close to the Koprivnik and Strellc mountains, and which represent the central group of the Albanian Alps located in the western part of Kosovo (Figure 1).
Figure 1

Study area in Kosovo.

The settlements and villages investigated are relatively small in terms of inhabitants (≤ 500 inhabitants per village). The native residents are ethnic Albanians, who speak Gheg varieties of the Albanian language. The exact population is currently unknown, as no population census has been conducted in Kosovo since 1981. Most recently, the area populations have been negatively affected by migration due to displacement and harsh economic conditions caused by the last Kosovo War (1998-1999).

Field studies were conducted from May to October 2010. TEK was recorded using semi-structured interviews and a questionnaire [26]. In particular, we sought the following information: respondent name and community of residence; local botanical names of useful plants; plant part(s) used; preparation/administration; local folk medicinal uses of plants.

Data were collected from 91 informants (67 male and 24 female) older than 50 years (50 to 79 years old). The respondents were mainly engaged in agricultural activities and typically inherited their ethnobotanical knowledge from their direct ancestors (parents, grandparents) via oral traditions. Study participants were selected using the snowball sampling method [2], and we particularly focused on local people who regularly use plants for medicinal purposes.

Prior informed consent was obtained conducting interviews and researchers adhered to the ethical guidelines of the International Society of Ethnobiology [27]. During the interviews, fresh plants were collected to create voucher specimens for the herbarium and the informants were followed into the field to show us the quoted species. Most plant species were collected while flowering.

Taxonomic identification was done using relevant standard botanical literature of the area [2831]. Plant nomenclature largely follows the Flora Europaea [32], while plant family assignments follow the current Angiosperm Phylogeny Group guidelines [33]. Voucher specimens of the wild taxa were deposited at the Department of Biology (Herbarium code DE/10), University of Prishtina.

Data analysis

Despite the fact that it is always problematic to compare ethnobotanical data recorded from studies conducted using different field methods and at different times, we have attempted to compare the wild medicinal plant uses recorded in Albanian Alps in Kosovo with those recorded in previously conducted ethnobotanical studies on the Albanian and Montenegrin sides of the same alpine range [1114]. The Jaccard similarity index among the considered studies has been calculated as in the recent comparative analysis of the circum-Mediterranean medical ethnobotany [34].

Results and Discussion

The Kosovar medico-ethnobotany of the Albanian Alps

The results of the field survey are presented in Table 1; plants are arranged in alphabetical order by genus. For each species, the botanical name and family, local names, English name, botanical status, preparation/administration and folk medical or food uses are reported.
Table 1

Medicinal plant uses recorded on the Kosovar side of the Albanian Alps in the current study.

Botanical taxon, botanical family and voucher specimen code

Folk name(s) quoted by respondents

English name

Status

Quotation frequency

Part(s) used

Administration

Treated disease(s) or folk medical uses(s)

Abies alba Mill. (Pinaceae) 13/DE/10

Bredhi i bardhë

European silver fir

W

+

Resin

Boiled in oil

Stomach pain

Eczemas

      

Topically applied

Skin infections

      

Mixed and boiled with milk butter

Skin hematomas

Skin infections

Achillea millefolium L. (Asteraceae) 03/DE/10

Hajdukati

Yarrow

W

++

Areal parts

Infusion

Anti-diarrhoeal

Stomach pain

Anti-diabetic

Eczema

      

Tincture topical used in wound

Antibacterial

Aconitum divergens Pančić (Ranunculaceae)

04/DE/10

Pelini i egër (i zi)

 

W

++

Areal parts

Infusion

Stomach disorders

Oral cavity antiseptic

Anti-haemorrhoidal

     

Whole plant

Infusion

Anti-cholesterolemic

     

Leaves

Squeezed and topically applied to the wound

Anti-bacterial

Skin infections

Adiantum capillus-veneris L. (Adiantaceae)

01/DE/10

Majdanozi i egër

Southern maidenhair fern

W

+

Areal parts

Decoction

Bronchitis

Sour throat

Expectorant

Aesculus hippocastanum L. (Sapindaceae) 06/DE/10

Gështenja e egër

Horse chestnut

W

++

Leaves

Infusion

Expectorant

Anti-rheumatic

     

Fruits

Decoction

Antitussive

Anti-hypertensive

      

Tincture

Anti-rheumatic

Agropyron repens (L.) P. Beauv. (Poaceae)

08/DE/10

Pirrovina

Couch grass

W

+

Roots

Decoction

Anti-rheumatic

Anti-anaemic

Stomach and hepatic disorders

Lithontriptic

      

Infusion

Lithontriptic

Allium cepa L. (Amaryllidaceae) 11/DE/10

Qepa

Onion

C

+

Leaves

Decoction

To treat influenza

     

Bulb

Extracted with cold mineral water

Anti-hypertensive

Allium porrum L. (Amaryllidaceae) 09/DE/10

Purrini

Garden leek

C

+

Leaves and stem

Eaten fresh

Anti-cholesterolemic

Allium sativum L. (Amaryllidaceae) 10/DE/10

Hudhra

Garlic

C

+

Bulb

Leaves

Tincture

Improve blood circulation

Anti-diabetic

Antibacterial

Anti-hypertensive

      

Decoction

Tooth ache

Alnus glutinosa (L.) Gaertn. (Betulaceae)

05/DE/10

Verri

Black alder

W

+

Cortex

Decoction, used to wash whole body

Anti-rheumatic

     

Leaves

Extracted with cold water

Disinfectant on wounds

Althaea officinalis L. (Malvaceae) 07/DE/10

Mëllaga e bardhë

Marshmallow

W

++

Roots

Extracted with cold water

Expectorant

      

Decoction

To treat lung disorders

Oral cavity antiseptic

Expectorant

Arctium lappa L. (Asteraceae) 12/DE/10

Bullushtra

Greater burdock

W

+

Areal parts

Decoction

Gastrointestinal disorders

Bronchitis

Lithontriptic

     

Leaves

Boiled in milk (used externally

Skin inflammation and ulcers

Aristolochia clematitis L. (Aristolochiaceae)

14/DE/10

Fiku i egër

Birthwort

W

+

Fruits

Decoction

Anti-haemorrhoidal Eczemas

     

Areal parts

Decoction

Infected wounds

Ulcers

Artemisia absinthium L. (Asteraceae) 02/DE/10

Pelini i butë

Wormwood

W

+

Areal parts

Infusion

Stomach disorders

Anti-diabetic

Beta vulgaris L. (Amaranthaceae)

17/DE/10

Sveklla

Common beet

C

+

Roots

Decoction

Anti-anaemic

Betula verrucosa Ehrh. (Betulaceae) 16/DE/10

Mështekna

Silver birch

W

+

Cortex

Decoction

Kidney infections

     

Leaves

Decoction

Lithontriptic

Brassica oleracea L. (Brassicaceae) 18/DE/10

Lakra

Cabbage

C

+

Leaves

Fermented leaves topically applied

Anti-bacterial

Bryonia alba L. (Cucurbitaceae) 15/DE/10

Stërkungulli

White bryony

W

+

Roots

Extracted with sunflower oil, apply topically in pain place

Anti-rheumatic

Calendula officinalis L. (Asteraceae) 28/DE/10

Lulduhani

Pot marigold

C

+

Flowers

Extracted with cold milk

Kidney disorders

Hepatitis

Stomach ulcers

Capsella bursa-pastoris (L.) Medik. (Brassicaceae) 29/DE/10

Shtrapër

Shepherd's-purse

W

+

Whole plant

Infusion

Fever

Eczemas

Capsicum annuum L. (Solanaceae) 32/DE/10

Speci djegës

Pepper

C

+

Fruits

Eaten fresh fruits

Anti-rheumatic

Appetizing

Lung disorders

Carduus nutans L. (Asteraceae) 27/DE/10

Gjemb gomari

Musk thistle

W

+

Inflorescences

Extracted with cold water for ten days and then used as tea

Eczemas

Castanea sativa Mill. (Fagaceae) 20/DE/10

Gështenja e butë

Sweet chestnut

W/C

+

Fruits

Decoction

Headache

     

Fruits

Decoction external applied

Anti-haemorrhoidal

Centaurea cyanus L. (Asteraceae) 30/DE/10

Kokoçeli

Cornflower

W

+

Flowers

Decoction

Eye infections

Centaurium erythraea Rafin. (Gentianaceae) 21/De/10

Kiçica

Common centaury

W

++

Areal parts

Extracted with cold water

Stomach disorders

Urinary system infections

      

Decoction

Anti-haemorrhoid

Anti-diabetic

Lithontriptic

Fever

     

Stem

Decoction

Lithontriptic

Cichorium intybus L. (Asteraceae) 22/DE/10

Çikorja

Common chicory

W

+

Stem

Infusion

Anti-diarrhoeal

     

Roots

Decoction

Bronchitis

Urinary system infections

Anti-haemorrhoid

Chelidonium majus L. (Papaveraceae) 31/DE/10

Tamblaqoku

Tetterwort

W

+

Areal parts

Infusion

Bronchitis

Lithontriptic

Stomach ulcers

Citrullus vulgaris Schrad. (Cucurbitaceae) 33/DE/10

Shalqiri

Watermelon

C

+

Fruit juice

Fruit juice applied into the ear

Ear-ache

     

Seeds

Eaten dried seeds of watermelon, apple, melon

To prevent prostate cancer

Citrus limon (L.) Burm. f. (Rutaceae) 35/DE/10

Limoni

Lemon

C

+

Fruits

Lemon juice mixed with honey

Anti-tussive

Respiratory infections

Cornus mas L. (Cornaceae) 24/DE/10

Thana

Dogwood

W

++

Fruits

Decoction

Anti diabetic

      

Tincture

Stomach disorders

Anti-rheumatic

      

Consumed

Eaten raw

      

Decoction

Anti-anaemic

Corylus avellana L. (Betulaceae) 25/DE/10

Lajthia

Hazel

W

+

Leaves

Decoction

Anti-diabetic

Crataegus monogyna Jacq. (Rosaceae) 19/DE/10

Murrizi

Oneseed

W

++

Areal parts

Infusion

Heart rhythm regulator

Anti-hypertensive

     

Fruits

Decoction

Anti-hypertensive

     

Flowers

Decoction

Anti-hypertensive

Insomnia

Cucumis melo L. (Cucurbitaceae) 36/DE/10

Pjepri

Melon

C

+

Seeds

Eaten dried seeds of watermelon, apple, melon

To prevent the prostate cancer

Cucurbita pepo L. (Cucurbitaceae) 26/DE/10

Kungulli

Pumpkin

C

+

Seeds

Eaten

Anti-helminthic

To prevent prostate cancer

Cydonia oblonga Mill. (Rosaceae) 23/DE/10

Ftoni

Quince

C

+

Leaves

Infusion

Respiratory inflammations

     

Seeds

Decoction

Appetizing

Cynodon dactylon (L.).Pers. (Poaceae) 34/DE/10

Bar magari

Bermuda grass

W

+

Roots

Decoction

Anti-haemorrhoidal

Daucus carota L. (Apiaceae) 37/DE/10

Karota

Carrot

C

+

Storage root

Boiled and eaten

Stomach infections

Digitalis grandiflora Mill. (Plantaginaceae) 38/DE/10

Naprastak

Big-flowered foxglove

W

+

Whole plant

Infusion

Hart disorders

Echinops bannaticus Rochel ex Schrad. (Asteraceae) 40/DE/10

Gjembardha

 

W

+

Roots

Decoction

Lithontriptic

Equisetum arvense L. (Equisetaceae) 39/DE/10

Këputja e arave

Horsetail

W

+

Stem and Leaves

Infusion

Lithontriptic

Urinary system infections

Euphorbia cyparissias L. (Euphorbiaceae) 41/DE/10

Bima e lythave

Cypress spurge

W

+

Stem

Fresh leaves topically applied

Warts

Foeniculum vulgare Mill. (Apiaceae) 43/DE/10

Kopra e egër

Fennel

W

+

Flowers

Decoction

Constipation

Fragaria vesca L. (Rosaceae) 42/DE/10

Dredhëza e egër

Strawberry

W

+

Leaves

Infusion

Neuro-relaxant

Gentiana asclepiadea L. (Gentianaceae) 45/DE/10

Utrobica

 

W

+

Roots

Tincture

Anti-rheumatic

Stomach ulcers

Hepatitis

Gentiana lutea L. (Gentianaceae) 44/DE/10

Sanëza

 

W

++

Roots

Tincture

Improve the blood circulation

Bronchitis

Stomach disorders

Anti-hypertensive

Anti-asthmatic

Anti rheumatic

Anti-diabetic

Galium verum L. (Rubiaceae) 46/DE/10

Ngjitësi i vërtetë

Yellow bedstraw

W

+

Flowers

Infusion

Urinary system infections

Helleborus odorus Waldst. et. Kit. (Ranunculaceae) 49/DE/10

Shpendra

Fragrant hellebore

W

+

Fruits

Applied in tooth

Tooth-ache

Humulus lupulus L. (Cannabaceae) 48/DE/10

Sumbullari

Common hop

W

+

Fruits

Infusion

Kidney inflammations

Neuro-relaxant

     

Areal parts

Decoction

Insomnia

Menstrual cycle regulator

Hypericum perforatum L. (Hypericaceae) 47/DE/10

Kantarioni

St. John's wort

W

+++

Flowers

Decoction

Stomach pain

     

Whole plant

Decoction

Respiratory disorders

     

Areal parts

Extracted with olive oil

Stomach pain

Skin infections

To treat skin after sunburn or thermal burn

Anti-tussive

Anti haemorrhoidal

Respiratory infections

Anti-cholesterolemic

Eczemas

Iris sp. (Iridaceae) 50/DE/10

Lule purriri

 

W

+

Leaves

Squeezed and topically applied to the ear

Ear ache

Juglans regia L. (Juglandaceae) 52/DE/10

Arra

Common walnut

W/C

+++

Roots

Extracted for one month with sunflower oil and then liquid mixed with honey.

Lung inflammations

Anti asthmatic

Bronchitis

     

Fruits

Decoction

Anti-tussive

      

Honey (1 kg) mixed with fruits (1 kg) extracted for one month

Lung inflammations

Anti-asthmatic

Anti-anaemic

      

Extracted with cold water.

Anti-cholesterolemic

      

Tincture

Stomach disorders

     

Leaves

Infusion

Anti-haemorrhoid al

Juniperus communis L. (Cupressaceae) 51/DE/10

Gllia

Juniper

W

++

Fruits

Decoction

Back pains

      

Extracted for 10 days in cold water mixed with lemons

Kidney inflammations

Anti rheumatic

      

Decoction

Respiratory inflammations

      

Decoction

Stomach disorders

Lagenaria siceraria (Molina) Standl. (Cucurbitaceae) 53/DE/10

Pocerka

Bottle gourd

C

+

Fruits

Fruits opened and filled with water and then water used to flush the nose

Sinusitis

Linaria peloponnesiaca Boiss. et. Heldr. (Plantaginaceae) 57/DE/10

Lanilist

 

W

+

Seeds

Decoction

Constipation

Linaria vulgaris Mill. (Plantaginaceae) 56/DE/10

Gjineshtra

Common toadflax

W

+

Areal parts

Decoction

Urinary system inflammations

Linum hirsutum L. (Linaceae)

54/DE/10

Liri

 

W

+

Seeds

Decoction

Anti-haemorrhoidal

Urinary system inflammations

     

Leaves

Infusion

Headache

Respiratory inflammations

Lycopersicon esculentum Mill. (Solanaceae) 55/DE10

Domatja

Tomato

C

+

Fruits

Beaked fruits mixed with sugar topically applied in wound

Wound infections

Malus dasyphylla Borkh. (Rosaceae) 60/DE/10

Molla sherbete

Apple

W

+

Fruits

Squeezed and topically applied to the ear

Earache

Malus sylvestris Mill. (Rosaceae) 61/DE10

Molla e pyllit

Molla e egër

European wild apple

W

++

Areal parts

Infusion

Anti-tussive

Expectorant

     

Fruits

Extracted with cold water then fruit juice mixed sugar

Anti-hypertensive

Anti-cholesterolemic

     

Fruits

Decoction

Anti-diabetic

     

Leaves

Applied topically in wound

Wound infections

Matricaria recutita L. (Asteraceae) 59/DE/10

Kamomili

Chamomile

W

++

Areal parts

Infusion

Stomachache

Oral cavity inflammations

Gingivitis

Urinary system infections

     

Flowers

Flowers

Infusion

Oral inflammations

Urinary system infections

      

Decoction

Constipation

     

Areal parts

Infusion

Drunk as a tea

Melissa officinalis L. (Lamiaceae) 58/DE/10

Bari i bletës

Lemon balm

W

+

Areal parts

Infusion

For treating abdominal pains during pregnancy

     

Areal parts

Decoction

Neuro-relaxant

Mentha longifolia (L.) Huds. (Lamiaceae) 63/DE/10

Menta

Horse mint

W

+

Areal parts

Infusion

Neuro-relaxant

Anti-diarrhoeal

Anti-hypertensive

Morus nigra L. (Moraceae) 64/DE/10

Mani i zi

Black mulberry

W

+

Leaves

Decoction

Anti diabetic

Origanum vulgare L. 65/DE/10

(Lamiaceae)

Qaji i bjeshkës

Oregano

W

+

Areal parts

Areal parts

Infusion

Respiratory inflammations, flu

      

Decoction

Anti-tussive

Digestive

Orlaya grandiflora (L.) Hoffm. (Apiaceae) 66/DE/10

Torilis

White lace flower

W

+

Areal parts

Decoction

Constipation

Petroselinum crispum (Mill.) Fuss (Apiaceae) 70/DE/10

Majdanozi

Parsley

C

+

Leaves

Boiled with garlic and carrot

Stomach infections

      

Decoction together with lemon

Anti-cholesterolemic

Pinus sylvestris L. (Pinaceae) 69/DE/10

Çetina

Scots pine

W

++

Cones

40 cones mixed with honey (1 kg) eaten after one month

Bronchitis

      

Decoction

Anti-tussive

Anti-asthmatic

Bronchitis

Phaseolus vulgaris

L. (Fabaceae) 77/DE/10

Fasulja

Common bean

C

+

Seeds

2-3 soup spoons in the morning

Anti-acid

Plantago lanceolata L. (Plantaginaceae) 73/DE/10

Dejzi heshtor

Narrowleaf plantain

W

++

Leaves

Fresh leaves applied topically in wound

Wound infections

Plantago major L. (Plantaginaceae) 67/DE/10

Dejzi gjethegjerë

Common plantain

W

++

Leaves

Infusion

Back pains

      

Eaten squeezed juice mixed with honey

Bronchitis

Anti haemorrhoid

Stomach-ache

      

Applied topically in wound

Wound infections

Polygonum bistorta L. (Polygonaceae) 75/DE/10

Reni

Meadow bistort

W

+

Roots

Macerated roots (200-300 g) mixed honey (1 kg)

Respiratory infections Expectorant

Populus nigra L. (Salicaceae) 72/DE10

Plepi i zi

Black poplar

W

+

Cortex

Decoction

Urinary system inflammations

     

Leaves

Decoction

Tuberculosis

Bronchitis

Anti-diabetic

Prunus avium (L.) L. (Rosaceae)71/DE/10

Bojlia

Wild cherry

C

+

Fruits

Infusion

Anti- diabetic

Anti-hypertensive

Respiratory inflammations

Prunus domestica L. (Rosaceae) 68/DE/10

Kumbulla

Plum

C

+

Fruits

Decoction

Constipation

Prunus spinosa L. (Rosaceae) 74/DE/10

Kulumria

Blackthorn

W

+

Fruits

Decoction

Anti-hypertensive

Anti-asthmatic

      

Eaten fresh fruits

Consumption

Pteridium aquilinum Kuhn. (Dennstaedtiaceae) 76/DE/10

Fieri

Bracken

W

+

Leaves

Decoction

Anti-bacterial

Diuretic

Pyrus pyraster (L.) Du Roi (Rosaceae) 78/DE/10

Dardha e egër

Wild pear

W

+

Fruits

Tincture

Anti-hypertensive

Anti-cholesterolemic

Robinia pseudoacacia L. (Fabaceae) 82/DE/10

Bagreni

Black locust

W

+

Flowers

Decoction

Respiratory inflammations

Rosa canina L. (Rosaceae) 80/DE/10

Kaça

Dog rose

W

+

Fruits

Infusion

Drunk as a tea

     

Fruits

Decoction

Influenza

Increase immunity

Rubus fruticosus L. (Rosaceae) 79/DE/10

Mani

Blackberry

W

++

Leaves

Fresh leaves applied topically in wound

Skin infection

     

Leaves and fruits

Decoction

Tuberculosis

Influenza

Increase immunity

     

Fruits

Eaten fresh fruits

Jam

Consumption

Rubus idaeus L. (Rosaceae) 80/DE/10

Mjedra

Raspberry

W

+

Leaves

Decoction

Sore throat

Influenza

Increase immunity

Sambucus ebulus L. (Adoxaceae) 83/DE/10

Kinla

Dwarf elderberry

W

++

Areal parts

Topically in applied in pain place

Anti rheumatic

     

Fruits

Tincture

Menstrual pains Regulation of menstrual cycle

     

Flowers

Tincture

Urinary inflammations

Sambucus nigra L. (Adoxaceae) 85/DE/10

Shtogu

Elderberry

W

+++

Stem cortex

Extracted with sunflower oil

To treat sunburns

      

Boiled with butter milk

To treat thermal burns

     

Flowers

Infusion mixed with lemon and sugar

Anti asthmatic

Bronchitis

      

Infusion

Antitussive

     

Fruits

Drunk fruit juice

Anti-anaemic

     

Areal parts

Decoction

Anti-allergic

Salix purpurea L. (Salicaceae) 86/DE/10

Shelgu

Purple willow

W

+

Leaves

Applied topically in breast

Anti-fever

Salvia officinalis L. (Lamiaceae) 88/DE/10

Sherbela

Garden sage

C

+

Leaves

Decoction

Sedative

Antipyretic

Sempervivum tectorum L. (Crassulaceae) 87/DE/10

Bar veshi

Houseleek

W

+

Leaves

Decoction after cooled applied in ear

Ear ache

Solanum tuberosum L. (Solanaceae) 84/DE/10

Patatja

Potato

C

+

Tuber

Cut in several pieces and placed in front of the head

Head-ache

Taraxacum officinale F.H. Wigg. (Asteraceae) 96/DE/10

Lule dielli

Dandelion

W

+

Flowers

Decoction mixed with lemon fruits.

Bronchitis

Teucrium chamaedrys L. (Lamiaceae) 94/DE/10

Arrsi i vogël

Wall germander

W

+

Areal parts

Infusion

Anti-haemorrhoidal

     

Whole parts

Infusion

Anti diabetic

Thymus spp. (Lamiaceae) 93/DE/10

Shpirti i nënës

Wild thyme

W

++

Areal parts

Decoction

Respiratory inflammations

Expectorant

     

Whole plant

Infusion

Bronchitis

Anti-tussive

Expectorant

     

Areal parts

Infusion

Lung inflammations

Expectorant

Tilia platyphyllos Scop. (Malvaceae) 95/DE/10

Blini

Largeleaf linden

W

+

Flowers

Decoction

Sore throat

Lung inflammations

Trifolium pratense L. (Fabaceae) 92/DE/10

Tërfoja e kuqe

Red clover

W/C

+

Leaves

Squeezed leaves juice

Stomach disorders

Trifolium repens L. (Fabaceae) 91/DE/10

Tërfili i bardhë

White clover

W

+

Flowers

Decoction

Anti-diarrhoeal

Triticum vulgare L. (Poaceae) 89/DE/10

Gruri

Karajpeli

Wheat

C

+

Seeds

Boiled seeds with water and added sugar

Constipation

Anti-haemorrhoid

     

Flowers

Decoction

Kidney disorders

Anti rheumatic

Neuro-relaxant

Urtica dioica L. (Urticaceae) 97/DE/10

Hithi

Common nettle

W

++

Leaves

Eaten fresh

Anti anaemic

     

Leaves and stem

Tincture

Improve blood circulation

     

Roots and Leaves

Decoction

Alopecia

     

Roots

Decoction

Anti-haemorrhoidal

Vaccinium myrtillus L. (Ericaceae) 98/DE/10

Boronica

Bilberry

W

+

Areal parts

Infusion

Anti-diabetic

     

Fruits and Leaves

Decoction

Neuro-relaxant

Urinary inflammations

Lung inflammations

Stomach disorders

Anti-hypertensive

     

Fruits

Eaten fresh

Consumed

Veratrum album L. (Melanthiaceae) 99/DE/10

Shtara

White hellebore

W

+

Leaves

Decoction

Anti-lice

     

Roots

Decoction

Head ache

     

Leaves

Extracted with sunflower oil

Eczemas

Haemorrhoids

Zea mays L. (Poaceae) 100/DE/10

Misri

Corn

W

+

Silks

Infusion

Anti-diabetic

+ quoted by less than 5% of the participants; ++ quoted by more than 5% and less than 30% of the participants; +++ quoted by more than 30% of the participants

We found that 98 species (belonging to 39 families) are employed in the traditional medicine of the area. These includes three fern species, three gymnosperms and 92 angiosperms (84 dicotyledonous and 8 monocotyledons); 74 taxa are wild. Of these species, Achillea millefolium L., Cornus mas L., Hypericum perforatum L., Juglans regia L., Juniperus communis L., Malus sylvestris Mill., Plantago major L., Sambucus nigra L. were cited more then 30% of the informants. From 98 species presented in Table 1, 23 species are also included in the official Pharmacopoeia of Europe [35].

The predominantly quoted botanical families were Rosaceae (12%), Asteraceae (10%), and Lamiaceae (5%). These same three "top" families were found to be also predominant among the wild medicinal taxa used in the folk medicine of the Alps in Montenegro, Albania, and in the Gollak region in Kosovo [9, 1114].

The most frequently quoted manner of preparation of medicinal plants was represented by decoctions (51%) and infusions (26%). The most frequently cited medicinal uses referred to gastrointestinal (26%), respiratory (19%) troubles, and illnesses affecting the urogenital system (12%). The first two categories were also the most frequently quoted in the ethnobotanical studies conducted on the Montenegrin and Albanian sides [1114].

Most uncommon medicinal plants

Upon analysis of the bio-pharmacological literature on the quoted medicinal species available on PubMed, we found that it could be worthwhile to further investigate the following reports:
  1. 1.

    The internal use of cold water macerates of the inflorescences of Carduus nutans L. in the treatment of eczema (this taxon is scarcely known in the phytochemical and pharmacological literature). In 2000 a Turkish research group pointed out the hepatoprotective effects of extracts from this plant [36];

     
  2. 2.

    The internal use of decoction of the roots of Echinops bannaticus Rochel ex Schrad. for kidney stones (despite a few studies on other species of the genus Echinops, this Balkan species is largely under-investigated); and

     
  3. 3.

    The internal use of decoctions of aerial parts of Orlaya grandiflora Hoffm. for its laxative effects (the plant is completely unknown in the phytopharmacological literature).

     

Comparison with the Albanian and Montenegrin Alpine ethnobotanical literature

Table 2 and Figure 2 show the sites and field studies that have been compared with the data gathered in the Kosovar Alps.
Table 2

Summary of the field ethnobotanical studies considered in the cross-cultural data analysis.

Area and country

Study participants

Year(s) when the field studies were conducted

Number of study participants

Reference(s)

Albanian Alps (Kosovo)

Albanians

2010

91

Current study

Prokletije mountains (Montenegro)

Bosniaks and Serbs

2006 and 2007

75

[15]

Northern Albanian Alps

(Albania)

Albanians

2004, 2005, and 2007

62

[1114]

Figure 2

Location of the study area in Kosovo and of the sites where previous ethnobotanical works have been conducted in Albania and Montenegro [1114].

Figure 3 and Table 3 illustrate the similarity between the wild medicinal plants used and recorded in the current study and those recorded in the Montenegrin and Albanian sides of the same Albanian Alps.
Figure 3

Representation of the commonalities among the wild medicinal species quoted on the Kosovar, Montenegrin, and Albanian sides of the Albanian Alps [data from the current study and [1114]].

Table 3

Jaccard similarity index of the wild medicinal plants used in the Kosovar, Albanian, and Montenegrin Alps.

Group I

Group 2

Species used in both groups

Species used in one group only

(Group 1/Group 2)

Jaccard Index

Albanians in Albania

Albanians in Kosovo

13

24/45

15.9

Albanians in Albania

Serbs and Bosniaks in Montenegro

21

16/94

16.0

Serbs and Bosniaks in Montenegro

Albanians in Kosovo

32

83/36

21.2

Comparison of the most quoted folk medicinal uses of wild taxa in the current study and in ethnobotanical studies previously conducted in Albania and Montenegro [1114].(Same or similar uses are underlined.)

The link between the medical ethnobotany of the Montenegrin and Kosovar sides of the Alps - despite the different ethnicity/language of the local populations - appears stronger than the link between the ethnobotany of these two locations and the ethnobotany Albania.

This apparent paradox could be explained in a number of ways:
  1. 1.

    Different sampling techniques may have been adopted during the field survey in the three locations or the socio-economic background of the interviewees could have been different. For example, on the Albanian side of the Alps, the previous ethnobotanical studies selected local informants from very remote areas, which remained quite isolated during Communist times and with very limited access to urban environments and culture. It could be especially worthwhile to further assess the influence of the popular phytotherapeutical literature on folk medicine in Montenegro and Kosovo, since during the Yugoslavian time this kind of popularised knowledge was said to be "en-vogue". For example, this is very evident in the Montenegrin data, where a number of possible "modern" uses of local medicinal plants (i.e. Hypericum perforatum used as an anti-depressive) were recorded.

     
  2. 2.

    The study sites chosen in Kosovo and Montenegro are on average located at lower elevations than the sites selected in Northern Albania, thus resulting in a partially different ecological setting and availability of certain species in the environments.

     
  3. 3.

    Both the Montenegrin and Kosovar side of the Albanian Alps have had a common history for the most part of the 20th Century, since belonging to the same country (former Yugoslavia). This may have "homogenised" eventual pre-existing differences in plant perceptions/uses between the Albanian and Slav communities. Moreover, a few South-Slav communities (i.e. Bosniaks [24, 7, 8]) could be surely considered much more "herbophilic" than the Albanian ones, and this may have influenced the folk medicine of the Kosovar population to a certain degree during the last century, who have always lived in contacts with the Slavs.

     
  4. 4.

    The Montenegrin study included self-declaring Serbian and Bosniak communities. However, a large part of the Bosniak community living in the Gusinje area is represented also by "bosniakised" Albanians, whose Catholic tribes settled on this side of the Albanian Alps and converted to Islam a couple of centuries ago [37]. This could mean that the ethnobotanical data of Montenegro and Kosovo may actually refer to the same core of Muslim Albanians.

     
Despite the commonalities found on the quoted medicinal plants, Table 4 shows the different uses of the wild taxa, which have been most quoted in all three sides of the Alps.
Table 4

Comparison of the most quoted folk medicinal uses of wild taxa in the current study and in ethnobotanical studies previously conducted in Albania and Montenegro [1114] (Same or similar uses are underlined

Botanical taxon

Used part(s)

Pathologies treated in the folk medicine of the Kosovar Alps

Pathologies treated in the folk medicine of the Montenegrin Alps [15]

Pathologies treated in the folk medicine of Albanian Alps [1114]

Centaurium erythraea Rafn.

Aerial parts

Stomach-disorders

Diabetes

Fever

Kidney stones and UTIs

Stomach disorders and loss of appetite

Diabetes

Fever

Cornus mas L.

Fruits

Stomach disorders

Diabetes

Rheumatisms

Anaemia

Dhiarroea

Intestinal troubles

Gentiana spp.

Roots

Blood circulation- related diseases (including hypertension)

Bronchitis and asthma

Stomach disorders

Rheumatisms

Stomach-ache

Cardiovascular diseases

Hypericum spp.

Flowering aerial parts

Stomach disorders

Bronchitis and asthma Hypertension

Skin infections, sunburns, and eczemas

Haemorrhoids

Anti-cholesterolemic

Gastritis

Anxiety and depression

Skin inflammations and burns

Stomach and digestive disorders

Anxiety

Respiratory diseases

Fever

UTIs

Origanum vulgare L.

Aerial parts

Respiratory diseases

Digestion

UTIs

Respiratory diseases

Digestive

Respiratory diseases

Digestive

Diuretic

Plantago spp.

Aerial parts

Stomach-ache

Respiratory diseases

Wounds

Haemorrhoids

Back-pains

Respiratory diseases

Mouth and skin inflammations

Fever

Haemorrhoids

Abdominal pains

Wounds

Diuretic

Urtica dioica L.

Roots

Haemorrhoids

Alopecia

Haemorrhoids

Fever

Arthritis

Anaemia

Alopecia

UTIs

Rheumatisms

Alopecia

Genital problems

UTIs: Urinary Tract Infections

From Table 4 it is interesting to underline that the folk uses of the wild medicinal taxa recorded in Kosovo often include both the uses recorded in Albania and those in Montenegro. It would then appear that the medico-ethnobotany of Kosovo - because of its history in the last century and the exposure to the South-Slavic ethnobotanical traditions - has possibly incorporated both Albanian and Slavic plant uses.

Conclusions

Medicinal plants still play a crucial role in the sphere of human health in the Albanian Alps, not only in the Montenegrin and Albanian territory, but also on the Kosovar side. Oftentimes, these mountainous communities have limited or non-existent access to Western biomedical modalities, and are instead self-reliant on their TEK. The local flora is thus incredibly important to provide the first health care within the households of the Albanian Alps.

Moreover, the biodiversity richness and unique bio-cultural heritage of the local people here is something to be highly valued. Steps towards this end are evident in the formation of protected parks for biodiversity conservation - but further efforts in conservation of the human TEK diversity and cultural heritage are necessary as well. TEK-dependent activities such as sustainable gathering of wild medicinal taxa, their small-scale trade, and production of local high quality plant-based foods and dairy products can all contribute to the growing eco-tourism initiatives. Thus, TEK is a critical component to success in the future economic development and biocultural conservation efforts of the region.

Declarations

Acknowledgements

Special thanks are due to all the inhabitants of the Kosovar Alps who participated in this study.

Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
Department of Biology, University of Prishtina
(2)
Kosovo Academy of Sciences and Arts
(3)
Center for the Study of Human Health, Emory University
(4)
University of Gastronomic Sciences

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