Open Access

Isolated, but transnational: the glocal nature of Waldensian ethnobotany, Western Alps, NW Italy

Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine201511:37

https://doi.org/10.1186/s13002-015-0027-1

Received: 24 March 2015

Accepted: 26 April 2015

Published: 7 May 2015

Abstract

Background

An ethnobotanical field study on the traditional uses of wild plants for food as well as medicinal and veterinary plants was conducted in four Waldensian valleys (Chisone, Germanasca, Angrogna, and Pellice) in the Western Alps, Piedmont, NW Italy. Waldensians represent a religious Protestant Christian minority that originated in France and spread around 1,170 AD to the Italian side of Western Alps, where, although persecuted for centuries, approximately 20,000 believers still survive today, increasingly mixing with their Catholic neighbours.

Methods

Interviews with a total of 47 elderly informants, belonging to both Waldensian and Catholic religious groups, were undertaken in ten Western Alpine villages, using standard ethnobotanical methods.

Results

The uses of 85 wild and semi-domesticated food folk taxa, 96 medicinal folk taxa, and 45 veterinary folk taxa were recorded. Comparison of the collected data within the two religious communities shows that Waldensians had, or have retained, a more extensive ethnobotanical knowledge, and that approximately only half of the wild food and medicinal plants are known and used by both communities. Moreover, this convergence is greater for the wild food plant domain. Comparison of the collected data with ethnobotanical surveys conducted at the end of the 19th Century and the 1980s in one of studied valleys (Germanasca) shows that the majority of the plants recorded in the present study are used in the same or similar ways as they were decades ago. Idiosyncratic plant uses among Waldensians included both archaic uses, such as the fern Botrychium lunaria for skin problems, as well as uses that may be the result of local adaptions of Central and Northern European customs, including Veronica allionii and V. officinalis as recreational teas and Cetraria islandica in infusions to treat coughs.

Conclusions

The great resilience of plant knowledge among Waldensians may be the result of the long isolation and history of marginalisation that this group has faced during the last few centuries, although their ethnobotany present trans-national elements.

Cross-cultural and ethno-historical approaches in ethnobotany may offer crucial data for understanding the trajectory of change of plant knowledge across time and space.

Keywords

EthnobotanyWild food plantsMedicinal plantsAlpsItaly

Introduction

Ethnobotanical studies of minority and diasporic groups are of crucial interest in contemporary ethnobiology to help identify those cultural and/or social factors which affect the perceptions and uses of plants and to understand how traditional plant knowledge evolves [1-8].

Moreover, diverse analyses conducted in Europe during the last decade have pointed out that a broad range of factors influence the resilience of ethnobotanical knowledge and are able to slow or accelerate its erosion, including environmental changes, internal (urbanisation) and external migrations, self-perception and that of others’ identities, language, religion, as well as economic or political externalities [9-16].

On the other hand, the Alps have been shown to still represent an important reservoir of local, folk plant knowledge, both in touristic [17,18] and especially in “peripheral” valleys [19-22], which have been less affected by the mass tourism industry.

Along these theoretical trajectories, our ethnobotanical research in recent years has focused on a number of linguistic “isles” and cultural boundaries in mountainous areas of Italy and the Balkans; especially in the latter cultural region, we have also observed the effect that religious affiliation has on the vertical transmission of folk plant knowledge, as it remarkably shapes kinship relations within multi-lingual and multi-religion communities [23].

In order to further assess the role that religion plays in shaping folk plant knowledge, we decided to investigate the local ethnobotany of the Waldensian community and that of their Catholic neighbours in the Western Alps, NW Italy. Waldensians represent a religious Christian (and later Protestant Christian) minority that originated in France during the 12th Century which spread around 1,170 AD to the Italian side of the Cottian (Western) Alps. Harassed for centuries, Waldensians went through a long and dramatic history of persecutions, migrations and relocations, and, despite the isolation and marginalisation of their valleys, they built important ties to Protestant countries, notably England, the Netherlands, and Switzerland [24].

Nowadays, approximately 20,000 believers (Provençal/Occitan, Piedmontese and standard Italian speaking) still survive in these valleys, increasingly mixing with their Catholic neighbours.

The specific aims of this study were:
  1. 1.

    to record the local names and specific uses of wild food plants, as well as wild and non-wild plants for medicinal and veterinary practices in four Waldensians valleys;

     
  2. 2.

    to compare the ethnobotany of members belonging to the two faiths (Waldensians and Catholics); and

     
  3. 3.

    to diachronically compare the current data with those from the historical North Italian ethnobotanical data.

     

Methods

Selected sites

Figure 1 shows the location of the study sites, which were represented by four Waldensian valleys (Chisone, Germanasca, Angrogna, and Pellice) located in the Western Alps, Piedmont, NW Italy.
Figure 1

Location of the four considered Waldensian valleys within the linguistic map of Piedmont, NW Italy.

The valleys are characterized by chestnut (Castanea sativa Mill.), beech (Fagus sylvatica L.), and larch (Larix decidua Mill.) forests, with some Scots pine (Pinus sylvatica L.); the climate is alpine, with relevant annual precipitations (1000–2000 mm/year).

In particular, the following villages were visited: Fenestrelle (1,138 m.a.s.l.), Mentoulles (1,046 m.a.s.l.), Villaretto (986 m.a.s.l.), Pomaretto (619 m.a.s.l.), Campo La Salza (1,140 m.a.s.l.), Massello (1,187 m.a.s.l.), San Martino (1,063 m.a.s.l.), Villasecca (832 m.a.s.l.), Angrogna (582 m.a.s.l.), and Bobbio Pelice (762 m.a.s.l.).

All villages officially report a few hundred inhabitants (normally 300–500), but the actual figures are largely overestimated, as a significant portion of the current resident populations lives in the lowland Piedmontese centres and Turin and comes back to the villages only during the summer or on the weekends.

The local economy, since a few decades, is no longer based on agro-pastoral activities, and the elderly inhabitants live off of their pensions and in their free time manage some home-gardens and/or small-scale agricultural activities. Young and mid generations work instead in the main lowlands centres and in Turin.

Mass tourism is absent, although some eco-touristic initiatives have been growing in recent years.

The original Waldensian inhabitants have increasingly mixed with their Catholic neighbours in the last few decades, and in most cases intermarriage leads to a family’s change of faith (from Waldensian to Catholic).

Nowadays the language spoken within the domestic arena is increasingly a mixture of the original Provençal/Occitan language with the Piedmontese variety of Italian. All inhabitants also speak standard Italian.

Field study

In the years 2010–2014, forty-seven elderly informants (nineteen Catholics and twenty-eight Waldensians, aged between 58 and 78 years) were selected, among those locals who could be identified as Traditional Knowledge holders (normally elderly small-scale farmers and shepherds), employing snowball sampling techniques. These individuals then were interviewed after Prior Informed Consent was verbally obtained.

The focus of the interviews, which were conducted in standard Italian, was the folk knowledge (name and use) of wild food plants and wild and non-wild medicinal and veterinary plants.

The Code of Ethics of the International Society of Ethnobiology [25] was strictly followed.

The wild plant species mentioned by the informants were collected, when available, identified according to Flora d’Italia [26], and finally stored at the Herbarium of the University of Gastronomic Sciences.

Plant family assignments follow the current Angiosperm Phylogeny Group designations [27].

The reported folk plant names were transcribed using the rules of the Provençal/Occitan and standard Italian languages.

Data analysis

We compared the data gathered among local Waldensians with those collected among Catholics in the same study sites.

Moreover, we compared our findings with those observed in two ethnobotanical field studies conducted in the same areas (Val Germanasca) at the end of the 19th Century and in the 1980s [28-30]. In particular, the first work represents one of the very first ethnobotanical studies in Italy as well as the whole of Europe, which was conducted by a Waldensian botanist working as a secondary school teacher, who died from an infectious disease in Uruguay, where he immigrated one year after the publication of his investigation [31].

Results and discussion

Wild food plants

Table 1 shows the recorded uses of the wild food and semi-domesticated plant taxa.
Table 1

Local wild or semi-domesticated food plant uses recorded in the studied area

Botanical taxon/family and voucher specimen code

Recorded local names

Plant part(s)

Local culinary use(s)

Wal

Cat

Citations

Notes

Achillea erba-rotta All. Asteraceae UNISGVALACH

Routto Ruta di montagna

Aerial parts

Home-made liqueurs

+

 

*

C

Achillea millefolium L. Asteraceae UNISGVGB025

Primmoflour

Leaves

Soups

 

+

*

P

Alchemilla xanthochloraRothm. Rosacea UNISGVGB030

 

Leaves

Soups

+

+

*

P

Allium schoenoprasum L. Amaryllidaceae UNISGVALALL

Aiet

Leaves

Seasoning (salads)

+

 

*

C

Allium ursinum L. Amaryllidaceae UNISGVALALU

 

Leaves

Ingredients for soups

+

+

*

P

Amelanchier ovalis Medik. Rosaceae

Amarenchie

Fruits

Eaten raw

 

+

*

P

Angelica sylvestris L. Apiaceae UNISGVGB002

Angelica

Roots

Home-made liqueurs

+

 

*

C

Anthriscus sylvestris (L.) Hoffm. Apiaceae UNISGVALANT

Chafoulhét

Leaves

Salads

+

 

*

P

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L.) Spreng. Ericaceae UNISGVALARC

Pan dë vouëlp Pinmerlés

Fruits

Jams

+

+

*

P

Arctium lappa L. Asteraceae UNISGVGB034

Grattëquioùe

Very young leaves

Soups

 

+

*

P

Artemisia genipi Weber ex. Stechm., A.glacialis L., A. umbelliformis Lam. Asteraceae UNISGVALAGE UNISGVALAGL UNISGVALARU

Genepì Gënëpi fumél (A. umbelliformis)Gënëpi macle (A.genipi)

Flowering tops

Home-made liqueurs

+

 

*

C

Artemisia vulgaris L. Asteraceae UNISGVGB038

Arsemizë Eisente Ërsëmizo

Leaves

Seasoning soups or omelettes

+

 

*

C

Aruncus dioicus (W.)F. Rosaceae UNISGVGB040

Glaudia

Shoots

Boiled

+

+

**

P

Asparagus tenuifolius Lam. Asparagaceae UNISGVALASP

Aspèrge selvagge

Shoots

Boiled

+

+

*

P

Bellis perennis L. Asteraceae UNISGWAL007

Magritin Margaritin

Leaves and flowers

Salads, soups, omelettes, risotto

+

 

*

C

Berberis vulgaris L. Berberidaceae UNISGVALBER

Pittou

Fruits

Jams

+

+

**

P

Beta vulgaris L. Amaranthaceae

Bléo

Leaves

Cooked

+

 

*

C

Borago officinalis L. Boraginaceae UNISGWAL013

Bouràes Bourai Burài

Leaves and flowers

Soups, salads, omelettes

+

+

***

C

Campanula rapunculus L. Campanulaceae UNIGVALCAM

Rampoun

Leaves and roots

Salads

+

 

*

C

Capsella bursa- pastoris (L.) Medik. Brassicaceae UNISGVALCAP

 

Young leaves

Omelettes

+

 

*

P

Carlina acaulis L. Asteraceae UNISGVALCAR

Chardouso

Flowers

Macerated in olive oil; the resulting oil used as seasoning

+

+

*

C

Carum carvi L. Apiaceae UNISGVALCAU

Chiréi Cummel

Fruits

Seasoning, home-made liqueurs

+

+

**

C

Centaurea scabiosa L. Asteraceae UNISGVALCEN

 

Young leaves

Soups

+

+

*

P

Cerinthe sp. (?) Boraginaceae

Anhaoù grò

Leaves

Boiled

 

+

*

P

Chenopodium album L. Amaranthaceae UNISGVALCHE

Sënicle

Leaves

Soups, boiled, omelettes

+

+

*

P

Chenopodium bonus-henricus L. Amaranthaceae UNISGWAL017

Orla Parch

Leaves

Soups, omelettes, boiled

+

+

***

C

Cichorium intybus L. Asteraceae UNISGVALCIC

Sicorio

Young leaves Roots

Salads Roasted and grounds as coffee substitute

+

+

*

C P

Corylus avellana L. Betulaceae UNISGVALCOR

 

Seeds

Consumed raw

 

+

*

P

Daucus carota L. Apiaceae UNISGVALDAU

Carotto

Roots

Salads

+

 

*

C

Dryas octopetala L. Rosaceae UNISGVALDRY

 

Leaves and flowers

Cosumed raw as a snack

+

 

*

P

Fragaria vesca L. Rosaceae UNISGWAL036

Maiùssa

Leaves Fruits

Soups, salads Jams

+

+

**

C

Gentiana acaulis L. Gentianaceae UNISGVGB027

Braio d’cucuc Pirulet

Roots, flowers

Home-made liqueurs

+

+

**

C

Gentiana lutea L. Gentianaceae UNISVALGEN

Argensiana Gënsano

Roots

Home-made liqueurs (or wine macerates)

+

+

***

C

Humulus lupulus L. Cannabaceae UNISGWAL015

Lüvërtin Luvertìn

Shoots

Omelettes, boiled

+

+

***

C

Juniperus communis L. Cupressaceae UNISVALJUN

Gënébbre

Galbules

Seasoning

+

+

***

C

Lapsana communis L. Asteraceae UNISGVALLAP

Jalino graso

Young leaves

Soups, omelettes, boiled

+

+

***

C

Laurus nobilis L. Lauraceae UNISGVALLAU

Loriè

Leaves

Seasoning

+

 

*

C

Leontodon hispidus L. (?) (Asteraceae)

Plissa

Leaves

Salads, soups

+

 

*

P

Leontopodium nivale (Ten.) Huet ex Hand.-Mazz. Asteraceae UNISGVALLEO

Stela alpina

Flowering tops

Home-made liqueurs

+

 

*

C

Lonicera caerulea L. Caprifoliaceae UNISGVALLON

Èrza d’loup

Flowers

Eaten raw as a snack

+

 

*

P

Malva sylvestris L. Malvaceae UNISGVAMAL

Màevë Malvo

Leaves

Soups

+

+

*

C

Mentha longifolia (L.) L. Lamiaceae UNISGVALMEN

Mëntatre

Leaves

Seasoning (esp. soups and omelettes)

+

 

*

P

Nasturtium officinale R.Br. Brassicaceae UNISGVALNAS

Creisoun

Leaves

Salads

+

+

***

C

Origanum vulgare L. Lamiaceae UNISGVALORI

Origano

Leaves

Seasoning

+

 

*

C

Oxalis acetosella L. Oxalidaceae UNISGVALOXA

Èrbo dâ cucuc Pan d’ûzèl

Leaves

Salads

 

+

*

C

Parietaria officinalis L.Urticaceae UNISGVGB007

Pan-chaoudét

Leaves

Soups

+

 

*

P

Pedicularis foliosa L. Orobanchaceae UNISVALPED

 

Flowers

Sucked as a snack (by children)

 

+

*

P

Persicaria bistorta L. Polygonaceae UNISGVALPER

Albubuine Arparô Ërparâ

Young leaves

Soups

+

+

**

C

Pinus cembra L. Pinaceae UNISGVALPCE

Èlvou

Seeds

Consumed raw

 

+

**

P

Pinus sylvestris L. Pinaceae UNISGVALPSY

Pin

Seeds

Consumed raw

 

+

*

P

Plantago major L. Plantaginaceae UNISGVGB021

Plantanh Plantònh

Leaves

Soups

+

+

**

P

Physalis alkekengi L. Solanaceae UNISGWAL040

Erba chiocca Fiacch Puvron selvaj

Fruits

Jams

+

 

*

P

Phyteuma spicatum L. Campanulaceae UNISGWAL043

Iucca

Young leaves and shoots

Soups

+

 

*

P

Polypodium vulgare L. Polypodiaceae UNISGVGB003

Ërgalisio Rizouzèttë

Roots

Consumed raw as a snack and as a seasoning for home-made beverages

+

+

***

C

Portulaca oleracea L. Portulacaceae UNISGVALPOR

Pouslano

Young leaves (before flowering)

Salads

+

 

*

P

Primula helatior (L.) Hill, P. veris L., P. vulgaris Huds. Primulaceae UNISGVALPRE UNISGVALPVEUNISGVALPVU

Coucouc Pimpette Pimpinéllo

Young leaves and flowers

Salads, soups, omelettes

+

+

***

C

Prunus avium (L.) L. Rosaceae UNISGVALPRA

Sireizie

Fruits

Consumed raw or in jams

 

+

*

P

Prunus brigantina Vill. Rosaceae UNISGVALPRB

Marmouti

Fruits

Consumed raw or in jams

+

+

*

P

Prunus spinosa L. Rosaceae UNISGVALPRS

Agrenié Bousou niër

Fruits

Jams

+

+

**

P

Ribes alpinum L. Grossulariaceae UNISGWAL023

Uopastrìe

Fruits

Consumed raw or in jams

+

+

**

P

Ribes uva-crispa L. Grossulariaceae UNISGVALRUC

Groouzèlla

Fruits

Consumed raw or in jams

 

+

*

P

Robinia pseudoacacia L. Fabaceae UNISGVALROB

Gazhillo

Flowers

Deep-fried (in batter)

+

 

*

C

Rosa canina L. Rosaceae UNISGVGB018

Agoulensië Bosou

Fruits

Jams

+

+

***

C

Rubus ulmifolius L. Rosaceae UNISGWAL038

Rounzo

Young leaves Fruits

Soups Jams

+

 

*

P

Rubus idaeus L. Rosaceae UNISGWAL037

Ampolen Ampoulie

Fruits

Jams, syrups

+

+

**

C

Rumex acetosa L. Polygonaceae UNISGVGB011

Aseuccla Asuitta di pra Isìgula Situla

Stems Leaves

Consumed raw as a snack (stems); salads, soups, omelettes, boiled

+

+

***

C

Rumex alpinus L. Polygonaceae

Lapòs Lavasa Rabarbaro selvatico

Stem Leaves

Jams Soups

+

+

**

P

Salvia pratensis L. Lamiaceae UNISGVGB033

Bounom

Young leaves

Soups

+

+

**

P

Sambucus nigra L. and S. racemosa L. Adoxaceae UNISGWAL016 (S. nigra)

Sèuc Seuic

Flowers Fruits

Deep fried (in batter) or seasoning home-made beverages Jams

+

+

***

C

Silene vulgaris (Moench.) Garcke Caryophyllaceae UNISGVGB20

Chersinet Cresinet Eicloupèt

Young leaves

Soups, omelettes, boiled

+

+

***

C

Tanacetum vulgare L. Asteraceae UNISGWAL009

Archebüse Tanaìa Tanaìo

Leaves

Seasoning soups (esp. a local bread-based soup [suppa barbetta]), home-made liqueurs, omelettes

+

+

***

C

Taraxacum officinale (L.) Weber Asteraceae UNISGWAL010

Girasole Mourpoursin

Leaves Roots Flower heads

Salads, soups Roasted and grinded as a substitute of coffee Pickled in brine and used as flavouring

+

+

***

C

Thymus serpyllum L. Lamiaceae UNISGWAL029

Serpoul

Flowers and leaves

Seasoning (also for cheese and a local bread-based soup [suppa barbetta]), home-made liquors

+

+

***

C

Tragopogon pratensis L. Asteraceae UNISGWAL011

Barbabouc

Young leaves

Soups, omelettes, boiled

+

+

***

C

Trifolium spp. Fabaceae

Fioun

Flowers

Deep fried (in batter)

+

 

*

P

Tussilago farfara L. Asteraceae UNISGVALTUS

Pimpetta Ounglëtto

Young leaves

Salads

 

+

*

P

Urtica dioica L. Urticaceae UNISGWAL041

Urtìa Urtìo Ürtia

Leaves

Soups, omelettes, risotto

+

+

***

C

Vaccinium myrtillus L. Ericaceae UNISGVALVAM

Ërzaìe Èidra

Fruits

Jams, syrups

+

+

***

C

Vaccinium vitis-idaea L. Ericaceae UNISGVALVAV

Panféino

Fruits

Jams

+

 

*

P

Valerianella locusta (L.) Laterr. Caprifoliaceae UNISGVALVAL

Saladét

Leaves

Salads

+

+

**

P

Veronica allionii Vill. Plantaginaceae UNISGVALVEA

Èrbë d’tè GiaspertereTé d’mountannho

Leaves and flowers

Recreational tea

+

+

*

P

Veronica officinalis L. Plantaginaceae UNISGVALVEO

Èrbë d’tè Tè svizzero

Leaves and flowers

Recreational tea

+

 

*

C

Viburnum lantana L. Adoxaceae UNISGVALVIB

Tatoulie

Fruits

Consumed raw

 

+

*

P

Viola tricolor L. Violaceae UNISGVGB005

Violette Viooulëtìn Vioulëtto blancho

Leaves and flowers

Salads, soups

+

+

**

C

Unidentified taxon

Sparsi

Leaves and flowers

Salads, soups, omelettes

+

 

*

P

(?) identification only via plant and habitat descriptions and folk names.

Wal: use recorded among Waldensians; Cat: use recorded among Catholics.

Notes: C: current use; P: past use.

Citations: *quoted by 10% of the informants or less; **quoted by 11-39% of the informants; ***quoted by 40% of the informants or more.

The collection of the young aerial parts of the following wild vegetables is still common in the study area: Borago officinalis, Primula spp., Nasturtium officinale, Lapsana communis, Chenopodium bonus-henricus, Rumex acetosa, Tragopogon pratensis, Urtica dioica, Silene vulgaris, Humulus lupulus, and Taraxacum officinale.

The above confirms what we already know about wild food plant consumption in Italy and in particular NW Italy, where the very common consumption of the young shoots of Humulus lupulus and Tragopogon pratensis can be considered a cultural marker of Piedmontese cuisine. While all these data confirm the observations reported nearly one century ago by Giovanni Mattirolo in his review of the wild plants of Piedmont [32], it appears that the practice of gathering and consuming the leaves/young shoots of Valerianella locusta, Phyteuma spp., Persicaria bistorta, and Aruncus dioicus continued only until the recent past and/or is less common today. The latter three species (in soups or boiled) in particular represent an important part of the slowly disappearing North Italian Alpine culinary “traditions” [17,33].

Among the wild plants exploited for seasoning, the use of Carum carvi, Thymus serpyllum, Juniperus communis, and Tanacetum vulgare is predominant. In particular, the common use of the leaves of the last species (Figure 2) – which has been widely reported not only in the Piedmont region but also recently in Occitan/Provençal and Alpine Ligurian areas [17,22,34,35] – as a crucial seasoning ingredient in omelettes, soups, and a home-made liqueur called arquebuse may be better investigated from a historical perspective. In fact, this species has a long history of folk use in Britain, especially in omelettes consumed during the fish-based diet of Lent [36], and Waldensians, even in the poorest villages, have maintained for many centuries intense cultural ties to Britain, due to the historical and theological proximity between the Protestant/Anglican and Waldensian faiths [23].
Figure 2

Dried aerial parts and flowers of Tanacetum vulgare.

As in other areas of NW Italy ([17], and references therein), wild Artemisia genipi, A. glacialis, and A. umbelliformis flowering tops (genepì), Gentiana acaulis flowers (Figure 3) and roots, and G. lutea roots are commonly gathered and used for making home-made hydro-alcoholic macerates/digestive liqueurs.
Figure 3

Gentiana acaulis.

Among wild fruits, the gathering of the fruits/pseudo-fruits of Rosa canina, Sambucus nigra (and rarely S. racemosa), and Vaccinium myrtillus is still commonly practiced.

Finally, the frequent use of the aerial parts of Veronica species (esp. the local Veronica allionii) as recreational teas in the study area, which has also been recorded in adjacent valleys [17], could be the result of cultural “contamination” from British and Northern/Central European customs. Waldensians, for example, have introduced in their valleys, and continue to practice today, the English custom of taking afternoon tea, which is extremely uncommon among the autochthonous Catholics in the study area as well as other areas of Italy.

In place of exotic and expensive colonial teas, the poor villagers may have opted for a “cheap”, local substitute, which may explain the use of the aerial parts of Veronica spp. even today. This tea – sometimes locally and more recently called “Occitan tea” - became in the last decade in the study area and also among the entire Occitan/Provençal community living in the Western Italian Alps an important cultural marker and seems to represent there one of the distinctive signs of the local identity.

On the other hand, the use of Veronica officinalis tea was very spread in France, Switzerland, and Northern Europe in the 19th Century [37].

Medicinal plants

Table 2 reports the locally recorded medicinal plant uses.
Table 2

Local medicinal plant uses recorded in the studied area

Botanical taxon/ family and voucher specimen code #

Local names

Status

Plant parts

Preparation and administration

Folk medical use(s) or treated disease(s)

Wal

Cat

Citations

Notes

Abies alba Mill. Pinaceae UNISGVALABA

Bigiun Sap Sòp blanc

W

Buds Resin

Infusion, syrup Topical application

Cough Skin infections, arthritis, bruises

+

+

***

C

Acer pseudoplatanus L. Sapindaceae UNISGVALACE

Plai Plaie

W

Leaves

Infusion

Cough, flu

 

+

*

P

Achillea erba-rotta All. Asteraceae

See Table 1

W

Aerial parts

Infusion, liquor

Digestive, fever

+

+

*

C

Alchemilla xanthochlora Rothm. Rosaceae

 

W

Aerial parts

Infusion Topical application

Anti-inflammatory Dysmenorrhea

+

+

**

P

Allium ampeloprasum L. Amaryllidaceae

Pourëtto

C

Roots

Decoction

To decrease the milk secretion

+

 

*

P

Allium sativum L. Amaryllidaceae

Alh

C

Bulb

Topical application Fumigations Externally applied to cloths

Corns Cough Worms

+

+

*

P

Aloysia citriodora Palau Verbenaceae

Limonella

C

Leaves

Infusion

Dysmenorrhea

+

 

*

C

Arctium lappa L. Asteraceae UNISGVGB034

Grattëquioùe

W

Roots Flowers

Decoction Infusion

Respiratory infections, fever, “blood thinner”

+

+

**

P

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L.) Spreng. Ericaceae

See Table 1

W

Leaves

Infusion

Diuretic and inflammations of the urinary tract

+

 

*

P

Arnica montana L. Asteraceae UNISGWAL003

Tabacas Tabaccai

W

Flowers

Tincture or macerate in olive oil, externally applied

Rheumatisms, arthritis muscle pains, bruises

+

+

***

C

Artemisia absinthium L. Asteraceae UNISGWAL004

Ûsenc

W

Aerial parts

Topical application Infusion

Bruises Fever, worms, digestive

+

+

***

P

Artemisia genipi Weber ex. Stechm., A.glacialis L., A. umbelliformis Lam. Asteraceae

See Table 1

W

Aerial parts

Liquor, infusion

Digestive, cough

+

+

***

C

Artemisia vulgaris L. Asteraceae UNISGVGB038

Arsemizë Ërsëmizo

W

Aerial parts

Infusion Topical application

Dysmenorrhea Bruises

+

+

**

P

Beta vulgaris L. Amaranthaceae

Bléo

C

Leaves

Topical application

Joint pains, acne

+

 

*

P

Borago officinalis L. Boraginaceae UNISGWAL013

Bouràes Bourai

C

Flowers

Infusion Topical application

Pimples Eczema, psoriasis

+

 

**

P

Brassica oleracea L. Brassicaceae

Chôl

C

Leaves

Topical application

Pimples, acne

+

+

**

C

Botrychium lunaria (L.) Sw. Ophioglossaceae UNISGVALBOT

Èrbo d’l’uo

W

Ripe sporangium

Topical application Inhalation Infusion

Skin wounds Nose bleeding Internal bleeding

+

 

**

P

Brassica rapa L. Brassicaceae

Rabbo

C

Bulb

Syrup

Cough

+

 

*

C

Calendula officinalis L. Asteraceae

Courtëzio

C

Flowers

Infusion

Dysmenorrhea, for promoting blood circulation

+

 

**

C

Capsella bursa-pastoris (L.) Medik. Brassicaceae

 

W

Fruits

Topical application

Skin wounds

+

 

*

P

Carum carvi L. Apiaceae

See Table 1

W

Fruits

Infusion, liquor

Digestive, carminative

+

+

*

C

Cetraria islandica L.(Ach.) Parmeliaceae UNISGVALCET

Èrbo d’la vélho Licchia Lichene Pan d’chabbre

W

Thallus

Decoction, syrup Decoction, externally applied

Cough, bronchitis

+

+

***

C

Chelidonium majus L. Papaveraceae UNISGVGB039

Sireunnho Erbë sironnhë

W

Latex

Fresh topical applied

Warts

+

+

***

C

Conium maculatum L. Apiaceae UNISGVALCON

Sicutto

W

Aerial parts

Infusion

Abortive

+

 

*

P

Crataegus monogyna Jacq. Rosaceae UNISGVALCRA

Prusét

W

Aerial parts

Infusion

Hypertensive, venous insufficiency

+

+

**

P

Cyanus segetum Hill. Asteraceae UNISGVGB015

 

W

Flowers

Eyebaths

Conjunctivitis

+

 

*

P

Cynodon dactylon L. (Pers.) Poaceae UNISVALCYN

Gramoun

W

Roots

Decoction

Diuretic

+

+

*

P

Datura stramonium L. Solanaceae UNISGVALDAT

Èrbo dâ dërboun

W

Leaves

Inhalation (dried powedered leaves)

Asthma

+

 

*

P

Equisetum arvense L. Equisetaceae UNISGWAL020

Èrbo cavalino

W

Sterile stem

Decoction Topical application

Diuretic, to prevent prostatic cancer Skin inflammations

+

+

***

C

Erica carnea L. Ericaceae UNISGVALERI

Erica

W

Aerial parts

Infusion

Urinary tract infections, diarrhea

+

 

*

P

Euphrasia alpina Lam. Orobanchaceae UNISGVALEUP

Eufrasia

W

Flowers

Eyebaths

Conjunctivitis

+

 

*

P

Fraxinus excelsior L. Oleaceae UNISGVGB022

Fraise

W

Leaves

Infusion

Venous insufficiency, hypertension

+

 

*

P

Fragaria vesca L. Rosaceae

See Table 1

W

Leaves

Topical application

Pimples, acne

+

 

*

P

Gentiana acaulis L. Gentianaceae

See Table 1

W

Whole plant

Liquor, infusion

Apetizing, digestive

+

+

**

P

Gentiana lutea L. Gentianaceae

See Table 1

W

Roots

Liquor Macerated in wine

Appetizing, digestive

+

+

***

C

Hypericum perforatum L. Hypericaceae UNISGWAL018

Millepertuis Trafourèllo Sengian

W

Flowering aerial parts

Macerate in oil

Skin inflammations, burnes, arthritis

+

+

***

C

Hyssopus officinalis L. Lamiaceae

Izòp

C

Aerial parts

Infusion

Cough

+

 

*

P

Juglans regia L. Juglandaceae

Nouvìe

C

Leaves

Infusion, externally applied

Chilblains

+

+

*

P

Juniperus communis L. Cupressaceae

See Table 1

W

Fruits

Infusion, liquor

Digestive

+

+

*

C

Lamium album L. Lamiaceae UNISGVALLAM

Urtìo morto

W

Aerial parts

Infusion

Dysmenorrhea

+

 

*

P

Larix decidua Mill. Pinaceae UNISGVGB031

Mèlze

W

Sprouts Resin Pine cones

Infusion Topical application Syrup

Expectorant Skin inflammations (remove splinters) Respiratory infections

+

+

**

C

Laurus nobilis L. Lauraceae

See Table 1

W

Leaves Fruits

Infusion

Digestive

 

+

*

P

Leontopodium nivale (Ten.) Huet ex Hand.-Mazz. Asteraceae

See Table 1

W

Flowering tops

Infusion

Digestive

+

 

*

C

Linum usitatissimum L. Linaceae

Lin

C

Seeds

Poultice, externally applied Baths Macerated in water

Respiratory infections Urinary infections, constipation Toothaches

+

+

**

P

Malva sylvestris L. Malvaceae UNISGWAL031

Malvo

W

Whole plant

Decoctions

Urinary and genital tracts inflammations, digestive

+

+

***

C

Marrubium vulgare L. Lamiaceae UNISGVALMAR

Marëfi

W

Whole plant

Infusion

Digestive

+

 

*

P

Matricaria chamomilla L. Asteraceae UNISGWAL008

Caramillho

W

Flowers

Infusion Infusion, externally applied in poultices Oleolites

Urinary tract infections Bronchitis Earaches

+

+

***

C

Melissa officinalis L. Lamiaceae UNISGWAL026

Melissa

C

Leaves

Infusion

Neurorelaxant

+

+

**

C

Menta longifolia (L.) Huds. Lamiaceae

Mëntatre

W

Leaves

Infusion

Digestive

+

+

*

C

Myristica fragrans Houtt. Myristicaceae

Noce moscata

C

Seeds

Grinded and ingested with sugar

Dysmenorrhea

+

 

*

P

Ononis spinosa L. Fabaceae

Ratabuou

W

Roots

Decoction

Cystitis, in the prevention of prostate cancer

+

 

*

P

Origanum vulgare L. Lamiaceae

Oouriënt

C

Leaves

Infusion

Digestive

+

 

*

C

Parietaria officinalis L. Urticaceae UNISGVGB007

Pan-chaoudét

W

Aerial parts

Infusion

Urinary tract infections and for prevention prostate cancer

+

+

***

C

Pelargonium zonale (L.) L’Hér. ex Aiton Geraniaceae

Geranio odoroso

C

Leaves

Topically applied (fresh)

Skin cuts, hamatomas, wounds

+

 

**

P

Pilosella officinarum Vaill. Asteraceae UNISGVGB013

Èrbo dâ runh Ourèllhë d’rattë

W

Leaves

Topical ly applied (fresh)

Skin cuts and wounds

 

+

*

P

Pinguicola vulgaris L. Lentibulariaceae

Èrbo d’la talheuiro

W

Leaves

Topically applied (fresh)

Skin cuts, wounds

+

 

**

P

Pinus cembra L. Pinaceae

Èlvou

W

Cones Resin

Syrup Topically applied

Expectorant Wounds

 

+

*

C

Pinus mugo Turra,

Pin

W

Cones

Syrup

Cough, bronchitis

+

+

**

P

P. sylvestris L. Pinaceae

 

Sprouts

Decoction

      

Plantago major L., P. lanceolata L. Plantaginaceae UNISGVGB021

Plantanh Plantònh

W

Leaves

Infusion Baths Topically applied (fresh)

Urinary and genital infections To prevent prostate cancer Bruises and haematomas

+

+

**

P

Polygonum bistorta L. Polygonaceae UNISGVGB036

Ërparà

W

Aerial parts

Infusion

Diuretic

 

+

*

P

Polypodium vulgare L. Polypodiaceae UNISGVGB003

Ërgalisio Rizouzèttë

W

Roots

Decoction

Cough, digestive

+

+

**

P

Potentilla reptans L. Rosaceae UNISGVALPOT

Èrbo d’la sinquèno

W

Whole plant

Decoctions Baths

Urinary infections To prevent prostate cancer

+

+

*

P

Primula helatior (L.) Hill, P. veris L., P. vulgaris Huds. Primulaceae

See Table 1

W

Flowers and roots

Infuson/Decoction

Diuretic, cough

 

+

*

P

Prunus avium (L.) L.

See Table 1

W

Stems Resin

Infusion Topically applied

Diuretic Sprains

+

+

**

P

Prunus domestica L. Rosaceae

Dalmeizinìe

C

Resin

Topically applied

Skin cuts and sprains

+

 

*

P

Prunus dulcis (Mill.) D.A. Webb Rosaceae

Amandoulie

C

Seeds

Fresh eaten

Galactagogue

+

 

*

P

Rhododendron ferrugineum L. Ericaceae UNISGVGB035

Brousé

W

Galls

Oleolite

Muscle pains

+

 

*

C

Rosa canina L. Rosaceae UNISGVGB018

Bosou Agoulënsia

W

Fruits Flowers

Jam Decoction Infusion, in external applications on the eyes

Intestinal astringent Increase immunostimulating Eye inflammations and conjunctivitis

+

+

**

P

Rosa centifolia L. Rosaceae

Ruse

C

Petals

Infusion

Sore throat

+

 

*

C

Rosmarinus officinalis L. Lamiaceae UNISGWAL030

Rousmarin

C

Leaves

Infusion

Digestive

+

+

*

C

Rubus ulmifolius L. Rosaceae UNISGWAL038

Rounzo

W

Leaves

Infusion Topical fresh applied

Sore throat and hoarseness Acne and pimples, cicatrizing

+

+

**

P

Rumex acetosa L. Polygonaceae

See Table 1

W

Leaves

Topically applied (fresh)

Insect bites

+

 

*

P

Rumex alpinus L. Polygonaceae

Lavaso

W

Leaves

Infusion

Cough

+

 

*

P

Salix alba L. Salicaceae

Gourìe

W

Leaves

Infusion

Fever

+

 

*

P

Salvia officinalis L. Lamiaceae

Salvio

C

Leaves

Infusion

Oral disinfectant and antibacterial, headaches, digestive

+

+

**

C

Sambucus nigra L. Adoxaceae

See Table 1

W

Flowers Fruits

Infusion Applied (fresh) in the mouth Jam

Hypertension Tooth abscess “Blood cleanser”

+

+

**

P

Satureja montana L. Lamiaceae

Sëréa

W

Flowers

Infusion

Dysmenorrhea

 

+

*

P

Sempervivum montanum L. Crassulaceae UNISGVGB029

 

W

Aerial parts

Topically applied (fresh)

Skin cuts and burns

 

+

*

P

Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn. Asteraceae UNISGVALSYL

Pugn

W

Leaves Roots

Infusion Decoction

Diuretic, dysmenorrhea

+

 

*

P

Symphytum officinale L. Boraginaceae UNISGVALSYM

Èrbo dâ panariss

W

Roots

Topicaly applied (fresh)

Muscle pains and skin infections

+

 

*

P

Tanacetum vulgare L. Asteraceae UNISGWAL006

Tanaìo

W

Aerial parts

Infusion

Dysmenorrhea

+

 

*

P

Taraxacum officinale L. Asteraceae UNISGWAL010

Girasole Mourpoursin

W

Roots

Decoction

Diuretic/“blood cleasing”

+

+

*

P

Teucrium chamaedrys L. Lamiaceae UNISGVGB019

Calamandréo

W

Aerial parts

Infusion

Hypertension, dysmenorrhea

+

+

**

P

Thymus serpyllum L. Lamiaceae UNISGWAL029

Sërpoul

W

Aerial parts

Infusion Topically applied (fresh)

Digestive Insect bites

+

+

***

C

Tilia cordata Mill. Malvaceae UNISGVALTIL

Télh Tîeul

W

Flowers

Infusion

Respiratory tract inflammations

+

+

***

C

Trigonella caerulea (L.) Ser.

Thé d’hl’ort

C

Aerial parts

Infusion

Digestive

+

 

*

C

Fabaceae

Tussilago farfara L. Asteraceae

See Table 1

W

Aerial parts

Infusion

Respiratory tract inflammations, fever

 

+

**

P

Urtica dioica L. Urticaceae UNISGWAL031

Urtìo

W

Roots

Decoction

Diuretic

+

 

*

P

Verbascum thapsus L. Scrophulariaceae UNISGVALVER

Couvoùëlp

W

Inflorescences

Infusion Syrup

Respiratory tract inflammations Cough

+

+

***

P

Verbena officinalis L. Verbenaceae UNISGWAL032

Barbéno

W

Fever

Infusion

Febrifuge

+

 

*

P

Veronica allionii Vill. Plantaginaceae

See Table 1

W

Flowering aerial parts

Infusion

Diuretic

+

 

*

C

Viola calcarata L. Violaceae UNISGVGB028

Vioulëtto d’mountannho

W

Flowers

Infusion

Respiratory tract inflammations, fever

+

+

**

C

Viola tricolor L. Violaceae UNISGVGB005

Vioulëtto blanchoViooulëtin

W

Flowers

Infusion Topically applied

Respiratory tract inflammations, fever, toothache

+

+

***

C

Unidentified taxon

Appia

W

Leaves

Topical application

Bruises

 

+

*

P

Unidentified taxon

Murtalia

W

Flowers

Tea

Anti-infllammatory

+

 

*

P

#: see Table 1 for other voucher codes.

Status: C: cultivated; SC: semi-cultivated or semi-wild; W: wild.

Wal: use recorded among Waldensians; Cat: use recorded among Catholics.

Citations: *quoted by 10% of the informants or less; **quoted by 11-39% of the informants; ***quoted by 40% of the informants or more.

Notes: C: current use; P: past use.

The most common wild medicinal plant-based remedies, which are used externally, comprise the flowers of Arnica montana, the aerial parts of Artemisia absinthium, the resin of Abies alba, and the fresh latex of Chelidonium majus. Apart from the last species, this finding confirms the recent ethnobotanical data gathered from other Italian Alpine areas [17-22].

Among the less commonly reported species, the use of the fern Botrychium lunaria for skin problems should be further investigated, as the use of this plant was not recorded in the Italian ethnobotanical database compiled in 2004 [38], and the phytochemistry and pharmacology of the genus Botrychium is largely unknown, if we exclude the recent work on its flavonoids [39].

The most frequently mentioned local herbal infusions are instead prepared with plants that are commonly used throughout Italy and Europe: Equisetum arvense, Hypericum perforatum, Parietaria officinalis, Malva sylvestris, Matriciaria chamomilla, Thymus serpyllum, Tilia cordata, Viola tricolor, and Cetraria islandica. The use of the last species is peculiar, however, as it is frequently found, in Italy, in the herbalism-based standardized phytotherapy, but not often in the local folk medical systems.

The remarkable tradition of gathering and using this wild lichen in Waldensian valleys may be, once again, the result of the historical ties that these communities retained with Central and Northern European customs.

The same lichen, gathered from the wild, is also nowadays one of the pillars of the resurgence of the traditional Waldensian cuisine, where it is sometimes used to prepare desserts in a few of the new restaurants in the area [40].

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the unsual herbal folk uses of Cetraria islandica and Botrychium lunaria find parallelisms in the Alpine Catalan ethnobotany [41,42], showing in this way interesting commonalities between the Catalan and Occitan ethnobotanies of the Alpine communities.

Veterinary plants

Nearly all the plants pertaining to the veterinary domain (plants used for both feeding and for curing animals, Table 3) were used primarily in the past, as current uses are sporadic and quotation indexes are very low.
Table 3

Local veterinary plant uses recorded in the studied area

Botanical taxon/family and voucher specimen code #

Local name (folk taxon/generic)

Status

Plant part(s)

Preparation and administration

Folk veterinary use(s) or treated desease(s)

Treated animals

Wal

Cat

Citations

Notes

Achillea erba-rotta All. Asteraceae

See Table 1

W

Aerial parts

Infusion

Rumination disorders

CA

+

+

*

P

Aconitum napellus L. Ranunculaceae

Èrbo toro

W

Whole plant

Eaten fresh

Abortive

CA

+

 

*

P

Alcea rosea L. Malvaceae

Malvone

C

Aerial parts

Infusion

Rumination disorders

CA

+

 

*

P

Artemisia absinthium L.

See Table 2

W

Aerial parts

Fodder or in infusions

Rumination disorders

CA, RA

+

+

**

P

Avena sativa L. Poaceae

Avéno

C

Aerial parts

Fodder (fresh)

Post-partum depurative

CA

 

+

*

P

Calendula officinalis L. Asteraceae

Courtëzio

C

Flowers

Infusion

To facilitate pregnancy

CA

+

 

*

P

Cetraria islandica (L.) Ach. Parmeliaceae

See Table 2

W

Thallus

Decoction

Stomach disorders

CA

+

 

*

P

Equisetum arvense L. Equisetaceae

See Table 2

W

Aerial parts

Foothbath

Infections of the paws

SH

 

+

*

P

Euphorbia cyparissias L. Euphorbiaceae UNISGVGB009

Laitin gró’d mialàourë

W

Fruits

Fodder (dried)

Infections (esp. in the oral cavity)

CA, PO, SH

 

+

*

P

Fagopyrum esculentum Moench. Polygonaceae

Granét

C

Aerial parts

Dried

Fodder

CA, PO, PI

+

 

*

P

Festuca ovina L. Poaceae

Grasoun

W

Aerial parts

Dried

Fodder

CA

+

 

*

P

Foeniculum vulgare Mill. Apiaceae UNISGVGB012

Fënoulh

W

Aerial parts

Fodder (fresh)

Galactagogue

CA

+

 

*

P

Fraxinus excelsior L. Oleaceae

See Table 2

W

Leaves

Fresh

Fodder

CA

+

 

*

P

Galium verum L. Rubiaceae UNISGVALGAL

Caglio

W

Flowering tops

Dried

As rennet

 

+

 

*

P

Gentiana lutea L.

See Table 1

W

Roots

Decoction

Rumination disorders

CA, SH

+

 

*

P

Gentianaceae

Heracleum sphondylium L. Apiaceae

Plaoutasino

W

Aerial parts

Fresh or dried

Fodder

PO, RA

+

 

*

P

Juniperus communis L. Cupressaceae

See Table 1

W

Fruits

Fodder

To improve the skin health (making it shiny)

CA

+

 

*

P

Laburnum alpinum (Mill.) Bercht. & J.Presl. Fabaceae UNISGVGB037

Albuorn

W

Leaves

Fresh or dried

Fodder

RA

+

 

*

P

Lamium album L. Lamiaceae

See Table 2

W

Leaves

Fresh or dried

Fodder

PI, PO, RA

+

 

*

P

Larix decidua Mill. Pinaceae

See Table 2

W

Resin

Topically applied

Bruises, sprains, wounds

CA

+

+

*

C

Linum usitatissimum L. Linaceae

See Table 2

C

Seeds

Fodder

“Blood cleansing”

CA

 

+

*

P

Malva sylvestris L. Malvaceae

See Table 2

W

Whole plant

Decoction

Depurative during the menstrual cycle

CA

+

 

*

P

Marrubium vulgare L. Lamiaceae

See Table 2

W

Whole plant

Infusion

Rumination disorders

CA

+

 

*

P

Matricaria chamomilla L. Asteraceae

See Table 2

C

Flowers

Infusion

Rumination disorders

CA (calves)

+

 

*

P

Medicago sativa L. Fabaceae

Luzèrno

W

Aerial parts

Fresh or dried

Fodder

CA

+

+

**

C

Onobrychis viciifolia Scop. Fabaceae

Jalét

W

Aerial parts

Fresh or dried

Fodder

CA

 

+

*

P

Ononis spinosa L. Fabaceae

See Table 2

W

Roots

Decoction

Depurative during the menstrual cycle

CA

+

 

*

P

Oxalis acetosella L. Oxalidaceae

See Table 1

W

Leaves

Eaten fresh or dry

Fodder

PO, RA

+

 

*

P

Parietaria officinalis L. Urticaceae

See Table 1

C

Aerial parts

Fresh

Fodder

PO

+

 

*

C

Pilosella officinarum Vaill. Asteraceae UNISGVGB013

Èrbo dâ runh

W

Whole plant

Fodder

Rumination disorders

CA

+

 

*

P

Plantago major L., P. lanceolata L. Plantaginaceae

See Table 2

W

Leaves

Fresh or dried

Fodder

PI

+

 

*

P

Polyporus officinalis Fries. Poliporaceae

Panouflo

W

Fruiting body

Fodder (ground)

Rumination disorders

CA

+

+

**

P

Quercus petraea (Matt.) Liebl. Fagaceae

Roure

W

Leaves

Fresh or dried

Fodder

GO

+

 

*

P

Secale cereale L. Poaceae

Sèel

C

Seeds→Flour

Fodder

Galactagogue

CA

+

+

*

P

Sedum album L. Crassulaceae

Picouloump

W

Leaves

Fresh

Fodder

PO

+

 

*

P

Silene vulgaris (Moench) Garcke Caryophyllaceae UNISGVGB020

Eicloupèt

W

Leaves

Fresh or dried

Fodder

PO, RA

+

 

*

P

Stellaria media (L.) Vill. Caryophyllaceae

Pavarino

W

Leaves

Fresh

Fodder

PO

+

 

*

P

Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn Asteraceae

Pugn

W

Roots

Decoction

Depurative during the menstrual cycle

CA

+

 

*

P

Tanacetum vulgare L. Asteraceae

See Table 1

W

Aerial parts

Infusion

Rumination disorders

CA

 

+

*

P

Taraxacum officinale F.H.Wigg. Asteraceae

See Table 1

W

Aerial parts

Fresh or dried

Fodder

PO

+

 

*

P

Thymus serpyllum L. Lamiaceae

See Table 1

W

Aerial parts

Topically applied in the mouth

Rumination disorders, infections of the oral cavity

CA, SH

+

+

*

P

Trifolium alpinum L. Fabaceae

Fioun

W

Aerial parts

Fresh or dried

Fodder

CA

 

+

*

P

Triticum vulgare Vill. Poaceae

Froumént

C

Aerial parts

Fresh or dried

Fodder

CA

+

+

*

P

Ulmus glabra Huds. Ulmaceae UNISGVALULM

Oùëlme

W

Leaves

Fresh or dried

Fodder

PI

+

 

*

P

Urtica dioica L. Urticaceae

See Table 1

W

Leaves

Fresh or dried

Fodder

PO

+

 

*

P

Verbascum thapsus L. Scrophulariaceae

See Table 2

W

Leaves

Fresh or dried

Fodder

SH

 

+

*

P

Viola tricolor L. Violaceae

See Table 1

W

Flowers

Infusion

Rumination disorders

CA

+

 

*

P

#: see Table 1 and Table 2 for other voucher codes.

Status: C: cultivated; SC: semi-cultivated or semi-wild; W: wild.

Treated animals: CA: cattle; GO: goats; PI: pigs; PO: poultry; RA: rabbits; SH: sheep.

Wal: use recorded among Waldensians; Cat: use recorded among Catholics.

Notes: C: current use; P: past use.

Citations: *quoted by 10% of the informants or less; **quoted by 11% of the informants or more.

This suggests that the socio-economic shift local communities have faced since the 1960s, in which most inhabitants have abandoned the traditional agro-pastoral activities and animal breeding has decreased, has also produced a dramatic loss of Traditional Knowledge concerning veterinary practices.

Waldensian versus Catholic ethnobotany: the possible role of cultural isolation from neighbours

Figure 4 illustrates the overlap between the ethnobotany of Waldensians and that of their Catholic neighbours in the three analysed domains (folk wild plant foods, medicines, and veterinary food plants and remedies).
Figure 4

Overlap between the folk plant taxa used among Waldensians and Catholics in the study area.

The comparison shows that Waldensians had, or have retained, a more extensive ethnobotanical knowledge, and that approximately only half of the recorded wild food and medicinal plants are known and used by both communities. Moreover, this convergence is more marked for the wild food plant domain.

Despite the fact that Waldensians nowadays live together with Catholics, intermarriage between the two religious communities did not exist until a few decades ago. Given the fact that vertical transmission (from grandmother to mothers and from mothers to daughters) of ethnobotanical knowledge is related to kinship networks and these are determined by religious affiliation, this factor may explain the divergence of the two ethnobotanies.

Moreover, the fact that the plant knowledge among Waldensians appears to be more extensive than among the Catholic population may be related to a less marked erosion of the traditional customs and the strong sense of identity Waldensians retain. The historical isolation of the Waldensian community, which survived for many centuries cut off from the rest of their neighbours but at the same time fostered strong ties to Central and Northern Europe, may have facilitated unique patterns of plant perception and use.

However, in the last few decades intermarriage between members of the two communities has become more common (generally bringing the new family into the Catholic faith), and this will probably further hybridize the ethnobotany of the two groups.

On the other hand, a stronger overlap of the ethnobotanies of two culturally distinct groups in the specific wild food domain has also been observed in other mountainous regions of Europe, and may be regarded as a common strategy for coping with the food security-centred struggles that marginalised Alpine populations had to face in the past [1].

The Waldensian ethnobotany during the last century: a historical analysis

Table 4 illustrates the overlap of ethnobotanical data collected at the end of the 19th Century and in the 1980s in one of the study valleys (Germanasca Valley) [28-30] with our current data.
Table 4

Comparison of the local plant uses recorded in the Germanasca Valley in 1900 and 1984 with those collected in the current study

Botanical taxon and family

Local uses recorded in 1900 [ 27 , 28 ]

Local uses recorded in 1984 [ 29 ] *

Local uses nowadays (current study)

Allium cepa L. (Amaryllidaceae)

NR

Decoction of the bulbs a diuretic

NR

Amelanchier ovalis Medik. (Rosaceae)

Fruits consumed as a snack by boys

NR

=

Anemone hepatica L. (Ranuncolaceae)

Leaves externally applied on women breast for treating inflammations

NR

NR

Arctium lappa L. (Asteraceae)

NR

Infusion of the dried roots, as a depurative

Arnica montana L. (Asteraceae)

 

Alcoholic macerate of the flowers externally applied for treating cuts, rheumatism, and muscle pains

Artemisia genipi Weber ex Stechm. (Asteraceae)

NR

Aerial parts in infusion or alcoholic macerate (liquor) as a digestive

=

Beckwithia glacialis (L.) Á. Löve & D. Löve (Ranuncolaceae)

Flowers in decoction, drunk as a diaphoretic

Decoction for treating toothaches

NR

Calendula officinalis L. (Asteraceae)

NR

Infusion of the dried flowers as a depurative

Campanula spicata L. (Campanulaceae)

NR

Fresh leaves, crashed, externally applied for treating cuts

NR

Cetraria islandica (L.) Ach. (Parmeliaceae)

NR

Decoction of the thallus as a digestive and expectorant

=

Chelidonius majus L. (Papaveraceae)

Latex externally applied on warts

NR

=

Crataegus rhipidophylla Gand. (Rosaceae)

Fruits consumed

NR

Gentiana acaulis L. (Gentianaceae)

NR

Whole plant or roots in infusion/decoction or wine macerate as appetizing and digestive

=

Hypericum perforatum L. (Hypericaceae)

Hung behind the house door, to prevent witcheries

Oil macerate of the fresh flowers as a cicatrizing

= (as in 1984)

Laburnum anagyroides Medik. (Fabaceae)

Bark decocted and externally used for treating lice in cows and calves

NR

Laricifomes officinalis (Vill.) Kotl. & Pouzar (Fomitopsidaceae)

NR

The fruiting body, powdered, in infusion as a digestive

NR

Lathyrus sylvestris (Fabaceae)

Remedy (?) for cows when they calve

NR

NR

Lilium candidum L. (Liliaceae)

NR

Oil macerate of the fresh flowers as a cicatrizing

NR

Linum usitatissimum L. (Linaceae)

The seeds (in compresses?) as anti-rheumatic

NR

=

Malva sylvestris L. (Malvaceae)

Infusion of the leaves (?) as emollient, both for humans and animals

NR

Nasturtium officinale R.Br. (Brassicaceae)

Leaves consumed raw in salads

Leaves consumed raw in salads or in soup, as a depurative

NR

Onobrychis viciifolia Scop. (Fabaceae)

Fodder

NR

=

Oxalis acetosella L. (Oxalidaceae)

Leaves consumed raw in salads

NR

=

Papaver rhoes L. (Papaveraceae)

Flowers in decoction, drunk for treating toothache

NR

NR

Parietaria officinalis L. (Urticaceae)

NR

Decoction of the dried aerial parts, as a diuretic and depurative

Polygonum aviculare L. (Polygonaceae)

NR

Infusion of the dried aerial parts (?) as an astringent

NR

Rosa canina L. (Rosaceae)

Flowers consumed as a snack by boys

Infusion of the flowers externally applied for treating eye inflammations

= (as in 1984)

Rosa centifolia L. (Rosaceae)

Petals (not clarified how) for treating eye inflammations

NR

Rubus ideaus L. (Rosaceae)

Fruits consumed; leaves as fodder

NR

=

Rubus ulmifolius Schott (Rosaceae)

Fruits consumed

NR

=

Sorbus aria (L.) Crantz (Rosaceae)

Fruits consumed as a snack by boys

NR

Tanacetum vulgare L. (Asteraceae)

NR

Fresh aerial parts consumed in salads as a depurative

Thymus serpyllum L. (Lamiaceae)

NR

Infusion of the flowering tops as a digestive and anti-tussive

Tilia x europea L. (Malvaceae)

Flowers in diaphoretic decoctions; leaves as fodder

NR

=

Trifolium spp. (Fabaceae)

Fodder

NR

Tussilago farfara L. (Asteraceae)

NR

Crashed fresh leaves, externally applied, as a suppurative

Urtica dioica L. (Urticaceae)

NR

Young aerial parts consumed in soups as a depurative; dried roots and leaves, decocted, for treating alopecia; dried leaves used as fodder for hens for increasing the egg production

Verbascum phlomoides L. (Scrophulariaceae)

NR

Decoction of the flowers for treating catarrhs

=

Verbena officinalis L. (Verbenaceae)

NR

Fresh aerial parts, crashed and mixed with pork fat, externally applied for treating cuts

Veronica prostrata L. (Plantaginaceae)

NR

Infusion for treating catarrhs and inflammations

Viola biflora L. (Violaceae)

NR

Infusion of the dried flowers for treating coughs and as an intestinal anti-inflammatory; mixed with milk and bread, externally applied, as a suppurative

NR

Viola calcarata L. (Violaceae)

Leaves consumed in soups

Infusion of the dried flowers for treating coughs and as an intestinal anti-inflammatory; mixed with milk and bread, externally applied, as a suppurative

= (as in 1984)

Viola tricolor L. (Violaceae)

Not specified, the resulting preparation (decoction of the aerial parts?) considered good for those women, who had given a baby

Infusion of the dried flowers for treating coughs and as an intestinal anti-inflammatory; mixed with milk and bread, externally applied, as a suppurative

*We considered folk uses referred only to those plant taxa, for which local names were reported.

(?): hypothesized plant use details.

NR: not recorded; = same use; ≈ similar use; ≠ different uses.

Although few plants were reported in the ethnobotanical study published in 1900 [28,29] and few taxa were reported with their local names in the survey published in 1984 [30] (thus suggesting maybe a sampling based mainly on trained herbalists), more than half of these species recorded in these two studies are used in the same of similar ways today.

However, possible different research methods used in the current and past field studies make a detailed comparison very problematic, as in both of the past considered surveys, which were conducted by botanists, an exact description of the utilized sampling and ethnographic methods and, paradoxically, even an indication of collected plant vouchers are completely missing.

The comparative analysis shows in any case a remarkable degree of resilience of traditional plant uses in the study area, despite the tremendous socio-economic changes that occurred during the last 120 years; other diachronic analyses recently conducted in the Balkans have also confirmed the survival of 19th Century folk plant uses to today [16,43].

Conclusions

Local plants have played, and still partially play, an important role in the context of food security and emic, domestic pathways of the management of human and animal health in the Western Alps.

A marked persistence of local knowledge regarding these plants among Waldensians confirms the importance of studying enclaves as well as cultural and linguistic “isles” in ethnobotany, which may represent both crucial reservoirs of folk knowledge and bio-cultural refugia [44].

On the other hand, the findings of this study indicate that a proper conservation of the bio-cultural heritage, such as the ethnobotanical one, requires strategies, which carefully consider natural landscapes and resources as well as cultural and religious customs, since plant folk knowledge systems are the result of a continuous interplay between these two domains over centuries.

Finally, these neglected local plant resources may represent a key issue for fostering a sustainable development in an area of the Alps, which has been largely untouched by mass tourism and is looking with particular interest at eco-touristic trajectories.

Declarations

Acknowledgements

Special thanks are due to all the study participants, who graciously agreed to share their folk plant knowledge and to the students of the University of Gastronomic Sciences Giovanni Marabese, Stefano Reverdito, Matteo Belloni, Adriano Piazza, Aurelia Blanc, and Riccardo Mazzoni, who gathered some of the data in the Angrogna Valley.

Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
(2)
University of Gastronomic Sciences

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Copyright

© Bellia and Pieroni. 2015

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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