- Open Access
Ethnobotanical uses in the Ancona district (Marche region, Central Italy)
© The Author(s). 2019
- Received: 27 July 2018
- Accepted: 21 January 2019
- Published: 5 February 2019
The study is a survey of the traditional uses of plants in the Ancona district, in the Marche region, Central Italy.
The information derives from ethnobotanical investigations conducted with an open questionnaire among the rural population in three areas of the Ancona district that are representative of the socio-economic and environmental assets of the entire district: the Mount Conero area on the Adriatic coast; the municipality of Osimo, as an inland hilly area; and the ‘Gola della Rossa–Frasassi’ area, in the Apennines.
A total of 120 informants cited 195 species. The ethnobotanical data concern medicinal (122 species), food (119), veterinary (53), superstitious/religious (61), cosmetic (30), domestic (27), dyeing (17), recreational (17), repellent (15), craft (10), and miscellaneous (29) uses, along with inclusion in local sayings and proverbs (25). The species with the greatest number of categories of use here was Sambucus nigra L. Among the other species with the greatest numbers of categories of use, there were Matricharia chamomilla L., Salvia officinalis L., Urtica dioica L., Papaver roheas L., and Rosa canina L. For each use, comparisons with national and regional literature were made.
Some uses are commonly known across the three areas; others are sectoral and are new for the Marche region. The survey increases our present-day knowledge of the traditional local uses of plants in the Marche region, in terms of medicinal and food uses, and of ethnobotanical aspects as a whole, which will allow many of these uses to be preserved in the future.
- Traditional local knowledge
- Wild plant uses
- Marche region
The use of wild plants in Italian rural communities was a common practice, especially in the traditional sharecropping rural society of Central Italy that was largely based on self-sufficiency through self-consumption . In this kind of society, in addition to the most common kind of uses as medicines and food, a lot of plants were used for many different aspects of daily life, such as craft work and home tools. However, the rural culture that included the knowledge of the use of spontaneous plants began to fragment from the second half of the twentieth century due to the progressive depletion of the population of the countryside, and to urbanisation and widespread industrialisation [2–4]. The use of sharecropping contracts ended in 1964 also in the Marche region, and this led to changes in the production structure, with the spread of large-scale agriculture that was disconnected from the territory itself. This contributed to the loss of identity of the rural society, and of its knowledge and traditions. Research such as the present study can contribute to the conservation of the knowledge related to traditional practices, which are now fragmented and remain almost exclusively with older people .
The present study collected and analysed the knowledge of ethnobotanical uses that are still widespread in the Ancona district, and considers not only medicinal and food uses, but also veterinary, superstitious/religious, cosmetic, domestic, dyeing, recreational and repellent uses, and craft uses for wood, and cases where plants are mentioned in sayings and proverbs. Three areas among the rural populations of the Ancona district that are representative of the socio-economic and environmental assets of the entire district were chosen for this study: the Mount Conero area on the Adriatic coast; the municipality of Osimo, as an inland hilly area; and the Gola della Rossa–Frasassi area, in the Apennines.
Collect the traditional knowledge about wild plant uses that still remains in the population of central Marche;
Compare data collected with the literature on regional and national ethnobotanical surveys;
Identify new uses according to the Ancona district.
The area of Conero Park
The Mount Conero area extends along a coastal strip in a central position of the Marche region, and it includes part of the municipalities of Ancona, Camerano, Sirolo, and Numana. On the basis of the bioclimatic indices of Rivas-Martinez et al. , the territory of Mount Conero belongs to the Mediterranean macrobioclimate, with a pluviseasonal oceanic climate, upper meso-Mediterranean thermotype, and low subhumid ombrotype . The territory is mainly hilly, and Mount Conero is the highest peak (572 m a.s.l.). Thirteen percent of the territory is urbanised , and 50% is dedicated to agriculture . The economic enterprises are mostly tourism and manufacturing .
This area includes the Mount Conero Regional Natural Park (Parco Naturale Regionale del Conero), which covers a total area of 5914 ha, and is characterised by different habitats of high floristic and geological value. These include three Sites of Community Importance (SCI) and one Zone of Special Protection (ZSP). The prevailing plant landscape in the central core of Mount Conero is constituted by woods of evergreen sclerophylls that alternate with reforestation with conifers and deciduous forests. Along the cliffs above the sea, there is rupiculous vegetation and Mediterranean scrubland. The more internal hilly areas mainly comprise agricultural landscapes that are mixed with oak woods (Quercus pubescens Willd.), hygrophilous vegetation along the water courses, and broom shrubs (Spartium junceum L.) that colonise the abandoned fields. The flora includes 1169 entities , some of which here reach the northern limits of their distribution along the western Adriatic coast, including Ampelodesmos mauritanicus (Poir.) T. Durand and Schinz, Coronilla valentina L. and Euphorbia dendroides L. In this area, the ethnobotanical surveys were conducted in the municipalities of Camerano, Sirolo (a hamlet of San Lorenzo, Coppo) and Numana, and in the hamlets of Poggio and Massignano in the municipality of Ancona.
The area of the municipality of Osimo
The municipality of Osimo extends over 10,600 ha, and the territory is mainly hilly (highest peak, Monte della Crescia, 361 m a.s.l.), and it alternates with valleys near the Musone River. The macrobioclimate is temperate with a sub-Mediterranean variant, lower mesotemperate thermotype, and lower humid ombrotype . This territory is predominantly agricultural, with marginal environments that are characterised by natural and semi-natural vegetation, with some residual woods that were the subject of recent studies [13, 14], and some riparian areas. Osimo has a population of 34,918 inhabitants (ISTAT 2017) and is classified as ‘level 2’ in terms of its degree of urbanisation (ISTAT 1 January 2018) . The local enterprises are mainly based on manufacturing , and cultivation covers 7310 ha. In this area, the ethnobotanical surveys were conducted in the hamlets of Campocavallo, Passatempo, San Sabino, Padiglione, San Paterniano, and San Biagio.
The area of Gola della Rossa–Frasassi
The third area is located in the mountain sector of the province of Ancona, and it falls partly within the Regional Natural Park of the Gola della Rossa–Frasassi. The territory is mainly mountainous (highest peak, 1093 m a.s.l.) and consists of the two limestone gorges ‘Gola di Frasassi’ and ‘Gola della Rossa’, and includes also Scappuccia Valley and Valdicastro Valley. The bioclimate is temperate of the sub-Mediterranean variant, upper mesotemperate thermotype, and lower humid ombrotype . The vegetation of the mountain areas is mainly mixed deciduous forests that are dominated by hornbeam and flowering ash, and at higher altitudes, beech and grasslands with shrubs. The calcareous gorges with southern exposure host Mediterranean sclerophyllous woods and rupiculous vegetation, with the presence of endemic species, including Moehringia papulosa Bertol., which is endemic to the Marche gorges . In the lower areas of the valleys, the landscape is agricultural, with cultivated fields alternating with small residual woody nuclei, with hedges, shrubland, and margin vegetation. The population is mainly concentrated in the urban centres of the park, with the production activities located at the bottoms of the valleys, as relatively fragmented agricultural activities. In the area of Gola della Rossa–Frasassi, the ethnobotanical surveys were conducted in the hamlets of Castellaro, Trivio, Forchiusa, Serralta, Sasso, Montirone, and Sant’Elena, and in the municipality of Serra San Quirico.
Ethnobotanical research methods
The ethnobotanical surveys were conducted in the small towns and rural villages of the three areas in the Ancona district between 2008 and 2011, and involved a total of 120 people, defined as the ‘informants’. These informants were not chosen completely at random within the territories, but were chosen through selection of individuals who according to their ages (more than 50 years of age) or cultural or social backgrounds would have knowledge of the plant uses, either directly or as passed down by their families. This was achieved by means of word of mouth from some known contacts to identify relevant informants, using the ‘snow-ball sampling’ method .
The species of ethnobotanical interest in the Ancona district
References for similar uses
Acer campestre L.
Craft: handles, tools 
Mix: supports for grapevine 
Achillea collina (Becker ex Rchb.f.) Heimerl
Millefoje, stagnasangue (g)
Food: fried flower in salted batter
Med: infusion as cicatrizer 
Sup/rel: stems in pocket, against haemorrhoids
Adonis annua L. ssp. cupaniana (Guss.) C. Steinberg
Med: infusion as diuretic 
Aesculus hippocastanum L.
Sup/rel: under the pillow against colds 
Agrimonia eupatoria L.
Erba de andata (o)
Med: leaf infusion as digestive
Food: leaves for filling fresh pasta
Ailanthus altissima (Mill.) Swingle
Med: leaf infusion as anti-diarrhoea
Similar use of bark in 
Vet: for feeding silkworms
Craft: handles, tools
Alliaria petiolata (M.Bieb.) Cavara and Grande
Agliaria (o), erba aglina (g)
Med: infusion to treat cough 
To flavour various dish in 
Vet: in dairy cow feed
Allium cepa L.
Sup/rel: bulbs cut in half with spoonful of coarse salt on top to predict the weather 
Allium neapolitanum Cirillo
Cipollotto del diavolo (o)
Med: raw bulbs eaten as vermifuge
Food: raw in salads 
Vet: bulbs macerated in wine to heal rabies in dogs
Sup/rel: bulbs in necklaces to protect against devil’s eye
Rep: bulbs macerated in water against aphids
Food: sautéed flowers to season pasta
Dom: flowers used in floral decorations
Allium sativum L.
Med: one raw bulb or four bulbs boiled in milk and eaten to heal intestinal warms [23, 33]; one bulb under the pillow to heal intestinal warms in children [4, 23]; bulb poultice with olive oil or beeswax to heal calluses [23, 26]; rubbed fresh bulb to heal insects bites [21, 26]
Prov: ‘se voi l’aio grosso, a Natale lo devi avè posto’
Aloysia citriodora Palau.
Cosm: leaves in bath water to perfume the skin 
Dom: dry flowers in floral decorations
Amaranthus retroflexus L.
Dom: dry flowers in floral decorations
Ampelodesmos mauritanicus (Poir.) T.Durand and Schinz
Mix: leaves used to make string and rope 
Anagallis arvensis L.
Med: decoction of aerial part to heal cough 
Vet: aerial parts with leaves of Urtica dioica L. and dry bread for feeding laying hens 
Apium graveolens L.
Med: infusion of aerial part as digestive and diuretic ; leaf pack as emollient*
Cosm: leaf pack to treat dry skin
Sup/rel: fresh plant eaten as aphrodisiac; against devil’s eye 
Arbutus unedo L.
Arctium minus (Hill) Bernh.
Med: leaves in pack on feet as diaphoretic to heal bronchial diseases (correlated to fever) 
Cosm: leaf juice rubbed on scalp to heal dandruff; leaf decoction to heal acne
Similar use to heal hair loss 
Artemisia vulgaris L.
Erba di S. Giovanni (g)
Med: leaf infusion to regularise menstruation 
Food: some raw leaves in salads
Sup/rel: on St. John’s night, stems of Artemisia vulgaris L., Ruta graveolens L., Rosmarinus officinalis L., and Lavandula sp. in the pocket or under the pillow to protect against witches; protect during a travel
Rep: leaves macerated in water against plant caterpillars
Arum italicum Mill.
Erba biscia (o)
Med: leaves applied as antirheumatic 
Vet: leaf decoction as diuretic for pigs
Roots as feeding for pigs 
Dom: boiled leaves for washing clothes, pots 
Sup/rel: plant brings bad luck
Arundo donax L.
Canna (o, c, g)
Med: leaf infusion as diuretic 
Mix: dry leaves smoked as tobacco substitute 
Sup/rel: Arundo donax L. and Olea europaea L. twigs to make a cross to protect fields 
Craft: to make a support for knitting pins, to make ‘raganella’ 
Recr: to make whistles 
Mix: to support plants in the orchards, to make baskets 
Asparagus acutifolius L.
Sparaghi (c), asparagina (c, g)
Dye: boiling water used to dye fishing nets green
Dom: dry plants used in floral decorations 
Avena sativa L.
Med: infusion and wraps to heal rheumatic pain 
Vet: dry plants to feed rabbits, horses, cattle 
Recr: ears pulled by girls and boys, and counted to forecast number of children or husbands 
Barbarea vulgaris R. Br.
Food: raw leaves in salads
Bellis perennis L.
Pasquetta (o), margherita (g)
Sup/rel: infiorata 
Recr: flowers used to make necklaces and for ‘m’ama non m’ama’ game 
Borago officinalis L.
Boraggine, borragine (c, o, g), borragia (g)
*Emollient in 
Food: leaves raw in salads , boiled as side dish [41, 44], seasoning for pasta and risotto [4, 44], filling for fresh pasta or pies [4, 21, 42], soups [4, 21, 27, 41, 45], omelettes [27, 41, 42], fried [4, 21, 44], fried with mozzarella and anchovy rolls
Cosm: leaves in bath water to clean skin
Food: flower used to flavour vinegars*; in fresh salads
*Leaves used to flavour wine 
Dye: flowers used to dye clothes blue; colour is strongest if flowers are just harvested 
Brassica oleracea L.
Cavolo, verza (g)
Vet: fresh leaves used to make wraps to heal bruises 
Calendula officinalis L.
Calenda (o, g)
Med: macerated flowers in the wine used to heal chilblains; ointment with olive oil and flowers used as emollient ; ointment with flowers used as cicatrizer
Food: flowers for seasoning risotto
Sup/rel: flowers used in ‘infiorata’ 
Calepina irregularis (Asso) Thell.
Erba del tacchì (o)
Food: leaves boiled to make omelettes
In soups 
Sup/rel: brings good luck
Mix: flowers used to decorate churches for marriages
Calystegia sepium (L.) R.Br.
Mix: flowers used in wedding bouquets
Campanula rapunculus L.
Cannabis sativa L.
Aerial part, stems
Mix: to make string, cord 
Capsella bursa pastoris (L.) Medik.
Med: leaf decoction to heal menstrual pain 
Sup/rel: brings good luck
Carex pendula Huds.
Mix: stems used to make seats for straw chairs 
Castanea sativa Mill.
Food: fruit frequently eaten, roasted, cooked under ashes, boiled with laurel leaves; flour used to make bread and cakes (‘castagnaccio’) 
Celtis australis L.
Olmo bianco (o), spaccasassi (g)
Med: leaf decoction as anti-inflammatory of oral cavity 
Vet: leaves for feeding the cattle
Food: fruit used for flavouring grappa
Sup/rel: fruit used for making rosaries
Recr: fruit used to make necklaces; fruit used with blowpipes 
Ceratonia siliqua L.
Carruba, carrobie (c)
Mix: young twigs to make ties
Cercis siliquastrum L.
Food: flowers fried in sweet batter 
Chelidonium majus L.
Dye: plant used to dye clothes yellow 
Chenopodium album L.
Spinacio selvatico (g)
Chenopodium bonus-henricus L.
Buon enrico, spinacio selvatico (g)
Med: boiled leaves put on burns as emollient
Similar use in 
Cichorium intybus L.
Grugni (c, g), grugni selvatici, grugni campagnoli (g)
Vet: leaves for feeding rabbits to heal intestinal worms
Food: roasted roots as surrogate for coffee 
Sup/rel: roots have protective value
Dye: to dye clothes in yellow
Cirsium arvense (L.) Scop.
Med: chew raw roots against toothache 
Food: leaves boiled and sautéed as side dish 
Citrus limon (L.) Osbeck
Med: flowers decoction to heal cough 
Cosm: flowers decoction to treat oily skin
Fruits used to heal skin disease 
Dom: flowers used to perfume rooms and surroundings 
Dom: fruit juice used with salt and vinegar to clean pots 
Clematis vitalba L.
Vitalbe, vitalbene, vitarvene (c), barba dei frati, barba dei vecchi, vitalla (g)
Med: leaf decoction as diuretic 
Mix: dry leaves smoked as tobacco substitute 
Dom: flowers used in flora decorations 
Clinopodium nepeta (L.) Kuntze.
Mentuccia (c, o, g), menta (o, g), menta selvatica (g)
Cosm: leaves chewed to heal bad breathe
Prov: ‘Chi vede la mentuccia e non ne sente l’odore non vede la Madonna quando muore’
Convolvulus arvensis L.
Med: crushed fresh leaves applied to skin to heal pimples 
Food: flowers sucked as snack
Cornus mas L.
Grugnale (o, g)
Med: shoot infusion as febrifuge 
Cosm: flowers decoction to heal oily skin
Craft: wood used to build boats
Prov: ‘Sei un grugnale’
Cornus sanguinea L.
Craft: handles, tools 
Corylus avellana L.
Sup/rel: plant protects against lightning
Cota tinctoria (L.) J.Gay.
Falsa camomilla, camomilla tinta (g)
Sup/rel: flowers used in ‘infiorata’
Dye: flowers in boiled water to dye wool yellow 
Crataegus monogyna Jacq.
Biancospino, porcospino, albero delle Perelle (g)
Med: dry fruit heated in little bag and used to heal rheumatic pains
Vet: fruit poultice used to heal ‘spallone’ in cattle (bruising caused by ‘giogo’-yoke)
Dom: wood used to light fires and heat the oven, with Olea europaea L. branches. It was said to give bread a good aroma 
Sup/rel: plant had religious value, because it flowered from the stick of Giuseppe d’Arimatea
Other magic uses in 
Crepis vesicaria L.
Grugno porcino (g)
Crithmum maritimum L.
Paccasassi, spaccasassi (c)
Cruciata laevipes Opiz
Erba croce (o)
Med: leaf juice drank as vermifuge* , leaf decoction to heal intestinal obstructions
Dye: roots used to dye wool red
Cydonia oblonga Mill.
Cynodon dactylon (L.) Pers.
Gramaccia (c, g)
Food: raw roots eaten in salads 
Vet: plant really liked by pigs
Veterinary food use for ruminants and horses 
Prov: ‘Essere cattivo come la gramigna’
Daucus carota L.
Mix: stems used to tie sheaves 
Dioscorea communis (L.) Caddick and Wilkin
Diplotaxis erucoides (L.) DC.
Rughetta (o), fiore bianco (c), carrugola selvatica, carrugola, carrucola (g)
Med: raw leaves eaten as digestive
Diplotaxis tenuifolia (L.) DC.
Med: raw leaves eaten as digestive
Echium vulgare L.
Erba viperina (g)
Elymus repens (L.) Gould.
Gramaccia (c, g); gramigna, grano delle formiche (o)
Food: seeds used for flavouring bread
Recr: children play with ears, detaching them one by one to see if desire comes true
Med: decoction to heal abdominal pain; crushed plant put on forehead to heal nose bleed
Prov: ‘Le donne molto feconde sono come la gramaccia’, ‘Esse taccati come la gramigna’
Equisetum arvense L.
Coda cavallina (c)
Med: stem decoction used as footbath to heal excessive perspiration 
Equisetum telmateia Ehrh.
Coda cavallina (g)
Dom: stems used to polish kitchenware 
Eucalyptus camaldulensis Dehnh.
Med: leaf decoction as antipyretic 
Food: leaves used to flavour grappa
Similar use for E. globolus Labill. 
Vet: leaves rubbed on animals to heal parasites
Similar use for E. globolus Labill. 
Dom: flowers, fruit, and twigs used in floral decorations 
Rep: leaves used in the house against anopheles 
Euonymus europaeus L.
Craft: wood used to make spindles 
Euphorbia helioscopia L.
Latte del diavolo (o)
Sup/rel: latex has protective value
Euphorbia lathyris L.
Rep: species planted in orchards to kept them clear from rats 
Euphorbia peplus L.
Med: fresh latex on wounds as cicatrizer
To heal warts in 
Ficaria verna Huds.
Botton d’oro (g)
Med: crushed leaves to heal arthritis pain
Ficus carica L.
Figo (o, c)
Cosm: latex appears to be used to be more tanned
Sup/rel: shoots put in St. John’s water 
Sup/rel: twigs used to make crosses to put out of the doors during St. John’s night
Mix: twigs used to stir milk to curdle it 
Sup/rel: plant has protective value
Prov: ‘Anno ficaio, poco granaio’, ‘Non vale un fico secco’
Foeniculum vulgare Mill.
Finocchio selvatico (c, o, g), finocchio cavallì (c), finocchietto (g)
Med: root infusion as diuretic 
Food: to flavour bread 
Vet: leaves put in cattle feed to heal abdominal bloating
Similar use of leaves for food use 
Food: to flavour baked mushrooms, olives 
Fragaria vesca L.
Fragola selvatica, fragolina di bosco (g)
Fraxinus ornus L.
Food: leaves used as substitute for tea
Similar use for the fruit 
Fumaria officinalis L.
Erba de purghe (o)
Med: leaves and aerial parts crushed and used as emollient 
Food: some leaves in soups
Similar use of the ‘fruit’ 
Sup/rel: burning leaves has protective value
Galium aparine L.
Med: leaf and stem infusions as depurative and anti-inflammatory
Mix: leaves and stems used as rennet for milk
Similar use for Galium sp. 
Gentiana lutea L.
Geranium dissectum L.
Med: leaf infusion as anti-haemorrhoidal
The same use for Geranium robertianum L. 
Dye: dye in brown
Hedera helix L.
Med: leaf infusions as decongestant and to heal menstrual pain 
Cosm: leaf decoctions used to stain hair 
Sup/rel: plant has protective value
Hedysarum coronarium L.
Lupinella (o, c, g), lupina (g)
Med: leaf infusion as galactagogue
Vet: leaves in feeding of livestock 
Sup/rel: ‘infiorata’ 
Leaves, shoots, flowers
Helianthus tuberosus L.
Topinambur, girasole selvatico (g)
Helminthotheca echioides (L.) Holub
Speraina (c), speragne, sporagne, crispigne, grugni (g)
Humulus lupulus L.
Hypericum perforatum L.
Scacciadiavoli, erba di S. Giovanni (g)
Food: flowers for flavouring grappa 
Dye: flowers used as yellow dye 
Sup/rel: in St. John’s water  for various ritual uses during St. John’s night (see Artemisia vulgaris)
Hypochaeris achyrophorus L.
Cosce di vecchia (o)
Med: leaf infusion as diuretic
The same use for Hypochaeris radicata L. 
Food: leaves boiled and used to make omelettes (‘they are sweet’)
Vet: pigs eat the roots, leaves given to cattle as galactagogue
Inula conyza (Griess.) DC.
Rep: plants hung up in the granaries to keep rats away 
Jasminum officinale L.
Med: flowers decoctions to heal cough
Cosm: flowers in bath water to relax 
Dom: flowers used to decorate house
Sup/rel: plant has protective value
Juglans regia L.
Prov: ‘Noce, croce’; ‘Beati chi ha ‘rcacciato noce e ulive perchè non se vanga e non se zappa’
Juniperus communis L.
Food: fruit for flavouring grappa 
Cosm: fruit chewed against halitosis
Similar to the Juniperus oxycedrus L. use 
Juniperus oxycedrus L.
Med: fruit chewing to heal inappetence ; fruit juice eaten to heal stomach acid, fruit poultice on skin to heal sores
Vet: crushed fruit added to water as galactagogue for cattle
Used cited for Juniperus communis L. 
Sup/rel: fruit in the St. John’s water
Laurus nobilis L.
Laru (o), alloro, baccarolo (g)
Cosm: leaves in bath water to relax 
Sup/rel: leaves in St. John’s water 
Rep: some leaves in pots where figs were kept to keep worms away; leaves on doors to keep cockroaches away
Recr: twig crackling in fire
Sup/rel: plant on the house entrance protects against lightning 
Spigonardo (o), lavanda (c, g) spighette (c), spighetto (g)
Med: flowers in water to clean wounds , flowers macerated in alcohol to heal louse; to encourage sleep in children, dried spikelets placed near beds
Vet: some spikelets in feed of dairy cows to flavouring the milk
Cosm: flowering tops macerated in water to perfume skin 
Dom: dry spikelets into drawers to perfume clothes; in floral decorations 
Prov: ‘Una buona raccolta vale più di un campo di grano’
Leopoldia comosa (L.) Parl.
Ligustrum vulgare L.
Mix: twigs used to make string in the grapevines 
Linum usitatissimum L.
Med: seed poultice applied to chest as decongestant, to heal cough 
Food: seeds for flavouring bread
Lunaria annua L.
Erba della luna, monete del papa (o), soldi, pianta dei soldi, dollari (g)
Med: leaf infusion as diuretic
Food: boiled leaves in vegetable mixtures
Dom: dried plant with siliquae used to decorate house
Mix: flowers used to make wedding bouquets
Sup/rel: where plant grows, there it brings richness
Malus sylvestris (L.) Mill.
Melette selvatiche (g)
Vet: wasted fruit were given to pigs
Prov: ‘Dare le mele ai porci’
Malva sylvestris L.
Malva, malbe (c), malbe (g)
Med: leaf infusion as laxative [21, 30], relaxing, depurative , for intimate washing; chewing leaves to heal toothache [4, 22, 26]; wrap of boiled leaves to heal skin diseases [4, 26], sores; wrap of boiled leaves put on chest (with ‘pancotto’) to heal bronchitis 
Vet: leaf infusion to heal cattle diarrhoea and as digestive; raw leaves as feed to increase milk production in dairy cows 
Food: flowers used to make refreshing drink
Sup/rel: flowers in St. John’s water 
Med: stem used as laxative suppositories for children
Food: stem raw in salads
Prov: ‘Bocca malva, scappa ortiga’, ‘La malva da tutti i mali salva’
Matricaria chamomilla L.
Infusion: flowers infusion as sedative [4, 23], digestive, depurative , to heal haemorrhoids ; flower poultice for eye inflammation [4, 21, 23], flowers poultice put on forehead against headaches 
Food: flowers used for flavouring liqueurs 
Cosm: flowers infusion to lightening hair 
Sup/rel: flowers used in ‘infiorata’
Dye: flowers to dye wool yellow 
Recr: necklaces and bracelets with flowers
Similar use for Bellis perennis L. 
Dom: flowers to perfume drawers
Prov: ‘Il tappeto di camomilla più è calpestato e più scintilla’
Medicago lupulina L.
Erba nera (o)
Med: leaf and flowers infusion as lenitive and emollient
Vet: leaves and flowers as feed for livestock
Medicago sativa L.
Erba melica (c)
Med: leaf infusion as tonic
Vet: leaves and flowers as feed for livestock 
Melissa officinalis L.
Leaves and flowers
Med: leaf infusion as sedative, depurative 
Cosm: leaves and flowers in water to tone skin 
Rep: dry leaves in drawers to kept moths away
Mentha x piperita L.
Sup/rel: some protective uses attributed to the plant
Misopates orontium (L.) Raf.
Borsa del pastore, sacca del pastore (c)
Food: leaves raw in salads or boiled in vegetable mixtures
Morus alba L.
Vet: leaves to feed livestock in winter, to feed silkworms 
Dom: flowers use in floral decorations
Morus nigra L.
Med: root juice against scorpion poison
Sup/rel: unripe fruit as amulet
Med: leaves in packs to heal skin inflammations 
Dye: plant used to dye wool yellow 
Myosotis arvensis (L.) Hill
Non ti scordar di me (o)
Med: leaf packs on tired eyes
Similar to the use cited for M. ramosissima 
Vet: leaves to feed livestock
Nigella damascena L.
Food: seeds use to flavour bread
Similar use for pastries 
Dom: dry flowers in floral decorations
Ocimum basilicum L.
Med: leaf and flowers infusion as sedative, galactagogue, bactericide, anti-inflammatory 
Cosm: leaves in water bath as skin tonic and purifier 
Sup/rel: dry leaves to make incense
Funeral use 
Rep: plants near the windows to keep mosquitoes away 
Olea europaea L.
Sup/rel: some leaves on windows to protect against hailstorms
Similar use in 
Med: oil to heal burns [21, 26, 33], rheumatic pain; hot oil (heated in half eggshell on embers) to heal earache , hot oil for rubbing on chest against bronchitis [21, 33], hot oil to heal calluses
Vet: oil rubbed on animals that had lost hair 
Cosm: oil pack on hair
Dom: oil used in lamps and to make detergents and soaps 
Sup/rel: use of oil to heal devil’s eye , for protective use in the field see Arundo donax; twigs used in predictive ritual
Dom: wood use as fire starter in oven (see Crategus monogyna) 
Prov: ‘Il nonno la pianta, il babbo la raccoglie, il nipote ci si scalda’
Origanum majorana L.
Leaves and flowers
Med: leaf infusion to heal cough ; infusion in wine to heal intermittent fever
Origanum vulgare L.
Menta bastarda (o)
Leaves and flowers
Sup/rel: dry leaves in pocket as necklace to protect against devil’s eye
Ornithogalum umbellatum L.
Lacrime della madonna (g)
Sup/rel: where plants grown there is protection of the Madonna
Ostrya carpinifolia Scop.
Med: leaves macerated as anti-catarrhal
Vet: leaves as feed for livestock 
Pallenis spinosa (L.) Cass.
Mix: in the garden, as decorative
Papaver rhoeas L.
Rosoletta, rosolaccio (o), papola (c), papatelle, papaverella (g)
Med: cooking water as depurative
Vet: leaves as feed for hens to increase egg laying 
Food: for flavouring bread
Cosm: petals used for make-up 
Sup/rel: flowers used in ‘infiorata’ 
Recr: children played guess the colour of the still closed flower: white, pink or red, saying ‘frate, monaca o cappuccino?’ (monk, nun, or Capuchin?) ; flowers used to make ‘ballerine’ (dancers) by folding down petals and tieing them with blade of grass; calyx used to make stamps for the skin
Prov: ‘Il rosso del campo è la vergogna del contadino’
Parietaria officinalis L.
Erba murale, erba vetriola (c), erba vitriola (g)
Leaves, aerial part
Dom: plant used to clean flasks/bottles 
Passiflora caerulea L.
Food: food eaten as fresh fruit
Dom: flowers used in floral decorations
Pastinaca sativa L. subsp. urens (Req. ex Godr.) Celak.
Erba sellerina (g)
Rep: plants left to grow near orchards to keep thieves away
Rep: used to put some plants on the window sill to keep mosquitoes away
Petroselinum crispum (Mill.) Fuss
Erbetta (o, g)
Cosm: leaf infusions for lightening skin spots
Med: seed infusions as diuretic 
Sup/rel: plant has negative effects and predictive uses
Prov: ‘Stare in mezzo come il prezzemolo’
Phaseolus vulgaris L.
Med: seed decoctions as diuretic, anti-diabetic, anti-hypertensive 
Sup/rel: dried beans as good-luck amulet
Picris hieracioides Sibth. and Sm.
Med: cooking water as diuretic
Pimpinella anisum L.
Food: seeds commonly used in Marche region to make liquors 
Pinus pinea L.
Young cones, buds
Food: seeds for seasoning pasta, to make cakes
Cosm: pitch used to make sort of hair spray
Mix: resin used to make turpentine
Plantago lanceolata L.
Lingua di cane (o, c), orecchie di pecora (o), recchie d’asino, recchiole (c), orecchie di pe’, centonervi (g)
Dye: leaves to dye clothes green
Recr: kids competed for those who throw the ear farthest away: stems used to make cricket cages 
Plantago major L.
Polygonum aviculare L.
Erba dei centonodi (c)
Mix: stems used to make ties
Populus alba L.
Vet: young dried twigs given to rabbits and sheep in winter
Portulaca oleracea L.
Sportellacchia, porcellana (c), erba grassa, procacchia, procaccia (g)
Primula vulgaris Huds.
Food: raw leaves and flowers in salads 
Prunus avium (L.) L.
Cerase Selvatiche, cerase (g)
Med: peduncles infusion as depurative and laxative 
Food: fruit eaten as fresh fruit
Cosm: leaf infusion to rehydrate skin
Rep: some to keep fleas away from hen-house 
Dom: wood used as light starter
Sup/rel: predictive value attributed to plant
Prunus cerasus L.
Food: fruit put under sugar and commonly used to make ‘vino di visciola’ (sour cherry wine) 
Prunus dulcis (Mill.) D.A.Webb
Sup/rel: predictive value attributed to plant
Prunus spinosa L.
Prugnolo, brugnolo (c, g), scancio (g)
Med: cooked fruit as anti-diarrhoeal 
Food: raw fruit eaten as snack (only after first frost period); to make jams, liqueurs
Pulicaria dysenterica (L.) Gaertn.
Med: plant infusion as anti-diarrhoeal 
Rep: plants burned in the hen-house to kill parasites 
Punica granatum L.
Med: fruit were eaten raw to heal diarrhoea or heated with honey to heal cough 
Sup/rel: fruit were used in a propitiatory ritual
Quercus ilex L.
Med: decoction as anti-diarrhoeal and anti-inflammatory 
Vet: acorns to feed pigs 
Quercus pubescens Willd.
Quercia, cerqua (g)
Med: leaves smoked against malaria
Mix: dried leaves of Quercus pubescens as tobacco substitutes 
Recr: galls used as marbles
Prov: ‘La cerqua ha fatto sempre la ghianda’, ‘Se u primu de maggio me gela i pia, poca ghianda magna u porcu mia’
Quercus robur L.
Quercia, midullo (g)
Vet: acorns to feed pigs 
Recr: half cut acorns used as dolls ‘eyes
Recr: galls were used as marbles
Craft: wood used to make various tools and furniture, to make kneading tables, manger (‘greppia’) for livestock
Similar uses referred to Quercus sp., 
Ranunculus bulbosus L.
Bottoncino d’oro (g)
Med: fresh leaves to heal cold sores
Ranunculus velutinus Ten.
Med: crushed leaved in packs to heal sciatica
Similar use for Ranunculus bulbosus L. 
Food: leaves boiled in vegetable mixtures
Similar use for Ranunculus bulbosus L. 
Raphanus raphanistrum L.
Reichardia picroides (L.) Roth
Caccialepre (c, g), scaccialepre, caccialè (g)
Robinia pseudoacacia L.
Scarpette della madonna (o), cascia (g)
Med: flowers decoction sedative 
Mix: flowers used in floral decorations in churches
Vet: some leaves for feeding rabbits (‘for other animals they are poisonous’)
Leaves in fodder 
Sup/rel: dried seeds used to make rosaries
Mix: roots used to make ties
Dom: wood used as firewood 
Rosa canina L.
Rosa selvatica (c, o, g), rosa di macchia (o)
Fruits (pseudo-fruits), without internal hair
Med: fruit infusion as febrifuge
Vet: fruit for feeding hens
Cosm: crushed fruit as beauty mask
Recr: fruit to make necklaces 
Med: fresh leaf infusion to heal wounds, as cicatrizer
Med: petals macerated in vinegar to heal insect bites; petal infusion as laxative, diuretic 
Food: petals used to make liquors 
Sup/rel: flowers used in St. John’s water; ‘infiorata’ 
Cosm: petals in infusion for a month in water to make water rose 
Dom: perfume for the house
Rosmarinus officinalis L.
Vet: some leaves for feeding dairy cattle to flavour their milk
Cosm: leaf decoction to shine hair; in bath water and in ointments as skin tonic 
Sup/rel: plant has predictive value; for protective use on St. John’s night, see Artemisia vulgaris
Rubus ulmifolius Schott
Spino, more (g)
Prov: ‘Il rovo dice < Nella terra meglio io covo>’ 
Rumex obtusifolius L.
Rombice (o, g)
Med: root decoction as tonic
Med: leaf pack to heal burns 
Food: boiled leaves in vegetable mixtures 
Rumex pulcher L.
Med: roots and leaf decoction as anti-diarrhoeal
Similar use for Rumex crispus L. 
Vet: for feeding livestock 
Ruscus aculeatus L.
Ruta graveolens L.
Food: some raw leaves in salads , for flavouring meat, fish, liqueurs
Vet: plant can cause intestinal problems for cattle
Sup/rel: leaf in the pocket has protective use; for protective use on St. John’s night, see Artemisia vulgaris
Prov: ‘La ruta fa venir la vista acuta’
Salix alba L.
Mix: twigs used to make ties and baskets 
Salix viminalis L.
Vimini, vengo (c), vimine, vincio (g)
Mix: twigs used to make ties 
Salsola soda L.
Med: raw leaves or in decoction as depurative and refreshing
Food: boiled leaves as side dish
Salvia officinalis L.
Vet: leaves as feed for dairy cattle for flavouring their milk
Sup/rel: plant related to some magic rituals
Dom: dried leaves to perfume linen
Prov: ‘La salvia salva’
Salvia verbenaca L.
Salvia selvatica (o, g), betonica, bettonica, brettonica, vettonica (c)
Cosm: fresh leaves rubbed on teeth as whitening
Similar use for Salvia officinalis L. [37, 26, 4,]; as toothpaste 
Dye: leaves used as yellow dye
Sup/rel: plant used as protective against devils eye 
Prov: ‘Sa più cose della Bettonica’
Sambucus nigra L.
Albero delle streghe (o)
Dom: for ripening apples, they were alternated with elder flowers 
Rep: leaf decoction to keep ants away 
Cosm: shoots put in olive oil and exposed to sun to make cream for chapped hands
Similar use with medulla 
Vet: crushed fruit infusion used to improve colour of cow tails
Dye: fruit used to dye clothes blue and violet, in boiling water 
Mix: crushed fruit boiled in vinegar to make ink 
Craft: to make handles, tools 
Recr: empty wood used to make blowguns 
Sup/rel: thought that plant had seven virtues, so it had to be respected by bowing seven times in front of it 
Prov: ‘Spogliati quando il sambuco si veste’ 
Sanguisorba minor Scop.
Vet: leaves as galactagogue feed for livestock 
Prov: ‘L’insalata non è bella se non c’è la pimpinella’ 
Saponaria officinalis L.
Cosm: leaf decoction to wash hair 
Satureja montana L.
Scabiosa columbaria L.
Erba di campo (g)
Food: boiled basal rosette as individual side dish 
Silene latifolia subsp. alba (Mill.) Greuter and Burdet
Boccon di pecora (o)
Vet: some leaves in livestock feed
Silene vulgaris (Moench) Garcke
Consigli, colcigli (g)
Food: boiled leaves as individual side dish for risotto, omelettes 
Recr: children played to make flower burst to produce biggest noise 
Sinapis alba L.
Rapetta (o, g), rapacciola (g)
Med: poultice of seeds as anti-rheumatic
Food: to flavour apricots in vinegar
Prov: ‘Far venire al senape al naso’
Vet: some leaves in livestock feed 
Solanum tuberosum L.
Med: some slices as emollient to heal burns 
Sonchus arvensis L.
Vet: leaves as galactagogue for rabbits
Sonchus asper (L.) Hill
Grespigna, grispigna (o), crispigne, grispigne, grespigne (g)
Med: leaves as galactagogue 
Food: roasted roots used as substitute for coffee
Sonchus oleraceus (L.) L.
Sorbus domestica L.
Sorbo, sorba (g)
Med: fruit decoctions as blood depurative
Spartium junceum L.
Vet: crushed flowers against parasites in livestock
Similar medicinal use 
Mix: stem used to make ties and fibres 
Sup/rel: magical qualities were attributed to the plant because it resists fires
Stachys annua (L.) L.
Erba ella madonna (c)
Med: leaves infusion used to wash face to heal headache
Sup/rel: plant used to protect against envy and bad luck 
Stachys officinalis (L.) Trevisan
Dye: plant used to dye wool yellow
Tanacetum balsamita L.
Food: leaves used for flavouring omelettes 
Tanacetum parthenium (L.) Sch. Bip.
Matrecara, erba amara (c)
Food: leaves to make sweet pancakes 
Med: eat flowers or flower decoction as vermifuge 
Food: flowers used for flavouring vinegar
Rep: plants left grow up near granaries to keep rats away
Similar use 
Taraxacum campylodes G. E. Haglund
Soffione (o, c, g), pisciacane (o, c, g), dente di leone (c), cicoriella (g)
Med: roots decoction as depurative , diuretic, and laxative
Food: roasted roots as coffee substitute 
Vet: leaves as feeding for livestock , in particular for healing meteorism
Recr: children express wish and blow the achens 
Thymus vulgaris L.
Med: leaf ointment as decongestant and expectorant 
Rep: dried leaves as repellent for moths in drawers
Tilia cordata Mill.
Tragopogon pratensis L.
Food: young leaves boiled as individual side dishes or to make omelettes 
Trifolium pratense L.
Pane del latte (o)
Vet: feed for livestock 
Food: fried flowers in salt batter
Recr: depending on where leaves are oriented, guess where the storm is coming from
Trifolium repens L.
Med: leaf infusion as anti-rheumatic 
Food: leaves and flowers sautéed with onion and potatoes as side dish; flowers for flavouring bread
Different food use in 
Vet: feed for livestock
Similar use for T. pratense 
Triticum turgidum L.
Med: boiled or hot wheat on skin as anti-rheumatic 
Sup/rel: four ears as cross on St. John’s water; take some ears into the house as good luck talisman; stems and ears used in ‘festa del Covo’
Ulmus minor Mill.
Olmo, olmo viscio (g)
Vet: leaves as winter feed for livestock (‘la fronda’) 
Sup/rel: branches used for ‘forche di S. Giovanni’ (St. John’s forks) during St. John’s day
Craft: wood used to make many tools, like the stick to turn polenta 
Mix: young branches used to make ties 
Urospermum dalechampii (L.) Scop. ex F.W.Schmidt
Grugno amaro, grugno (g)
Urtica dioica L.
Urtiga (o), ortiga, erba cattiva (c), urtica (g)
Food: boiled leaves as individual side dishes or in vegetable mixtures, for seasoning risotto, gnocchi, for filling ravioli, to make omelettes [4, 21, 30, 34, 41, 42, 44, 45]; to make tea with peppermint
Cosm: leaf infusions to heal dandruff, to prevent hair loss, to wash oily hair 
Sup/rel: leaves used in good luck practice
Dye: plant cooking water used to dye fishnets green 
Prov: “Essere come l’erba cattiva”
Valeriana officinalis L.
Food: raw leaves in salads
Med: root macerate as sedative 
Sup/rel: plant is used to protect against devil’s eye
Verbena officinalis L.
Pianta per l’ematoma (c)
Med: crushed fresh leaves on bruises 
Veronica persica Poir.
Food: some raw leaves in salads
Cosm: infusion as refreshing for the face
Sup/rel: had to say an Ave Maria if plant was trampled; plant use as amulet during trips
Vicia faba L.
Med: pods used to heal warts with a particular ritual: warts marked with a bean without a pronounced embryo, saying ‘Secchete fava, secchete porro’ (dry up beans, dry up wart!), after 40 days bean was thrown into well
Magic ritual to heal wounds in 
Vet: milled beans as feed for turkeys
Sup/rel: pod has predictive value 
Vicia sativa L.
Med: leaf pack on bruises 
Vet: for feeding livestock 
Food: milled pods to make bread 
Viola alba Besser
Food: raw leaves in salads 
Food: to make jam (with apples) 
Viscum album L.
Sup/rel: plant with fruit is considered lucky charm during Christmas period
Vitis vinifera L.
Mix: dried leaves as tobacco substitute 
Med: fruit eaten as depurative
Wood: wood used in protective ritual
Wisteria sinensis (Sims) Sweet
Sup/rel: flowers used in ‘infiorata’ 
Zea mays L.
Recr: corncobs used for making dolls 
Vet: corns as feeding for hens 
Dom: dried culms to light the fire 
During the interviews, observations were often made in the field to identify the species used; alternatively, fresh samples of plants or their pictures were shown to the informants. Voucher specimens are stored at the ‘Herbarium Anconitanum’ (ANC) of the Department of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences of the Polytechnic University of Marche (UNIVPM). Identification of the species was carried out on the basis of ‘Flora d’Italia’ , the updated nomenclature was based on online databases [18, 19] and the classification in botanical families was the one proposed by Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (2016) .
Analysis of the data
The uses of plants that were revealed in the interviews were grouped into 12 categories: (1) medicinal; (2) food; (3) superstitious/religious; (4) veterinary; (5) cosmetic; (6) domestic; (7) dyeing; (8) recreational; (9) repellent; (10) craft uses (of the wood); (11) sayings and proverbs (in which the plants were mentioned); and (12) miscellaneous uses.
Medicinal uses: all uses related to treatment of human diseases, including food supplements and remedies against parasites (e.g. worms, lice).
Food uses: in addition to uses strictly related to human consumption, these included the use of aromatic species and those used as coffee and tea substitutes, or for the production of other drinks.
Superstitious/religious uses: these related to ritual practices integral to religion (e.g. the ‘infiorate’, production of rosaries, ‘festa del Covo’) or to popular beliefs for the protection of the person, the animals, the house, and the fields.
Veterinary uses: species used to improve the health and growth of livestock , to defend against pests, to provide fodder , and to increase the productivity of livestock and poultry (e.g. production of milk and eggs).
Cosmetic uses: those concerning the aesthetic care of the body (e.g. skin, teeth, hair), and those used for make-up and perfumes.
Domestic uses: those for the care, cleaning and freshening of the home, and plants used as fuel, to preserve foods, and for production of light.
Dyeing uses: plants that were used to dye fabrics or work tools, such as for the nets used by the fishermen.
Recreational uses: those that were used for the production of toys and for hobbies.
Repellent uses: the species that were used to free environments from insects, rodents, and other vermin.
Craft uses of the wood: artisan uses of the wood from the plants, such as for the production of tools, furniture, poles (e.g. handles for brooms), and work tools.
Sayings and proverbs that mentioned the plants: situations in which the plants had become part of common usage for sayings and proverbs.
Miscellaneous uses: all those various uses that did not fall into the previous categories, such as supports for plants, production of rope and vegetable fibre, decorative (floral) uses (excluding domestic ones), and for smoking and ink production, as examples.
Choice of the reference bibliography
Various ethnobotanical studies were used as a reference to compare the uses defined in the three study areas in the present study. These articles concerned investigations conducted in the Marche region [23–27], and also in other areas in Central Italy [4, 28–34], and in the rest of Italy [21, 22, 35–45], and in Europe [5, 46–48].
Table 1 gives the details of the information collected, in terms of the scientific names of the species, the local names (where known), the botanical families, and the categories of use, with explanations for the modes of use. Table 1 gives the new uses in bold text, and the new food uses for the Marche region are underlined. Moreover, the bibliographic references are given for each species, with the same or similar uses indicated, and with mention of the same parts of the plants or the different parts used. The focus here instead is only on the new uses, or those that are particularly unusual.
The flora of ethnobotanical interest in the Ancona district
In total, 195 species were recorded, as both herbaceous and woody plants for which there was at least one use of ethnobotanical interest. Of these, 184 are wild plants and 11 are cultivated, although used for purposes other than those for which they were cultivated. These 195 species belong to 60 families, among which the most represented were Asteraceae (13.3%), followed by Lamiaceae (7.2%), Fabaceae and Rosaceae (6.7%), and Brassicaceae (5.1%).
In total, 120 people were interviewed (30 in the Mount Conero area, 55 in the Osimo area, 35 in the Gola della Rossa–Frasassi area): 82 were women and 38 were men, with ages 32–97 years, and a mean age overall of 75 years. Of these, 65% had only attended primary school, 13% completed lower secondary school, 18% secondary school, and 4% had a university degree. For their occupations at the time of the interview or before they retired, 25% were farmers, 25% craftsmen, 16% housewives, and 15% factory workers.
Who gathers the plants
The oldest informant reported some particularities for the gathering of some species in the Conero area: Matricaria chamomilla L. could not be gathered by young boys; and those who collected Salvia officinalis L. had to wear a white tunic and could not use iron tools, which would have dishonoured the sacredness of the plants.
The uses of the species of ethnobotanical interest
The most common methods of medicinal use were infusions and decoctions, with the use of parts of the fresh plants. The most mentioned diseases were those that affected the skin and the gastrointestinal system, followed by those associated with the urogenital and gynaecological, respiratory, nervous, and cardiovascular systems. The species known for the same medicinal uses in all three areas were Borago officinalis L. against coughs; Elymus repens (L.) Gould. as a depurative; Asparagus acutifolius L. as a diuretic; Ficus carica L. to heal calluses; and Malva sylvestris L. as a laxative. The species with the highest number of different medicinal uses or used for the treatment of several different diseases were Malva sylvestris L. (12 different uses), Foeniculum vulgare Mill. (8 different uses), Matricaria chamomilla L., Olea europaea L., and Parietaria officinalis L. (6 different uses each).
The new uses that did not correspond to those in the literature included species used as depuratives and diuretics, like Lunaria annua L. leaves, Salsola soda L. leaves, Galium aparine L. leaves and stems, and Sorbus domestica L. fruit (as a blood depurative). The species used to assist digestion included leaves of Agrimonia eupatoria L., Diplotaxis erucoides (L.) DC, and Diplotaxis tenuifolia (L.) DC. The species used as tonics were Medicago sativa L. leaves and Rumex obtusifolius L. roots. Other new uses were described for Cruciata laevipes Opiz leaves to heal intestinal obstructions, Elymus repens (L.) Gould to heal nose bleeds, Hedysarum coronarium L. leaves as a galactagogue (to promote lactation), and Jasminum officinale L. flowers to heal coughs. In terms of skin diseases, the new uses referred to Medicago lupulina L. leaves and flowers as an infusion as a lenitive and emollient, Rosa canina L. fresh leaves as an infusion to heal wounds, as a cicatriser, Olea europaea L. hot oil to heal calluses, and Crataegus monogyna Jacq dry fruit heated in a small bag and used to heal rheumatic pain. An unusual way to heal arthritic pain was to put crushed leaves of Ficaria verna Huds. on the skin where a blister formed and then had to be pierced. Guarrera  also referred the use F. verna as a “blistering plant”.
Some uses were instead contradictory with those given in the literature, such as Vitis vinifera L. leaves as a decoction that was previously cited as a laxative , while in the Gola della Rossa–Frasassi area this was used to heal diarrhoea. Other new uses were similar to those previously cited in the literature, but did not necessarily fully correspond to them, with the details given in Table 1.
There were 119 species with food uses, some of which were used in all three study areas for the same use: Asparagus acutifolius L. in omelettes; Cichorium intybus L. as leaves in boiled vegetable mixtures; Foeniculum vulgare Mill. to flavour meat, fish, and olives; Plantago lanceolata L. in boiled or fresh vegetable mixtures; Rosa canina L. fruit in jams, Salvia officinalis L. to flavour meats; and Urtica dioica L. for omelettes and boiled vegetable mixtures, or for seasoning risotto. Among these, Asparagus acutifolius L., Cichorium intybus L., Foeniculum vulgare Mill., and Urtica dioica L. were the most frequently cited species for food uses across the various communities in Italy . Borago officinalis L. and Urtica dioica L. were the most versatile in the kitchen, with seven different preparations.
Most of the species (i.e. 50 species) were boiled in vegetable mixtures, sautéed, and served as a side dish, to provide the so-called ‘foje’, which included: Cichorium intybus L., Malva sylvestris L., Papaver rhoeas L., Helminthotheca echioides (L.) Holub., Reichardia picroides (L.) Roth, and Taraxacum campylodes G. E. Haglund Plantago lanceolata L.. In some cases, these also included Capsella bursa pastoris (L.) Medik., Crepis vesicaria L., Echium vulgare L., Hedysarum coronarium L., Plantago major L., Rumex obtusifolius L., Silene vulgaris (Moench) Garcke, Sonchus arvensis L., Sonchus oleraceus (L.) L., and Urospermum dalechampii (L.) Scop. ex F. W. Schmidt.
Across the three study areas, Crithmum maritimum L. was only present on the rocky coasts of Mount Conero, where it was widely known: its food use as a “very delicious side dish” has already been documented by Guarrera . The new uses that did not correspond to the literature consulted included some plants that were boiled in vegetable mixtures and served as side dishes, including Lunaria annua L. and Misopates orontium (L.) Raf., which was also used in fresh salads. The species that showed new uses in salads were Veronica persica Poir, and rhizomes of Cynodon dactylon (L.) Pers. as raw in salads (as collected for the Gola della Rossa–Frasassi area); these uses have only been referred to for Spain in famine periods .
Other new uses included fried flowers of Achillea collina (Beckser ex Rchb.f.) Heimerl in salted batter. In the literature, the use of this plant as fritters was reported in Sardinia , the use of flowers of A. ptarmica L. in salads for the Bologna area , leaves of Agrimonia eupatoria L. for filling fresh pasta, Calendula officinalis L. flowers in risotto, fruit of Celtis australis L. to flavour grappa, flowers of Convolvulus arvensis L. sucked as a snack, seeds of Elymus repens (L.) Gould and Linum usitatissimum L. for making bread, fruit of Passiflora caerulea L. eaten as fresh fruit, seeds of Sinapis alba L. to flavour pickled peaches, flowers of Tanacetum parthenium (L.) Sch. Bip. and Satureja montana L. for flavouring vinegar, flowers of Trifolium repens L. to flavour bread, leaves of Urtica dioica L. to make a tea, and Mentha sp., and Malva sylvestris L. flowers to make a refreshing drink. The pickling of leaves of Cichorium intybus L. (collected for Conero area) was referred to only the Mediterranean area for Cyprus , with roasted roots of Sonchus asper (L.) Hill. as a surrogate for coffee.
In addition to the new uses that are written in bold in Table 1, the new foods for the Marche region are underlined.
Across the three study areas, 61 species had one or more superstitious/religious property. Many uses were already known in the literature for the Marche region and for the rest of Italy. However, other uses were not well described, and so it was difficult to find any correspondence with the literature.
Various uses were connected with the festivities of San Giovanni on 24 June, among which many were new. The preparation of ‘Acqua di San Giovanni’ (St. John’s water) was frequently cited, and it consisted of putting some vegetable parts and flowers in a basin of water, which was then left outside during the night of St. John (between 23 and 24 June). This water was then used to wash the face the following morning (with some reports indicating before dawn), to be free from the evil eye. Further, according to some informants in the area of the Gola della Rossa–Frasassi, the same water was thrown in a cross along the stairs and in the rooms. The species used were flowers of Hypericum perforatum L., Robina pseudoacacia L., Lavandula sp., Malva sylvestris L., Rosa canina L., and Spartium juniceum L.; leaves of Laurus nobilis L. and Juglans regia L.; shoots of Ficus carica L; and as a new use, berries of Juniperus oxycedrus L. Some of the informants indicated the use of four ears of Triticum turgidum L. placed above the St. John’s water, and this was also a use never reported before. Other rituals not previously described for the feast of St. John for the area of the Gola della Rossa–Frasassi consisted of preparing the so-called ‘forks of St. John’, with branches of Ulmus minor L. that were cut and stripped of the bark to be formed like the forks used with the straw, which were then placed outside the door as a good omen for the wheat harvest. Another new use, and for the same area, was to make a cross by tying some branches of Ficus carica L. together that were put outside the door on the night of St. John, to protect from witches. Stems of Artemisia vulgaris L., Ruta graveolens L., Rosmarinus officinalis L., and Lavandula sp. were put into the pockets or under the pillow to protect against witches during the night of St. John. The stem of Artemisia vulgaris L. provided protection when travelling.
Some flowers were used in the so-called infiorate, where drawings were designed on the ground along the streets where the Procession for Corpus Domini passed. The species used included Bellis perennis L., Calendula officinalis L., Lavandula spp., Robinia pseudoacacia L., Rosa canina L., Wisteria sinensis (Sims) Sweet, and Hedysarum coronarium L., with the new use recorded for Cota tinctoria L. J.Gay. and Matricaria chamomilla L.. Triticum turgidum L. was used (and indeed is still used) to create allegorical waggons and decorations for the ‘Festa del covo’, a religious celebration that is held in August in the Osimo area.
Some of the other new uses with no correspondence in the literature consulted included to keep the aerial parts of Achillea collina (Becker ex Rchb.f.) Heimerl in the pockets to protect against haemorrhoids. Conversely, plants of Arum italicum Mill. that grew near the house were weeded out to remove them, because the spots on the leaves were correlated to the blood of Jesus and the plant was believed to bring bad luck. Furthermore, some branches of Olea europaea L. were held in the hand to find lost things, with a prayer to Sant’Antonio (‘Sacre Sponzole’) recited. Also, a large stock of Vitis vinifera L. wood was burnt on the fire on Christmas Eve, and then allowed to burn slowly every day until 6 January, with the still-burning logs placed in the vineyard while reciting the phrase ‘Vita mia non te ‘rrugà, t’ho portato u ceppu de Natà’ (‘Oh my grapevine, don’t perish, I have brought you the Christmas log’).
The religious uses also included the production of rosaries, and the new plant use here was for seeds of Robinia pseudoacacia L.
Across the three study areas, 53 species had a veterinary use. Among the species that were administered as feed, new uses included Ailanthus altissima (Mill.) Swingle leaves, for feeding silkworms; leaves of Celtis australis L., for cattle; Medicago lupulina L., Myosotis arvensis (L.) Hill and Silene latifolia subsp. alba (Mill.) Greuter and Burdet leaves for various animals; Populus alba L. dried leaves as winter feed for rabbits and sheep; and Rosa canina L. fruit to feed hens.
Other species were administered as curative feed, with the new uses including Cichorium intybus L. leaves, to heal intestinal worms in rabbits; and Hypochaeris achyrophorus L. roots, as feed for pigs and leaves for cattle, as a galactagogue. An unusual use of the bulb Allium neapolitanum Cirillo was to macerate it in wine to heal rabies in dogs.
Some species were used as external curatives, such as Crataegus monogyna Jacq. fruit as a poultice was used to heal ‘spallone’ in cattle (bruising caused by the ‘giogo’-yoke). In the literature consulted, many other species were used to heal these kinds of diseases . Some species were given as feed for dairy cattle to flavour their milk, including Alliaria petiolata (M.Bieb.) Cavara and Grande leaves, and Lavandula spp., Rosmarinus officinalis L., and Salvia officinalis L. A particular use in the Gola della Rossa–Frasassi area was to dye the tails of the cows to be brought to the market, to make them brighter, using an infusion of Sambucus nigra L. fruit.
The cosmetic uses recorded included 30 species. Among the uses in terms of hair care, one that was new and particular related to lacquer made using Pinus pinea L. Here, the pitch was boiled and mixed with alcohol and then put into a spray container so that it could be sprayed on the hair as a kind of lacquer. Other new uses were for leaves of Clinopodium nepeta (L.) Kuntze that were chewed to heal bad breath, flowers for a decoction of Cornus mas L. to heal oily skin, and leaves and flowers as an infusion from Veronica persica Poir. to refresh the face. An unusual use of Ficus carica L. latex was recorded in the Osimo area, where it was used to darken the skin.
Twenty-seven species had various domestic uses. Among these, some plants were used to light fires and for wood to feed fires. The new uses here were for Ailanthus altissima (Mill.) Swingle, Ceratonia siliqua L., and Prunus avium (L.) L.
Some other new uses also included domestic floral decorations, such as Allium neapolitanum Cirillo, Morus alba L., and Passiflora caerulea L. flowers in fresh floral decorations, and Aloysia citriodora Palau., Amaranthus retroflexus L., and Nigella damascena L. flowers and Lunaria annua L. stems with siliquae (dried seed pods) as dried floral decorations. Then there were the species used to perfume rooms and drawers, with the new and particular use reported for Rosa canina L., the petals of which were infused in water together with cloves and salt, to make a solution that was sprayed over the hot stove to spread the vapour through the kitchen and freshen it. Matricaria chamomilla L. flowers were also used to perfume drawers.
Other domestic uses concerned those for producing light, for detergents, and to preserve apples.
Dyeing uses were reported for 17 species. The new uses that did not correspond to any in the literature consulted included Cichorium intybus L., Salvia verbenaca L., and Stachys officinalis (L.) Trevisan to dye clothes yellow; Cruciata laevipes Opiz roots as a red dye; Geranium dissectum L. leaves as a brown dye; and Plantago lanceolata L. leaves as a green dye. The cooking water of Asparagus acutifolius L. shoots was used to dye fishing nets green (reported for the Conero area).
In the three areas, 17 species had recreational uses. The new uses that did not correspond to any in the literature consulted included ears of Elymus repens (L.) Gould., which children used to detach them one by one to see if a desire would come true, and acorns of Quercus sp., which were used for dolls’ eyes, with the galls used for marbles. Leaves of Trifolium pratense L. were used to guess where a storm was coming from, which depended on the direction in which they were oriented.
Fifteen species were cited in the three areas for their repellent uses against parasites or other damaging pests, to prevent harm coming to garden plants, or to the house, the granaries, and other stored food. The new uses here that did not correspond to others in the literature consulted included bulbs of Allium neapolitanum Cirillo and leaves of Artemisia vulgaris L., which were macerated in water to keep parasites away from the orchards; and leaves of Melissa officinalis L. and Thymus vulgaris L. put in the drawers to protect against moths. A very particular use was for some plants of Pastinaca sativa L. subsp. urens (Req. ex Godr.) Celak. that were left to grow around the orchards to keep thieves away, on the basis of their urticant (i.e. itching, stinging) effects.
Craft uses of wood
Ten species were cited where the wood was used to make tools for agricultural, kitchen and other work activities, and for various objects for the house and the stables, and for furniture. Among the most useful woods there were Acer campestre L., Ostrya carpinifolia Scop. and Quercus sp., while the use of Ailanthus altissima (Mill.) Swingle as wood for making various tools was new, as also for Cornus mas L. for making boats. Particular uses included Arundo donax L. stems to make ‘mazzarello’, a tool to support knitting pins, and Ulmus minor Mill. as wood to make the stick used to turn polenta.
Sayings and proverbs
Most proverbs and idioms in which plants or parts of plants were mentioned referred to events in the agricultural life, such as the crop phases and the seasons of the year. These included, for example, ‘ (‘Lots of figs, little wheat’: in a year where a lot of figs were produced, there would be low production of wheat). Other cases might associate a person’s behaviour with the characteristics of a given plant, such as ‘Essere come l’erba cattiva’ (‘To be like bad grass’), which actually referred to the nettle, which was known as ‘bad grass’ locally due to its sting. In other cases, the proverbs still summarise the uses or qualities of a plant, such as ‘La ruta fa venì la vista acuta’ (‘Rue improves the vision’), which refers to the use of the plant to improve the eyesight.
Twenty-nine species were classified as having miscellaneous uses, which included those that do not belong to the other categories defined here. Some of these related to species that were used to make various ropes or cords, for agricultural use and for the home. For these uses, there were Ceratonia siliqua L. and Polygonum aviculare L. stems, and Robinia pseudoacacia L. roots. New or unusual uses were also seen for the resin of Pinus pinea L. to produce turpentine and for the plants that were used for wedding bouquets, such as the flowers of Calystegia sepium (L.) R. Br. and Lunaria annua L., while the flowers of Calepina irregularis (Ace) Thell and Robinia pseudoacacia L. were used to make the bride’s bouquet.
The other uses included in this category were the species where leaves were used as tobacco substitutes, for curdling milk and to produce ink.
Some of the local names were different across these three study areas. For example, Plantago lanceolata L. was called ‘lingua di cane’ (dog’s tongue) and ‘orecchie di pecora’ (sheep’s ears) in Osimo, ‘orecchie d’asino’ (donkey’s ears) and ‘recchiole’ (little ears) in the Mount Conero area, and ‘orecchie di pecora’ (sheep’s ears) and ‘centonervi’ (a hundred nerves) in the Gola della Rossa–Frasassi area.
Sometimes, the same local name was indicated for different species and genera, such as ‘grugno’ for Cichorium intybus L., Helminthotheca echioides (L.) Holub and Urospermum dalechampii (L.) Scop. ex F.W.Schmidt; and ‘speragna’ for Helminthotheca echioides (L.) Holub and Picris hieracioides Sibth. and Sm.
The local names of the plants are given in Table 1.
The surveys carried out in these three study areas in the Ancona district led to the identification of ethnobotanical uses for 195 species, 184 of which were wild and 11 were cultivated. The three areas were different in terms of their economic and phytogeographic characteristics, but all of these areas were united in that they have suffered depopulation of the countryside since the 1960s, as for the rest of the Marche region and the whole of Central Italy in general. The consequence of this has been the disintegration of rural society and the loss of traditional local knowledge.
We believe that our survey can increase our present-day knowledge of the traditional local uses of plants, which now allows us to preserve this knowledge, not only in terms of medicinal and food uses, but also for ethnobotanical aspects as a whole. Some of the uses recorded here are common to all three survey areas and are also common to other areas of Marche and Central Italy, while others appear to be particularly unusual, and even new, with no previous mention of them in the literature.
The plants that were cited for medicinal uses were most numerous. Malva sylvestris L., Foeniculum vulgare Mill., Matricaria chamomilla L., Olea europaea L., and Parietaria officinalis L. were best known for their curative uses across the three study areas, which is in line with the rest of Italy. However, the medicinal uses of 19 species were new.
For food uses, those most noted were Asparagus acutifolius L., Cichorium intybus L., Foeniculum vulgare Mill., Plantago lanceolata L., Rosa canina L., Salvia officinalis L., and Urtica dioica L. Many food uses were similar to those mentioned in the literature, while among the most unusual here was the use of raw Cynodon dactylon (L.) Pers. in salads (for the Gola della Rossa–Frasassi area), a use that has only been reported for Spain in periods of famine .
For the veterinary uses of plants, the most unusual was that to ‘revive’ the tails of cows that were due to go to the market, to make them brighter, which was provided by an infusion from the fruit of Sambucus nigra L.
The most diffuse superstitious/religious uses were those of St. Johns’s water and the infiorate. The high number of new superstitious/religious uses arises because only a few of the literature references consulted have referred to this type of use. Among the most significant new and unusual uses were the branches of Ulmus minor L. and Ficus carica L. that were used to make the so-called forks of St. John and the crosses to hang outside the house during the night of St. John, respectively.
Among the other new and unusual uses were the cosmetic use of the Pinus pinea L. pitch to make a hairspray, the domestic use of the petals of Rosa canina L. to produce a water with which to freshen the house, and the repellent use of the plants of Pastinaca sativa L. subsp. urens (Req. ex Godr.) Celak. to protect the garden from thieves.
In conclusion, we believe that the large and varied amount of data collected here is particularly useful for its contribution to the knowledge of how plants were used by the rural societies that were widespread throughout the Marche region until the second half of the 1960s. The uses of these plants were necessary to promote the self-sufficiency of these populations in terms of their domestic and agricultural practices, and their homecare, personal care and animal care, and for their own sustenance. At the same time, we would emphasise the need to identify more than one area within even just the Marche region (here as coastal, hilly, mountainous) to provide a more complete view of the traditional knowledge that was spread throughout the territory and to allow comparisons between such areas.
The authors would like to thank those who contributed to the data collection for these surveys, and in particular S. Massaccese, C. Serini and K. Zajko, and all of the informants who agreed to take part in the survey.
Availability of data and materials
All data generated or analysed during this study are included in this article and in its Supplementary Material Table. Voucher specimens are stored at the Herbarium Anconitanum (ANC) of the Department of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences of the Polytechnic University of Marche (UNIVPM).
The authors contributed equally to this work. All authors have read and approved the final manuscript.
Ethics approval and consent to participate
Prior oral informed consent was obtained from all of the study participants. Permission of the Ethical Committee was not required. Permission was not required to collect the voucher specimens, and no plant samples were collected in the areas under the protection of the Regional Park of Conero and the Regional Park of Gola della Rossa–Frasassi.
Consent for publication
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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