Cross-Cultural Ethnobiology in the Western Balkans: Medical Ethnobotany and Ethnozoology Among Albanians and Serbs in the Pešter Plateau, Sandžak, South-Western Serbia

Abstract An ethnobiological study concerning the medical ethnobotany and ethnozoology of two neighbouring com- munities of Serbians and Albanians living in the Pešter plateau (south-western Serbia) was conducted, the latter representing a diasporic community that immigrated to the area approximately three centuries ago. Sixty-two botanical taxa used in 129 plant-based remedies and 204 folk plant uses were recorded. In addition, 31 animal-derived reme- dies and 27 mineral or non-indigenous products were also documented. Approximately half of the recorded phytother- epeutical uses have been recorded for the first time in the ethnobotany of the Western Balkans and more than one- third of these uses have no correlation with Western evidence-based phytotherapy. Moreover, while both com- munities use approximately the same number of medicinal plants, two-thirds of the botanical taxa, but only one-third of plant folk medical uses are found in common among the two communities. These findings demonstrate that the two communities, although having lived in close proximity to each other during the past three centuries and in a relatively low biodiverse environment, have maintained or developed unique phytotherapeutical trajectories. The differences between the two folk medical biologies of these commu- nities are reflective of the specific history of the Albanian diaspora, and of the complex processes of its cultural adaptation over the last three centuries.



Andrea Pieroni & Maria Elena Giusti & Cassandra L. Quave

Keywords Ethnobotany.Ethnozoology. Serbia . Pešter. Phytotherapy. Albanians


Most of the ethnobiological studies conducted thus far in Europe have been focused on the documentation of traditional knowledge (TK) of plants of potential interest in ethno- pharmacology, nutritional sciences, and intangible/tangible cultural heritage and biodiversity conservation strategies. This is especially true in those rural areas of Southern Europe A. Pieroni (*)

where traditional knowledge systems, although eroded at University of Gastronomic Sciences, Via Amedeo di Savoia 8, I-12060 Pollenzo, Bra, Italy e-mail:

present, also show a certain degree of resilience (for a recent partial overview see Pardo de Santayana et al. 2010). Only a few studies have contributed to our understanding of the overlaps and osmosis between folk medicinal plant knowl- M. E. Giusti Department of History of Arts and Performing Arts, University of Florence, Via Gino Capponi 7-9,

edge of rural classes and the TK developed in “official” medical schools (Pollio et al. 2008; Leonti et al. 2009, 2010). Moreover, few studies have focused on the analysis of I-50121 Florence, Italy

how agro-biodiversity is managed, i.e., in mountainous

  1. L. Quave University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, 4301 W. Markham St., Mail Slot 511, Little Rock, AR 72205, USA

home-gardens (Agelet et al. 2000; Vogl-Lukasser 2003; Reyes-García et al. 2010). Some have proposed new areas of potential interest for the development of new speciality niche foods, herbal products, and eco-touristic activities (Heinrich

et al. 2005; Pieroni et al. 2005a; Pieroni 2008; Pieroni and Giusti 2009). Other studies in this realm have contributed to the understanding of how plant uses change among migrant groups (Pieroni et al. 2005b, 2007, 2008; Sandhu and Heinrich 2005; Pieroni and Gray 2008; Ceuterick et al. 2008, 2011; Yöney et al. 2010; van Andel and Westers 2010).

The latter issue is crucial in human ecology too, since it underlines a fascinating scientific question in ethnobiology: how does folk plant knowledge change over space and time and by which key variables? In Europe, only a limited number of cross-cultural comparative field studies or meta- analyses focused on such dynamics during modern times have so far addressed this question (Leporatti and Ivancheva 2003; Pieroni and Quave 2005; Pieroni et al. 2006; Hadjichambis et al. 2008; González-Tejero et al. 2008; Leporatti and Ghedira 2009; Łuczaj 2008, 2010).

This study emerged from previous ethnobiological research conducted in a remote area in the upper Kelmend, Northern Albanian Alps. During our review of historical texts which documented the history of the Kelmend tribe, we came across a research report by Austrian consuls and scholars in the years 1861–1917 on the history of Northern Albanian tribes (Baxhaku and Kaser 1996:214). We discovered that members of this tribe had migrated at the end of the 17th century or the beginning of the 18th century into the Plav and Gusjnie area (modern day Montenegro), Kosovo and also to the Pešter plateau in Sandžak, in present day southwestern Serbia (with a partial migration back home in 1707 and 1711, as well as a partial further displacement into Northern Serbia in 1737). This occurred after being defeated by the Turks and/or possibly because of an increase in demographic pressure due, ultimately, to climatic changes (Kaser 1992:160–161).

Since the existence of an Albanian minority in this area of Serbia was hitherto unknown to us, we examined the declared ethnicity of the villages located in Pešter, according to the last Serbian censi (Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia 2003) and further investigated this story via informal survey. We were able to confirm that Albanians of Muslim faith still live in a handful of villages in the Pešter plateau, surrounded by a majority of Muslim Bosniaks and a minority of Christian Orthodox Serbs.

On the other hand, apart from very few in-depth field studies conducted mainly in recent years (Milojević 1988; Pieroni et al. 2005a; Redžić 2006, 2007; Jarić et al. 2007; Pieroni 2008; Šarić-Kundalić 2010a, b, 2011; Menković et al. 2011), the Western Balkans have been seriously lacking in ethnobotanical studies, although they have been the arena in the past of remarkable ethnomedical and medico- anthropological accounts, mostly conducted by foreign scholars (Glück 1894; Kulinović 1900; Kemp 1935; Kerewski-Halpern and Foley 1978; Kerewski-Halpern 1985, 1989).

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The aims of this study were therefore:

& to record folk medical practices within the Albanian and

Serbian communities of Pešter; & to compare the collected data with all of the ethnobo- tanical literature of the Western Balkans in order to highlight potentially new (previously undocumented) plant uses; & to compare the Albanian and Serb medical ethno- biologies in order to investigate the degree of overlap in TK between the two communities; & to compare the folk medical knowledge/medical ethno- botany of the Albanian community of the Pešter with the data that we gathered during a previous study among the Albanians nowadays living in the Kelmend, from whence the migration to Pešter originated three centuries ago, in order to analyse potential shifts in plant use paradigms; & to extrapolate a few overall considerations from the aforementioned analysis in order to contribute to the current discourse on how TK changes over time and space and on the factors that may influence this process.

The Study Area

The Pešter is a karst plateau in southwestern Serbia, in the Muslim Sandžak region (Fig. 1). It lies at an altitude of 900–1,200 m and the territory of the plateau is mostly located in the municipality of Sjenica. The name of the region comes from the word “pešter” which is an old term for cave. It is considered to be the most elevated karst field on the Balkan Peninsula and its central part (Peštersko polje) represents a rare wet peatbog habitat. The plateau is surrounded by the mountains of Jadovnik (1,734 m), Zlatar (1,627 m), Ozren (1,680 m), Giljeva (1,617 m), Žilidar (1,616 m), Javor (1,520 m) and Golija (1,833 m).

These features create a unique microclimate which is temperate-continental but modified with elements of aet

Fig. 1 The Pešter plateau

mountainous climate. The Pešter is in fact also called the “Balkan Siberia”, as winter temperatures are very harsh (the lowest temperature in Serbia since measurements were taken was −39°C and was measured in Karajukića Bunari village in the center of Pešter on 26 January 2006).

Pešter is home to a number of endangered plant species, such as Fumana bonapartei Maire & Petitm., Halacsya sendtneri (Boiss.) Dörfl., Linum tauricum (Podp.) Petrova subsp. serbicum, Potentilla visianii Pancic, Verbascum nicolai Rohlena, Orchis tridentata Scop., Orchis laxiflora Lam., Orchis coriophora L., and Dactylorhiza incarnata (L.) Soó, and is the only nesting place of Montagu’s Harrier (Circus pygargus) in Serbia (Puzović et al. 2006). However, the biodiversity of such an environment is quite restricted and trees or even shrubs are almost completely absent except in the inhabited places and the areas bordering the plateau. In fact, the vascular flora of this region is limited to only ca. 350 species (Puzović et al. 2006). The landscape is largely one of pastures and meadows, with flocks of sheep and herds of cattle, many horses with saddlebags on their back and unique shepherds’ summer huts (katun), made of woodsticks sealed with mud and covered with grass, in which shepherds once lived, and where still nowadays dairy products— primarily the famous “Sjenica cheese” (sjenički sir)—are stored.

The population mostly consists of Muslim Bosniaks, together with a small number of Orthodox Serbian villages, and a handful of Albanian villages, inhabited by descend- ents of Catholic Kelmend and Rrugova tribes, which arrived in the area at the beginning of the 18th century. According to our informants, the Albanians of Ugao and Doliće arrived from the villages of Gusinje, Plav, Martinovič (in present day Montenegro, where in turn they arrived from Northern Albania) and Vukël (in present day Northern Albania), approximately 200 km south of Pešter, apparently due to blood feuds. They converted to Islam a few decades following this move.

The current population of the Albanian villages is partly “bosniakicised”, since in the last two generations a number of Albanian males began to intermarry with (Muslim) Bosniak women of Pešter. This is one of the reasons why locals in Ugao were declared to be “Bosniaks” in the last census of 2002, or, in Boroštica, to be simply “Muslims”, and in both cases abandoning the previous ethnic label of “Albanians”, which these villages used in the censi conducted during “Yugoslavian” times.

A number of our informants confirmed that the self- attribution “Albanian” was purposely abandoned in order to avoid problems following the Yugoslav Wars and associated violent incursions of Serbian para-military forces in the area. The oldest generation of the villagers however are still fluent in a dialect of Ghegh Albanian, which appears to have been neglected by European linguists thus far. Additionally, the

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presence of an Albanian minority in this area has never been brought to the attention of international stakeholders by either the former Yugoslav or the current Serbian authorities. According to our oldest informants, the Serbs of Boljare and Buđevo arrived in Pešter presumably a few centuries ago from surrounding Serbian villages geographically located in current day Montenegro.


Field Study

The field ethnobiological study was carried out in Pešter in the summer of 2010. Local informants (n=42), aged between 43 and 93, were selected using the snowball sampling technique and interviewed in-depth in the villages of Ugao (population of ca. 50 families, all Albanians, with a number of male members intermarried with Bosniak women), Boljare (six families, all Serbs), Buđevo (ca. 15 families, all Serbs), with seven additional interviews, which took place also amongst the Serbs of Karajukiča Bunari (a village, which is mainly inhabited by Bosniaks) and among the Albanians of Doliće and Boroštica (Fig. 2).

The focus of the interviews was on folk medical knowledge of local plant- and animal-based remedies. In this category, we included, as we have done in other field studies, also food- medicines (Pieroni et al. 2007) and remedies used in “magical” healing procedures which are of particular importance to the treatment of psychosomatic illness (Quave and Pieroni 2005). Prior informed consent (PIC) was obtained verbally before commencing each interview and the Code of Ethics of American Anthropological Association (AAA 1998) and the Italian Association for Ethno- Anthropological Sciences (AISEA 2000).

Questions about folk medicines were asked using free- listing, semi-structured, and open interview techniques, which focused always on remedies used to treat a specific list of etic and emic pathological categories (the latter elicited during preliminary interviews).

The wild plant species cited during interviews were collected, verified by our interviewees, identified according to Tutin et al.’s Flora Europaea (Flora Europaea Editorial Committee 2001) and later deposited at the Herbarium of the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo.

The local folk plant names cited during interviews were recorded and transcribed in the Latin alphabet in Serbo- Croatian and, when available, in Albanian (please note that upon the Yugoslavian dissolution, the Serbo-Croatian language has been split into Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian/ Bosniak, and Montenegrin—although this linguistic split is still disputed).

Data Analysis

The data collected during the field study were sorted in Microsoft® Excel.

Two in-depth comparisons were conducted:

& the first, with all other ethnobotanical studies previously conducted in the Western Balkans and available in English or in German (Glück 1894; Kemp 1935; Pieroni et al. 2003, 2005a, b, c; Redžić 2006, 2007; Jarić et al. 2007; Pieroni 2008; Pieroni and Giusti 2008; Šaric-Kundalić et al. 2010a, b), in order to point out previously undocumented medicinal plant uses; & the second with the main handbooks of Western phytotherapy (Jänicke et al. 2003; Vanaclocha and Cañigueral 2003; Fintelmann and Weiss 2006; Barnes et al. 2007; Schilcher et al. 2007; Firenzuoli 2009; VIDAL 2010), in order to propose eventual new medicinal sources to be further evaluated by herbalists, pharmacologists, or phytotherapists.

Results and Discussion

Traditional Phytotherapy in Pešter

In Pešter, medicinal plants still represent the core of domestic medical practices, generally managed by the

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Fig. 2 Location of the study area and villages, with the municipality center of Sjenica

oldest women in the family. It is very common in every household to observe a number of dried plants, which are stored in plastic or paper bags and often served to guests as different varieties of home-made wild plant-based “teas”.

Table 1 shows the medicinal plants used in Pešter as folk medicines: 62 identified botanical taxa and 129 plant-based preparations for 204 plant folk medical uses were recorded to be part of the Pešter’s phytomedical heritage. A conspicuous number (n=68) of the recorded phytotherapeutical uses have been recorded for the first time in the ethnobotany of the Western Balkans (these appear underlined in the table), according to all of the available literature published in English and German as described in the Methods section (Fig. 3).

More than one-third of these uses have no correspon- dence in the Western evidence-based modern phytotherapy. These findings show that folk medical knowledge in the region is alive and in use, and could be of interest for potential modern applications.

Albanian vs. Serbian TK of Plants

The degree of overlapping evident between the recorded Albanian and Serbian phytotherapy in Pešter is illustrated in Fig. 4.

Most quoted species (species quoted by more than two thirds of the informants) were identical in the two

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y l l a i t r a p :

communities (see Table 1, 2nd column), with the exception only of Origanum vulgare (very much cited by Albanians, but much less by Serbs).

While both communities use the same number of medicinal plants, approximately two-thirds of the botanical taxa are used by both communities. However, only one-third of the plant folk medical uses are found in common (Fig. 5).

Interestingly, only a few Albanian phytonyms were quoted by the Albanian informants, and most of the plant names cited were in Serbo-Croatian, as among the Serbs. This finding shows that, despite a low degree of biodiver- sity in the Pešter area (i.e., a relatively low number of plant species at their disposal) and living in close proximity to each other with continuous contact, these two communities have either maintained or developed quite distinct phyto- therapeutic trajectories over the span of the past three centuries. Moreover, it is likely that this continuous contact and inter-community dynamics also eventually led to the erosion of the original Albanian phytonomenclature.

These data reinforce the hypothesis that cultural compo- nents are crucial in determining how people use plants, although the interface between ethnic minorities and autochthonous populations in the perception and use of plants is always complex. This concept has also been

Fig. 3 Fresh leaves of burdock (Arctium lappa) are used in Pešter in external application for treating headaches

13 33 16 Albanians Serbs Fig. 4 Overlaps between the medicinal plants recorded among the Albanians and the Serbs in Pešter

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underlined in other ethnobotanical works previously con- ducted in Southern Europe on ethnic/linguistic “enclaves” (Pieroni and Quave 2005; Nebel et al. 2006).

The Core of the Albanian Medical Ethnobotany

An interesting and crucial comparison between the top quoted medicinal taxa (i.e., the plants, which have been quoted in the free listing exercise by more than two-thirds of the interviewees, see underlined folk names in the 2nd column of Table 1) among the Albanians of Pešter and those of the Albanians living nowadays in Kelmend, Northern Albania (Pieroni et al. 2005a). Chenopodium-bonus henricus, Gentiana lutea, Orig- anum vulgare, Hypericum spp., Rosa canina, and Urtica dioica, which are mostly used in the same way and for the same folk medical purposes, may be viewed as the medicinal plants whose cultural salience—“measured” through the lens of quotations elicited during the free listing exercises—appears remarkable in both communities. These may then represent the basis of a sort of core “herbal cultural heritage” of the Albanian mountain populations.

This concept is even more apparent upon consideration of the example of wild oregano (Origanum vulgare, caj malit), which is the most quoted and used medicinal herb in Northern Albania and was also cited by every Albanian interviewee in Pešter, while its use is more sporadic among the Serbians.

Animal, Mineral and Non-indigenous Folk Remedies

Table 2 shows the animal-based folk remedies (n=31) that we recorded in the area. More than the number of remedies, it is interesting to point out that of the folk medical uses referred to by the Albanians, animal remedies are much more common here than among the Serbs. A similar trend can be observed in Table 3, which reports the mineral, environmental and other non-indigenous products (n=27) reported to be part of the local folk pharmacopoeia. In both of these tables, we report a number of unusual magical healing procedures for treating the Evil Eye based on animal or mineral products, which are astonishingly still in common practice, especially among the Muslim Albanian community (see Fig. 6 for a remarkable example).

Serbs Albanians

Fig. 5 Overlaps between the medicinal plant uses recorded among the Albanians and the Serbs in Pešter

85 41


Table 2 Animal-based folk remedies used in Pešter for treating human diseases

Remedy Preparation and administration Local medical use(s) or

treated pathology(−ies)

Use recorded within the Serbian community

Badger (Meles meles, jazavac)’s

internal organs

Hemorrhoids X

Bee’s wax E: externally applied Earache X X Bruises X Butter and clarified butter I: consumed Panacea X E Warts X

Chilblains X X Wounds X Cheese I: consumed Galactagogue X Clotted cream (kajmak) and


E: topical applications of the fresh internal organs, immediately after the animal has been killed

I: consumed Reconstituent X E Emollient X

Chilblains X Cow/buffalo/sheep fat E: mixed with bee’s wax and

honey, in a cream

Wounds X

Dairy products (all) I: consumed Prevention of bone fractures,



Donkey’s milk I: drunk Pertussis X Donkey’s urine E: instilled in the nose (urine has to

come from young animals only)

Sinusitis X

Dog’s saliva (lick) E: lick given by young dogs Warts X Ewe’s milk E: a piece of cloth imbibed with

ewe’s milk and put on child’s abdomen

Antihelmintic X

Ewe’s cheese (fresh) I: consumed “Good for the heart”,

diabetes, reconstituent


Fat-based foods I: consumed Galactagogue X Fox’s veins E: dried veins of a killed fox, put

inside the ear

Earache X

Goat cheese E Wounds X Goat milk I: drunk Cough X Goat or sheep skin E: topically applied (warm) on the

chest, (with a piece of paper to divide the human and goat skins)

Bronchitis X X

Honey I: consumed Cough, sore throat,

galactagogue, heart tonic, “good for the circulation”, panacea


E Burns X Horse’s hair E: tied to the wart for two days Warts X Human urin E Skin burns, furuncles X Jardum (dairy product obtained by gently heating fresh ewe’s milk—milked in July and August only—with salt)

I: consumed Panacea X X

Milk (generally cow’s milk) I: boiled, drunk Sore throats, fever, headache,

hypertension, constipation, “healthy food”


Galactagogue X X Mare milk (milked after the mare

has given the first birth)

I: drunk Sore throats, cough, pertussis X X

Mother’s lick E: Mother licking in the central part

of the front of the child, then simulating spitting three times on the right and three times on the left

Evil Eye X

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Use recorded within the Albanian community

Moreover, the Serbian informants confirmed to us that in the past—especially before the Yugoslav Wars—they commonly relied on the imams of the nearby Muslim villages to obtain specific amulets based on small pieces of paper transcribed with Qu’ranic Arabic scripts to be used for the prevention of the Evil Eye (Table 3). As clearly shown in Fig. 7, which reports the overlap of the total quoted non plant-based folk medicines recorded within the Serbs and Albanians, in this case the balance between the two communities is very asymmetric.

Three considerations could be formulated for explaining these findings:

  1. The Albanian community descends from the Northern Albanian Catholic Kelmend tribe, which has been well known throughout the Balkans in the past for repre- senting a classic example of nomadic pastoralism, which has differentiated it also from other Northern Albanian tribes (Baldacci 1930; Pieroni 2008, 2010). These descendents probably conserved a much more detailed knowledge of dairy products and also their related medicinal uses than the Orthodox Serbian community may have done.

Table 2 (continued)

Remedy Preparation and administration Local medical use(s) or

treated pathology(−ies)

Use recorded within the Serbian community

Pork lard E: massages with lard, at the end

with rakija


Snake E: snake dried in the shadow of a

juniper shrub, then the fat extracted and stored; snake fat, mixed with lemon balm tea and flour, to make a poultice (mehlem)

Wounds, chilblains, fever

(children) Every skin disease X

Stork (Ciconia ciconia,

leilekuAL/roda)’s beak or bone

E: a dried piece of stork—

Evil Eye amulet X generally the beak or a bone—in a necklace, or sewn in the internal part of a cloth and dressed, as an amulet; alternatively, a stork’s feather is boiled and the resulting water used in external washes Yogurt (kosAL, kiselo mlijeko) I: drunk Stomachache, hypertension, “good for the circulation”, “healthy food”, panacea


Whey (hirraAL, surutka) I: drunk Digestive troubles, diabetes,



Cold, bronchitis X Wolf’ tooth E: in a necklace, as an amulet Evil Eye amulet X Woman milk E Earache, eye inflammations X Wool E Chilblains X X E: warm wool clothes, dressed Rheumatisms X X

Fever X

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  1. The Muslim faith, which was adopted by the Albanian community shortly after they moved into Pešter, may have generated a more enthusiastic reliance on “magical” healing practices (see Table 3), as has happened in other Balkan areas (see, for example, the historical- anthropological considerations regarding folk medicines among the diverse ethnic groups in Sarajevo and Bosnia at the end of the 19th century published in Glück 1894). 3. The difficulties related to the experience of migration and cultural adaptation into a different linguistic and religious environment, which the Albanian community had to face, may have generated a much stronger attachment to healing procedures related to culture-bound syndromes and psychosomatic illness such as the Evil Eye. This trend has also been observed in other Albanian diasporas (Pieroni and Quave 2005; Quave and Pieroni 2005).

Folk Veterinary Medicine

Ethnoveterinary remedies, while cited by the informants, do not seem to be in use anymore (Table 4). All the interviewees pointed out that the provision of modern veterinary care

Use recorded within the Albanian community

Table 3 Mineral, environmental, and non-indigenous products/remedies used in Pešter for treating human diseases

Remedy Preparation and administration Local medical use(s) or

treated pathology(−ies)

Use recorded within the Serbian community

Banana I: eaten Diarrhea X Black ribbon E: tied on the right hand and left

foot (or vice-versa)

Use recorded within the Albanian community

Preventing the Evil Eye X

Cigarette’s ash E Earache X Clothes E: dressing clothes backwards Preventing the Evil Eye X Coconut flour I: ingested Hypertension X Coffee powder I: ingested in spoons, with or

without sugar

Diarrhea X X

Ice E: applied on the forehead Headache X Incense (tamjan) E: boiled in water, gargles Toothache X Ink E Skin burns X X Lemon I: lemon juice, mixed with

honey, ingested

Heart tonic X

Mud (collected where the cow rests, and mixed with rain)

E: topically applied Warts X

Rice (pirinač) I: water, in which rice has been

boiled, drunk

Diarrhea X

Oil I: drunk (a couple of spoonfuls) Constipation X X

Vaginitis X E: instilled in the ear, tepid Earache X X E: tepid, mixed with milk, and ia piece of cloth is soaked in the liquid then externally applied on the chest

Pertussis X

E: as above, applied in

massages on the abdomen

Digestive in babies X

E: applied on a paper (presenting

holes) to be put on the chest

Fever X

Olive oil I: drunk Blood cleansing X Paper E: necklaces with pieces of

paper reporting phrases from Quh’ran

Evil Eye X

E: as above, but the papers

(written in Arabic by the local Muslim imam) are secretly placed where the person (mainly the child) sleeps, where it remains for one year. At the end of a year, all is thrown in the fire.

Evil Eye X

Petrol I: one drop mixed with sugar

and ingested

Sore throat X

E: applied on cut wart Warts X Plumb E: melted on the fire, then

thrown in water; the diagnosis is executed analyzing the final shape of the piece of plumb

Diagnosis of the Evil Eye X X, but the analysis is based upon the plumb color (a darker color is seen as a sign of the occurrence of the Evil Eye) I+E: melted on the fire, then

thrown into water; a piece of cloth imbibed with the resulting water is put on the forehead of the kid, while some water is also eventually given the kid to drink; alternatively, the kid has to dress a red scarf on the head

Evil Eye, fears (children) X X

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during the Yugoslavian times was very efficient. This may have led to a decreased reliance on folk practices for the care of livestock and thus an erosion of this area of TK.

Table 3 (continued)

Remedy Preparation and administration Local medical use(s) or

treated pathology(−ies)

Use recorded within the Serbian community

and the resulting water has to be spread in three different places and drunk by the child, while whispering oral formulas E: as above, but the resulting water is thrown outside the house, while specific oral formulas are whispered

Evil Eye X

Sal ammoniac (nišador) I: chewed or tea Cough X Salt I: dissolved in water, and drunk Nausea/vomiting X

E: put on the head three times, then burned (while Qur’an phrases are chanted)

Evil Eye X

E: mixed with water and

imbibing a piece of clothes, to be topically applied

Wounds, bruises X

Soap E: externally applied Constipation X Socks E: men’s socks only are soaked with rain water, and then used for massages of the hands

Warts X

Sugar I: burnt on the fire, then put in

hot water, as a tea

Sore throat, cough X X

I: mixed with water and drunk Heart tonic X Sunshine E: exposure Rheumatisms X Stone E: hot, put on the chest Pertussis X Tobacco E Wounds X Water E: wet cloth applied on the


Headache X

E: water is boiled, then is made

tepid by keeping it in the mouth, and finally instilled in the ear

Earache X

Wine I: drunk hot, with or without


Cough X Bruises X

Fig. 6 Pieces of stork bone and beak are used among the Albanians as amulets against the Evil Eye

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This cross-cultural comparative study demonstrates that medicinal plant uses within the same biophysical environ- ment can be heavily affected by cultural and religious components. In contrast to other previous ethnobotanical studies conducted among ethnic/linguistic “enclaves” in Croatia and Sardinia (Pieroni and Giusti 2008; Maxia et al.

Albanians Serbs

68 20 24 Fig. 7 Overlaps between the non plant-based folk medicines quoted by the Albanians and by the Serbs in Pešter

Use recorded within the Albanian community

2008), this study shows how diasporic communities may cope with cultural change, within a given natural-cultural space, in an unique way, which differentiates them from the autochthonous populations in the TK of plants related to “emic” health seeking strategies.

Our data also show also how cultural adaptation in the domain of TK of plants among ancient migrant groups may go beyond the resilience of folk linguistic competence in naming plants.

However, one limitation of our study is the lack of existing data on the TK of Muslim Bosniak communities in the area. Although we may conclude that cultural resilience of the Albanian communities plays a large role in the distinction of their TK from that of the Serbs, we cannot discount the possibility that this paradigm is due instead to a

Table 4 Folk remedies used in Pešter for treating animal diseases

Recorded pathology or veterinary use Remedy (incl. preparation and administration)

within the Albanian community

Remedy (incl. preparation and administration) within the Serbian community

Rumination problems (cows and


Milk, whey, oil, and soda, mixed; given the animal

to eat Parasites (metil) (lambs) Willow (Salix alba) “vrba” leaves, mixed with

wheat, and given to the animals as fodder Bone fractures (all animals) Flax (Linum usitatissimum) “kučina” fibers (linen),

mixed with eggs, and externally applied Fever (all animals) Boiled milk, given to drink Respiratory troubles (horses) Barley (Hordeum vulgare) fruits, burnt, then letting

the animal to inhalate the vapors Outer parts of onions (Allium cepa) “bijeli luk” are

burnt, letting the animal to breath the vapors Diarrhea (all animals) Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) “sporiš” tea

(flowering aerial parts)

Idem Hellebore (Helleborus sp.) “kukuriek” tea (whole plant) Mastitis (cows) Fresh eggs on the inflamed udder Evil Eye (all animals) Ash and coal, mixed with water and put on the head of the cow; if the cow shakes its head, this is seen as sign for the absence of the Evil Eye; if Evil Eye instead occurs Qur’an words are whispered, while sometimes ashes and water are thrown to the animals, chanting phrases from the Qur’an

Specific Arabic written scripts prepared by the local Muslim imam on March 14th (animals’ holy day), and then tied onto the animal’s tail (with a red ribbon) or hung on the animal’s horns

Qur’an words, whispered to the affected animal Necklaces with pieces of paper reporting phrases

from Quh’ran A piece of burnt wood is tied to the cow’s tail, with the aim to confusing the eventual gazer, who could “create” the Evil Eye Garlic (Allium sativum) “hundhura” bulbs are

crushed and applied in massage to the cow’s udder Unspecified diseases (sheep) Ash, mixed with water, given to the animal to eat All diseases (cows and sheep) The ear is cut and left to bleed Burning the animal hairs on the back

Daphne (Daphne mezereum) “prečica” flowers,

given with salt to animals All diseases (pigs and sheep) The ear is cut and left to bleed, with or without rakija Hellebore (Helleborus sp.) “kukuriek” tea (whole plant) or the root is inserted in the ear wound (after cutting)

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strong acculturation of the Albanian communities to the customs of the Muslim Bosniaks. Further study on the Bosniak TK of the Sandžak is therefore necessary.

Finally, this study suggests that the Western Balkan region is a fertile and inspiring ground for in-depth and systematic investigations on traditional phytotherapy via further ad hoc ethnobotanical studies, which are at the moment missing, with the partial exception of Bosnia Herzegovina.

Acknowledgements Special thanks are due to all the inhabitants of the visited communities, for their warm hospitality and for sharing their knowledge with the authors who collected the data in the field (AP and MEG); and to our translator and field assistant, Mezahir Haxhijaha, Rahovec, Kosovo, for his fantastic and unforgettable enthusiasm.

The authors wish to thank especially Dr. Fabio Firenzuoli and Dr. Elio Rossi (Regional Centre for Ethnomedicine, Region Tuscany, Firenze) and the Department of Health of the Region Tuscany, which made this project financially feasible.


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