Changing lifestyles have recently caused a severe reduction of the gathering of wild food plants. Knowledge about wild food plants and the local environment becomes lost when plants are no longer gathered. In Central Europe popular scientific publications have tried to counter this trend. However, detailed and systematic scientific investigations in distinct regions are needed to understand and preserve wild food uses. This study aims to contribute to these investigations.
Research was conducted in the hill country east of Graz, Styria, in Austria. Fifteen farmers, most using organic methods, were interviewed in two distinct field research periods between July and November 2008. Data gathering was realized through freelisting and subsequent semi-structured interviews. The culinary use value (CUV) was developed to quantify the culinary importance of plant species. Hierarchical cluster analysis was performed on gathering and use variables to identify culture-specific logical entities of plants. The study presented was conducted within the framework of the master's thesis about wild plant gathering of the first author. Solely data on gathered wild food species is presented here.
Thirty-nine wild food plant and mushroom species were identified as being gathered, whereas 11 species were mentioned by at least 40 percent of the respondents. Fruits and mushrooms are listed frequently, while wild leafy vegetables are gathered rarely. Wild foods are mainly eaten boiled, fried or raw. Three main clusters of wild gathered food species were identified: leaves (used in salads and soups), mushrooms (used in diverse ways) and fruits (eaten raw, with milk (products) or as a jam).
Knowledge about gathering and use of some wild food species is common among farmers in the hill country east of Graz. However, most uses are known by few farmers only. The CUV facilitates the evaluation of the culinary importance of species and makes comparisons between regions and over time possible. The classification following gathering and use variables can be used to better understand how people classify the elements of their environment. The findings of this study add to discussions about food heritage, popularized by organizations like Slow Food, and bear significant potential for organic farmers.