People and Plants - Rediscovering and Safeguarding Nordic ethnobotanical heritage
Nordic People and Plants investigates the development of Nordic biodiversity through human interference from the Viking age until today. The aims are to rediscover plant traditions, explain the origins of plant diversity, and safeguard Nordic ethnobotanical diversity for the future. People have always been dependent on plants such as food, fodder, medicine, clothing, tools and building materials. Throughout history, plants have influenced how people build, dress, and cure diseases. People have influenced biodiversity through cultivating and introducing new plant species, but they have also caused plants to go extinct. Currently, a decrease in plant diversity world-wide threatens human well-being and ecosystems. Compared with other areas, Scandinavia has a limited number of threatened plants, and humans living here maintain a close relationship with nature and plants. Scandinavia is therefore an ideal place for studying former and contemporary dynamics between people and plants.
In this project, plant names, archaeobotanical sources, iconographical sources and textual descriptions are being systematized and analysed. We have completed our ethnobotanical database which we use to analyze which traditions have roots all the way back to the Viking Age. It contains over 20,000 combinations of plants and uses about 1,500 species. In addition, the Cultural History Museum's archaeobotanical archives are examined to extract data on plant use and we have translated two text fragments from the Middle Ages through an interdisciplinary strategy. We have published eight articles in the project and several others have been submitted. The project has launched two participatory citizen science platforms, both to increase plant knowledge among people in general and to document ethnobotanical knowledge. One article is on angelica and the role it has played in Scandinavia since the Viking Age, where it was perceived as sweet and grown as a popular vegetable and medicinal plant. Afterwards it has been largely forgotten, but now it is gaining fame again through the New Nordic cooking movement. In connection with the publication we produced a short film clip on traditional and modern uses of angelica together with New Nordic chef, Gaute Vindegg. We also compared Gunnerus´ Flora Norvegica with Ove Arbo Høegs Planter og Tradisjon. This showed that many plant traditions changed during the 200 years that these publications stretch, while some remain the same. We published an article in Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society B, where we tested our methodology on a representative subset of plant species and showed that we can indeed extrapolate plant use back to a time before extensive written sources.
In the past year, we have also studied sustainable harvesting in collaboration with the Norwegian Association for Mycology and Foraging (NSNF). This work has recently been published in the journal "Plants, People, Planet". We will continue our collaboration with NSNF on sustainable harvesting of wild plants in the future as well. An analysis of the Soundtoll archives from 1600 to 1900 has revealed diversity of the plant material that has been transported through the Øresund and was published at the beginning of the year. In collaboration with colleagues from pharmaceutical sciences and the faculty of medicine, we were able to test the effect of various old plant remedies on the immune system.
We have also published a baby book for small children to ensure that they can start learning about plants at a very young age. In addition we have republished Ove Arbo Høeg´s standard work on Norwegian plant use to make sure it is accessible for those who would like to use it as a source of inspiration. In the past year, with society opening up again and we have had the opportunity to hold many lectures and public events.
Nordic People and Plants is based on close collaboration between the humanities and natural sciences. This cooperation will contribute to a comprehensive understanding of human relationships with plants and contribute to safeguarding Nordic plant traditions for the future.
Plants are a prerequisite for human life and culture: they are used as food, fodder, medicines, and a vast array of craft and building materials. Plant diversity has had an impact on local livelihoods throughout history, while simultaneously humans have shaped the environment. However, despite the central role of plants in human life, people in western societies have a tendency to neither notice nor value plants in their environment.
This interdisciplinary project addresses fundamental questions about the inter-relationship between plants and people, and simultaneously has significance for a pressing societal concern - the loss of traditional knowledge about biodiversity.
Nordic vegetation has been influenced by human plant use since the end of the last ice age. Scandinavia's first inhabitants lived in relative isolation until approximately the Viking Age, when these highly mobile people of Scandinavia colonised regions throughout the North Atlantic, establishing vast trade networks. This had a profound influence on biodiversity in the areas where they lived and travelled. In the Medieval Ages, monastic traditions let to the import of plants and knowledge from mainland Europe, and later, the spread of the printing press and new biological classification systems further shaped Nordic botanical heritage. Currently, foraging associations and innovative restaurants adapt traditional uses to the needs of modern society.
"Nordic People and Plants" combines parallel investigation of runes, ornamentation, historical written sources, archaeological and botanical data. These are then simultaneously analysed to identify useful flora in Scandinavia throughout history, gaining better understand of the long-term human-biodiversity relationships in this part of the world. Through a citizen science approach and an ambitious public outreach strategy, this project will revitalise Nordic folk plant traditions and contribute to conserving the plants themselves.