Date of the last update: 17.12.2021
Humans collected wild-growing herbs for centuries, and people knew their properties, how and when to collect and process them. This knowledge was passed down from generation to generation. In medieval Poland, herbs were used during church ceremonies, in medical procedures and for magic. Polish cuisine, however, did not love herbs too much and willingly reached for expensive foreign spices instead. But spice herbs, grown by monks in monastery gardens, remained in use. Old Polish cuisine smelled somewhat of “pepper and saffron”, and nothing has changed since then. Nowadays, spices such as cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, cloves, cardamom, lemongrass and saffron can be found in every kitchen. At the same time, it is difficult to find herbs from Polish fields, meadows and forests, which diversified the taste of our ancestors’ cooking.
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As the centuries passed, the use of green parts of wild edible plants in Polish cuisine gradually declined. The commonly used hogweed (Heracleum Sphondylium) disappeared in the late 18th century. Similarly, ground elder (Latin: Aegopodium Podagraria) practically ceased to be used in the 19th century. In the 19th and 20th centuries, nettle and white goosfoot disappeared from the everyday diet of Poles, treated only as a “stock” in case of food shortages. The wood sorrel (Oxalis Acetosella) and yellow wood sorrel (Latin: Oxalis stricta) were used in the 19th and 20th centuries as soup ingredients and children’s snacks. But in the 21st century, they disappeared from the Polish menu. Sorrel leaves and young shoots were still used in the 20th century to cook soups at courts and in peasant homes, but nowadays, this plant isn’t commonly consumed anymore.
Ethnographers and ethnobotanists know the uses and scope of application for most common famine plants, such as:
- white goosfoot,
- wood sorrel,
- couch grass,
- marsh woundwort,
- common polypody,
- ground ivy,
- meadow thistle.
Explore more: Eating Wild Foods for Health and Connection to Nature
These are some wild edible plants that are mostly forgotten today. Their use in Poland has never been broadly researched. The rhizomes of the marsh woundwort, the so-called “skirret” (Latin: Stachys palustris), were used mainly in times of food shortages. Skirret was mostly dried and in powder form used to make scones and soups until the 19th century. Fern (Latin: Polypodium vulgare), or “sweet cress”, with a metallic but very sweet taste, was mainly eaten by shepherds and children. Ground ivy (Latin: Glechoma hederacea) was widely used in Poland as a spice until the early 20th century. As late as the beginning of the 19th century, it was the most popular spice, just next to caraway, but was then displaced by parsley. Young, chopped leaves of meadow thistle (Latin: Cirsium rivulare), commonly known in the Podkarpacie region as “szczerbacz”, were eaten in spring, in the time of scarcity, served with some fat or potatoes.
Check out also: Edible wild plants – how to use them safely?
Wild-growing edible plants are herbs that used to be served on country tables and at courts for centuries. Folk knowledge, however, lives only in people’s memories and passes away with them. Thus, it is necessary to make sure that it is still cultivated and put to good use.