Wild vascular plants gathered for consumption in the Polish countryside: a review.
Background: This paper is an ethnobotanical review of wild edible plants gathered for consumption from the end of the 18th century to the present day, within the present borders of Poland. Methods: 42 ethnographic and botanical sources documenting the culinary use of wild plants were analysed. Results: The use of 112 species (3.7% of the flora) has been recorded. Only half of them have been used since the 1960s. Three species: Cirsium rivulare, Euphorbia peplus and Scirpus sylvaticus have never before been reported as edible by ethnobotanical literature. The list of wild edible plants which are still commonly gathered includes only two green vegetables (Rumex acetosa leaves for soups and Oxalis acetosella as children's snack), 15 folk species of fruits and seeds (Crataegus spp., Corylus avellana, Fagus sylvatica, Fragaria vesca, Malus domestica, Prunus spinosa, Pyrus spp., Rosa canina, Rubus idaeus, Rubus sect. Rubus, Sambucus nigra, Vaccinium myrtillus, V. oxycoccos, V. uliginosum, V. vitis-idaea) and four taxa used for seasoning or as preservatives (Armoracia rusticana root and leaves, Carum carvi seeds, Juniperus communis pseudo-fruits and Quercus spp. leaves). The use of other species is either forgotten or very rare. In the past, several species were used for food in times of scarcity, most commonly Chenopodium album, Urtica dioica, U. urens, Elymus repens, Oxalis acetosella and Cirsium spp., but now the use of wild plants is mainly restricted to raw consumption or making juices, jams, wines and other preserves. The history of the gradual disappearance of the original barszcz, Heracleum sphondylium soup, from Polish cuisine has been researched in detail and two, previously unpublished, instances of its use in the 20th century have been found in the Carpathians. An increase in the culinary use of some wild plants due to media publications can be observed. Conclusion: Poland can be characterized as a country where the traditions of culinary use of wild plants became impoverished very early, compared to some parts of southern Europe. The present use of wild plants, even among the oldest generation, has been almost entirely restricted to fruits.