The spring has arrived: traditional wild vegetables gathered by Yarsanis (Ahl-e Haqq) and Sunni Muslims in Western Hawraman, SE Kurdistan (Iraq)

Andrea Pieroni, Hiwa M. Ahmed, Hawre Zahir


Kurdistan represents a crucial region in the Middle East for understanding patterns of human evolution in the use of food plants and especially wild vegetables as well as for assessing the influences of the major, surrounding bio-cultural macro-area.

In this research, an ethnobotanical filed study focusing on wild vegetables traditionally gathered and consumed during the spring was conducted in a few villages of the Western Hawraman area, in South Kurdistan (Iraq), both among Sunni Muslims and Yarsanis (Ahl-e Haqq), the latter of which represent followers of a tiny, threatened, ancient monotheistic religion.

Through interviews with 25 elderly informants, the folk uses of 34 botanical and mycological taxa were recorded. A few of the recorded species have never, or very rarely, been described in the ethnobotanical literature of the Middle East and for some of them (most notably Allium koelzii, Bongardia chrysogonum, Dorema aucheri, and Johrenia aromatica) their sensory chemistry and nutraceutical properties are largely unknown. No differences were found between the folk taxa mentioned by Sunni Muslims and those reported by Yarsanis.

The high cultural value and consumption of raw young shoots of Imperata cylindrica should be further investigated considering the history of the development of agriculture in the area, as explanations for the domestication of wild grasses have never considered the hypothesis of gastronomic appreciation of their young aerial parts.

Moreover, some of the most mentioned vegetables are also considered food-medicines.

A comparison with all the pre-existing food ethnobotanical literature of the Middle East shows that the most culturally salient wild vegetables recorded in the Hawraman area are shared with Arabic, Turkish, Caucasian, and especially Persian food heritages.

These findings suggest that investigating the ethnobiology of Kurdistan is more than ever urgent in order to document folk plant uses at a crucial crossroad of historical and cultural trajectories in the Middle East.


ethnobotany; wild food plants; Hawraman; Yarsanis; Kurdistan

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