Folk food and medicinal botanical knowledge among the last remaining Yörüks of the Balkans

Anely Nedelcheva, Andrea Pieroni, Yunus Dogan


The present study examines the current lifestyle of the last remaining Balkan Yörüks, a small and isolated group found within the Republic of Macedonia, and the modern representatives of an important portion of the Balkan nomads. The aim of this study was to document knowledge concerning local wild food plants and wild and cultivated medicinal plants, and to compare the Yörük ethnobotany with that of similar, more or less isolated ethnic groups occurring in the Balkan region (Macedonia, Bulgaria, Albania, and Turkey) in order to assess how cultural adaptation processes may have affected Yörük plant folklore. We conducted this study by means of detailed, semi-structured interviews with 48 key informants.

Sixty-seven plant taxa were recorded from 55 genera, based on the compilation of more than 150 reports relating to medicinal, food, forage, ornamental, and dye plants, as well as some elements relating to animals and minerals. Our field study data show several major ethnic boundary markers that contribute to the homogeneity of the community and also distinguish it sufficiently from the surrounding society: (i) well-isolated locality; (ii) local dialect and endogamy; (iii) casual clothing worn by women; (iv) ceremonial jewelry: a necklace of cloves (Syzygium aromaticum); (v) Sempervivum marmoreum as an only ornamental plant which also has a medicinal use; and (vi) Mentha spicata as the dominant culinary herb, which has a medicinal use too. Comparison of the collected ethnobotanical data with that of similar, more or less isolated ethnic groups in the Balkan region shows that overlapping taxa include mainly plants whose fresh fruit are used; both nuts as well as edible greens. These plants are simultaneously used for medicinal purposes too, as home remedies, but in very different ways to other ethnic groups.

Yörüks represent a remarkable cultural group in the Balkans. This community has nomadic traditions, but nowadays the people have a settled lifestyle. Traditional knowledge remains strong and is retained within a well-defined cultural boundary.


ethnobiology; ethnobotany; Macedonia; Plačkovica Mountain; Yörüks

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