The Herbologies/Foraging Networks programme, emerges from the Baltic Sea region, focused in Helsinki (Finland) and Kurzeme region of Latvia, now extends beyond. In a series of events during 2010, it has explored the cultural traditions and knowledge of herbs, edible and medicinal plants, within the contemporary context of online networks, open information-sharing, and biological technologies.
Herbologies refers to the different ways of knowing about plants and their extracts (as well as sometimes fungus and bee products), as wild and cultivated food, medicine and related crafts. Foraging Networks raises awareness of organised behaviours and practices in gathering wild food, potential networked actions in micro to macro ecosystems or socio-political levels. The slash in the project name indicates the uneasily-reduced connection between cultural knowledge, social practice and extended resources in these subjects. Combining with the fields of social/visual arts, craft, cultural heritage, media, network cultures and technology, the programme has placed attention to the different ways of sharing knowledge, especially within the Baltic Sea region and between different generations. Furthermore, it has also been initiated from the position of 'not-knowing', and being an immigrant to a landscape and environmental habitat.
The cultural and experiential knowledge about wild useful plants (for eating and medicinal purposes) found in the southern Finnish and Swedish landscape has changed dramatically over the last two generations. The grand-parents, and many parents of the current generation, knew/know many things about the plants and roots surrounding them in the countryside. They would have regularly picked them for domestic and culinary use, learning from older family members through experiential and oral information sharing. However, with the mass shift of families to city and urban locations, this knowledge is being lost, slipping away from the younger generation, at a time when information and media sharing online is booming. Foraging edible food from the natural environment, for most contemporary Nordics, means mushrooms and berries, not wild herbs, stems and roots.
Across the Baltic Sea, many middle-age and older Latvians (likewise Lithuanians and Estonians) still carry everyday knowledge with them into the woods, meadows, to the coast, forest and fields. However, even there that is becoming less common. The lower cost and ability to buy plant tinctures, oils and other treatments from new post-Soviet shops, have also meant less people are gaining the skills of identification and knowledge about what is in their countryside. There are many published materials in medical or pharmacy books, but very few stories sharing the cultural context – how to gather, how to prepare, how to use, reflections on use and how such knowledge is learned.
Younger people's interest in sustainable food production and environmental awareness appears to be creating a revived interest in local and ecological use of plants, between these different places and beyond. For those in their teens, '20s and '30s, online information, data and social networking sites have also become the main communication and sharing medium. In addition, do-it-yourself/ourselves 'maker' culture has blossomed in recent years thanks to audio-visual culture, and in particular participatory platforms which support digital image or video-sharing. For example, Instructables and Maker Magazine are strongly based on community-created content, with images and videos uploaded to show how to make objects, components, hacks and other adjustments in the physical material world. This trend is also extending to 'grower' and 'forager' sites, which share example recipes and activities. However, the content is often english-language focused, creating linguistic and cultural biases in how to do things, without localisation or context-specific adjustment. Furthermore, when these materials are based on traditional indigenous knowledge, issues are raised about how it should be appropriately published.
How does one attract attention and inter-generational appreciation: With books, interviews, online maps, workshops, mobile-guided tours, open-source information or DNA code? Based in practicalities, Herbologies/Foraging Networks develops a cultural programme of events that shared, in the Baltic context, how to grow individually or together with hydroponics during the dark winter months; and invited artists and designers to go out foraging with wild plant experts, and document countryside traditions from elders in the summer months.
In a similar way that a culture's songs, stories and dances are documented and valued as intangible cultural heritage, we argue that the practices of foraging and 'making' using herbological knowledge are important to document also as cultural traditions of respect: In relation to nature, to promote the ancient, historical and contemporary inter-dependence people have had with herbs, plants and other related natural produce, and to maintain this continuity.
Author/Arranger: Andrew Gryf Paterson (SCO/FI)
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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