Ethnobotany - Major use Categories - 1
Human food/ diet
Food is not only necessary for phsical survival but also vital in constructing cultures. The realization of the interaction between plants and people as a part of a long term cultural construction can be very important for archaeologists (Gosden1999:1). Anthropologists began to study about food particularly after mid1960s, following the works of Lévi-Strauss (English translations e.g.1970), and tried to understand food as a cultural system. They recognized the taste is culturally shaped and socially controlled, and treated as analogoues to language (Caplan 1997). Historical changes and political economy also taken into account in later studies, but the significance of food remained untouched. These studies also indicated that potentially edible items ignored in many cultures. While food remains has long been studied by archaeologists, there is now a growing awareness of the value of studying the social context of food (Gosden 1999; Hastorf 1991; Palmer and van der Veen 2002; van der Veen 2003). Archaeobotanists have traditionally focused on the reconstruction of agricultural practices and the production of food, relying mostly on the habitat and physical properties of plants (Palmer and van der Veen 2002: 195). Some ethnographical and anthropological observations covers areas that interest archaeobotanists, and ethnographical analogies have been used both by archaeologists and archaeobotanists, but usually they do not include necessary details related to plants (such as no identifications of edible wild/weed plants) and their socio-economic meanings.
Since our divergence from apes, humans have been hunter gatherers for 350.000 generations, and mostly agriculturalists for some 600 generations (Pretty 2007:5). Pretty accepts the dates of 7 million years before present (BP) for human divergence from apes, 12.000 BP for the start of agriculture and 20 years for the average generation length. This fact indicates that peoples in every part of the world discovered a wide range of edible plants, dependent on them for such a long time, and this way of subsistence, namely gathering was successful way for many cultures. Indeed biologically all animal kingdom, including humans, were dependent on plants, but people were not only eat them to fill their stomach, and fulfill their basic needs, but they selected, dried, cooked, fermented, stored, seeded, tolerated, burnt or replaced some plants, thus changed their environment, created cultural traditions around the plants and animals that they were in relation. In some early literature on the origins of agriculture the mode of hunting-gathering were treated as a backward, and particularly unproductive, parasitic way of life, and phrases such as ‘the emergence of agriculture’ was quite common (Binford 2002: 198). This view of ‘progress’, evolution to some inevitable end point challenged with many ethnographic and ethnoarchaeological work (Harris and Hillman 1989; Lee 1965; Turner 2005).
Plants for food, including cereals, pulses, vegetables, spices and fruit are the largest group within the cultivars. Ethnobotanical studies indicate that the number of domestic plants cultivated by the contemporary farmers is astonishingly limited. In any area, domesticates hardly exceeds 70, including not only food, but also fuel, fodder, fiber, building, dye and medicinal cultivars (Ertug 2000a). Even today many people enlarge, diversify, add taste, color and nutrition into their diets by wild plants, e.g. greens, mushrooms and fruits. In rural areas the gathering of wild greens, mushrooms, herbs and fruits are very important part of the diet both today as well as in the past (e.g. Ertug 2000a; Mears and Hillman 2008; Pieroni 1999; Price and Ogle 2008).
The cereals are plants in the grass family, the Poaceae (previously named as Graminae), whose members produce edible and nutritious seeds, the grains (McGee 2004: 453). As they produce most durable and concentrated foods they become our main staples, particularly for bread and beer and they have a special role in our diet and cousine. But only recently, toward the end of 20th century, we came to realize that seeds offer us more than just starch and protein, hundred and thousands of chemicals are concentrated in the outer protective and active layers of the seed, which we clean off to produce refined grains (McGee 2004:455).
- It is often assumed that wild grasses were as important for hunter gatherers as domesticated cereals were for early farmers, but archaeobotanical and ethnographical evidence instead suggests that hunter-gatherers took an opportunistic approach to the resources available and their subsistence strategies were not necessarily centred on grasses and ‘wild cereals’ (Savard et al 2006). However, cereals became one of the major staple throughout the world as they can be stored for long periods and provides basic starch and proteins.
- Of the approximately 10.000 species of grass, perhaps 50 are cultivated and only 12 are qualified as major crops (Evers and Nesbitt 2006). Major cereals for human diet which now cultivated internationally are limited to a few species, such as wheat (Triticum spp.), rice (Oryza spp.) and corn (Zea spp.). Oats (Avena spp.), rye (Secale spp.) and particularly barley (Hordeum spp.) which was once considered as human food, now has a quite limited role in the human diet, basically cultivated for fodder.
- Various other cultivars also play minor roles in limited areas such as sorghum (Sorghum spp.), amaranth, millet (Pennisetum spp.) and buckwheat. For example some 50 species of grasses are extensively harvested in the Americas yet only six have been domesticated (Wickens 2001: 171). Particularly three species, maize, rice and wheat, accounted for %85 of the world's cereals in 2001 (Evers and Nesbitt 2006).
- Hard wheat and bread wheat have different ecological requirements. Durum wheats are well adapted to the Mediterranean-type climate with mild, rainy winters and warm, dry summers. Aestivum wheats, on the other hand, are more adapted to extreme continental conditions and to sub-humid temperate climates (Zohary and Hopf 2004).
- The rice (genus Oryza) contains ca. 20 species distributed through the tropical and subtropical regions of both hemispheres, growing in humid forests and open swamps (Wickens 2001: 159).
- While the farmers of the Europe and Western Asia were providing their bread preferably out of wheat, farmers of southern and eastern Asia use rice as their main staples, and the farmers of Americas depend on corn (or maize) as their main crop. Maize is not only valuable source of starch but also has a higher oil content than most other cereals, and also extensively grown as fodder crop (Wickens 2001: 162-3). Indeed the grains and stems of all cereals and grasses are important as fodder, and most of the cereal crops has many other uses.
- Almost all cereals needs several stages of after-harvest process, such as separating them from the stems and drying, then further processes of cracking, grinding/milling and baking. In the case of rice, the grain is usually eaten boiled or cooked as pilav after hulling the grain, but can also be grind to flour for rice bread or beer, known as sake. We will explore some of these processing techniques briefly in the next chapter: Clues to archaeobotanists. In this chapter we will cover though shortly various kind of main end-products we produced from grains:
- Flour of wheat, barley, rye as well as corn and rice can be used within many different products, while the bread probably the most important of all. It can also transferred to and eaten as porridges, soups, cakes, pies, pasta, and other food stuffs. Ground products such as flour are rarely detected in archaeological records, however various indirect and some direct evidences available.
- Bread, is a very important staple throughout the world, and has so many different varieties, names according to the cereal it has been made, the way it has been processed, fermented or leavened, the way it has baked, shaped; and has a symbolic value. While we do have some direct early information from other parts of the world, ancient bread remains is still uncommon, often difficult to recognise and little studied (see Samuel 2004 for an overview and further references). While charred as well as desiccated remains (majority of remains from ancient Egypt) of ancient breads were found and studied, waterlogging does not allow processed cereal foods like bread to survive (Samuel 2004). We do not know how and when the bread became main staple in various societies, but we know for example about 200 bread varieties listed in the cuneiform tablets of Mesopotamia, early 2nd millennium BC (Bottéro 2004: 22). These breads differ according to the flour type, the kneading, the additives, the flavors, the cooking methods as well as the presentations.
- Consumption of bread in which the grain has been hand ground and, therefore, not always completely refined, has been shown to affect the dentition severely (Molleson 1994). These dental records and indirect evidences such as ovens, tandurs and shaping pots of bread, as well as the starch residue analysis may provide further direct evidences related to the prehistoric bread. Further, we can find perfect wooden models of bakery-brewery shops from 12th dynasty tomb in Thebes, Egypt (Curtis 2001:Pl.7). They provide us actual images of women grinding grain on a raised quern and they prepare different shaped loaves of bread, which actual bread remains also found in tombs.
- Ethnographic analogies not only provides the various techniques to handle the grains, ways of processes and end-products, they also provide clues about the cultural settings, meanings of bread and other grain based products. For example wheat bread is a higher-ranked food than barley bread in the Near East for many centuries. Bread was and still meant ‘the food’ throughout the Near East (Ertug-Yaras 1997; Palmer 2002). The bread occupies the primary place above all foods in many cultures, and it is the essential part of all meals, and snacks. In Anatolia, a piece of bread is never thrown away, except given to animals; when it is seen on the ground, it has picked up and put on a higher place, such as a top of a wall, because it is sacred, 'sent or given by the God'. Wheat and bread has symbolic values, that appears at every stage of ceremonies throughout the life. In weddings the wheat thrown over the head of the bride as a symbol of fertility, when the first teeths of a baby is seen, the family boils some wheat and invite the relatives and neighbors. After the death, a meal is given, called ‘ölü Ekmegi’ (deads bread). Several types of wheat bread, leavened or non-leavened, some with additions of barley flour or rye has produced for different occasions (Ertug-Yaras 1997).
- Another basic staple made with wheat is called bulgur in Anatolia and the Near East and in Tunisia, but not in Iran, nor in Egypt (Sigault 1988:5). It is further named according to different particle size, which used in different recepies. In general they produced by parboiling the wheat and after dried and dehusked in mortars or mills, it has cracked/ground in hand-mills. Bulgur is used as rice and cooked as pilav, added to soups, used in stuffed vegetables, and added to almost all vegetable meals. Archaeological recognition of cracked wheat (bulgur) is a recent issue among archaeobotanists (Sarpaki 2001; Valamoti 2007). Due to the excellent preservation in the Late Bronze Age site in Akrotiri (Thera, Greece), flour, bulgur and some processed legumes have been detected, further the awn fragments retained in the flour indicated the barley flour were much more common than the wheat flour, fourty-five samples of barley and only three of wheat (Sarpaki 2001:34).
- Firik or frika is roasted wheat, harvested when not fully ripen, is also highly valued in some areas of the Near East (Hillman 1985, Palmer 2002). It is eaten as a snack or can be cooked as rice, 'pilav'. In Anatolia kavut or kavurga is also valued form of wheat, washed, roasted then coarsely grinded, and eaten as snack or cooked with milk. These roasted forms are also good for long term storage.
- Beer making was another important use for cereals, usually made with barley. When the grain soaked in water, grain itself supplied the enzyme to ferment (McGee 2004: 740). There are clear evidence that wheat and barley beers brewed in Egypt, Babylon, and Sumeria by the third millenium BC. Not only vats and related pottery, but stels, reliefs of brewing and drinking beer provide clear images from Egypt (Curtis 2001: Pl. 11, 12). But using of hops (Humulus lupulus) to add taste to beer, start around 900 AD in Bavaria (McGee 2004: 741).
Legumes are second only to the cereals in importance for food, but some substances in many edible legumes limits their overall reputation, and in some areas they are regarded as non-prestigious foods, such as in both the New World and Africa south of the Sahara (Wickens 2001:180-81). In the Near East and throughout the Mediterranean basin they are among the earliest plants contributed to human diet in their wild form, and they are among the early domesticates. Pea (Pisum sativum), lentil (Lens culinaris), chickpea (Cicer arietinum), chickling vetch (Lathyrus sativus), flat-podded vetchling (Lathyrus cicera), horsebean (Vicia faba) were among the earliest cultivars in the Near East, Anatolia and the Levant. Pulses, whether wild or domesticated generally collected easily, does not need any tool, and ripen earlier than cereals, and most of them can be eaten before ripened, when they are in green. Some immature fruits may contain lower protein but are relatively richer in vitamins and soluble carbohydrates, so many pea and bean varieties can be used as fresh vegetables (Wickens 2001:180). In their half- mature stage, pulses, especially chickpea, garden-pea and horse bean may be roasted and eaten, while dried pulses need more preparation, such as soaking (Kislev and Bar-Yosef 1988: 176; ). Some toxic legumes, such as horsebean can not be eaten by individuals with hereditary glucose-6 phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency, known as Favizm (ibid:176). Another legume, some species of Lathyrus produce edible seeds in very poor soils, but when consumed in high quantities it can create paralysis in legs, which is known as Lathyrizm. The soaking and boiling of seeds of these varieties as well as Lupin is a well known detoxification method.
Fruits / nuts
Botanically a fruit may be defined as the structure that develops from the ovary wall (pericarp) as the enclosed seed or seeds mature, and it can be succulent (e.g. berries) or dry (e.g.nut), simple or compound, true or false (e.g. the apple-the swallow receptacle is eaten) (Wickens 2001:175-6). Some botanical fruits can be considered as vegetables (e.g. aubergines, cucumbers, gourds, tomatoes) and some others like beans considered as legumes. Here we will use these daily accepted terminology of diet, not the botanical meaning. Another description of the fruits is 'they are parts that the plant creats in order to attract animals to eat them and disperse the seeds within them' (McGee 2004:350). So they are usually contains sugars and acids, has pleasing aromas, and eye-catching colors.
- Common fruits of temperate climates are apples, pears and quinces (all belongs to Rosaceae family) and they usually keep well when stored. Stone fruits belongs to genus Prunus in the same rose family, and include apricot, cherry, peach and plums, and they can be dried or stored in the forms of jam, jelly, etc. Berries including grapes, are usually small fruits borne on bushes and low plants, not trees (McGee 2004:360), except of grapes most are not cultivated, but widely collected. Warm climate fruits includes melon and citrus plants as well as date, fig, and cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica). Tropical fruits like banana, pineapple and mango were limited to specific areas until a century ago and they were luxuries (McGee 2004:378).
- Some of these fruits and nuts can be considered staple agricultural products particularly in the Mediterranean basin, and the first fruit trees seem to have been brought into cultivation in the Near East, yet relatively later than the cereal crops, c. 4th millenium BC (Zohary and Hopf 2000:142). Olive, grape vine, sycamore fig, date palm, pomegranate and the fig were the first fruit trees cultivated in the Old World.
- As most fruits contains alcohol, many fruits can be brewed. Various sprits can be produced from figs, pears, dates, berries. The wine from grapes probably among the earliest drinks, and the most popular one.
- Olives are important crop trees of all Mediterranean, and both its fruit and oil are valued. Usually olive trees easier to cultivate than cereals, and the farmers favor of olive cultivation as it brings more cash. The busiest time is during harvest in October-January, when whole families go into the fields to help collecting (Palmer 1999). Olive trees require some tending -weeds have to be removed by ploughing and the trees have to be pruned, but they are considered a long-term investment.
- Acorns of all oaks are potencial edibles if they processed properly. They can be gathered like all other nuts from the ground in the fall, by women and children. They require less process if they are sweet, can be aten like sweet chestnuts, by roasting or by boiling. If there is a need to produce flour, they can be grinded and mixed with cereals to make bread or mash and soup.
- Nuts include the true fruits such as hazelnuts (Corylus), beechnuts (Fagus) and acorns (Quercus), as well as drupes such as walnut (Juglans), almond (Prunus dulcis or Amygdalus communis), and loosely used as any seed or fruit consisting of an edible kernel, surrounded by a hard shell (Wickens 2001: 177-78). They provide valuable proteins, oils, mineral and vitamins. They are quite often found in large quantities in all archaeological contexts due to their shells' higher chance of charring. Not only the shells of nuts, such as almond is frequently find within archaeological contexts, but also acorns are quite commonly found in high quantities from earliest settlements on (Zohary and Hopf 2004; Savard et al 2006).
Vegetables / greens/ tubers
The vegetable is defined here as the edible part of a wild or cultivated plant which is traditionally not classified as a grain, fruit or nut and is eaten either cooked or raw (Wickens 2001: 179). They can be bulbs such as onion (Allium cepa), corms such as taro (Colocasia esculenta), root tubers such as sweet potato (Ipomea batatas), stem tubers such as potato (Solanum tuberosum), swollen taproot such as carrot (Daucus carota), inflorescence such as cauliflower (Brassica oleracea), and leaves such as spinach (Spinacea oleracea). Edible algea and fungi are also treated as vegetables in our diet.
- Vegetables that we cultivate today, although seems numerous compare to other domesticates, are limited to 20-30 (Ertug 2000a). Contrary, the wild “plant-kit” in every area is much higher. When we check the numbers of wild edibles collected in one area it changes from a few to hundreds, according to the peoples’ knowledge rather than the environmental restrictions (see also gathering from wild in next section: Clues to Archaeologists).
- Basic garden vegetables like garlic, onion, leek, cress, mint, lettuce, turnip, rocket, fennel, dill, are not usually found in archaeological records, they are highly perishable. However, the tablet archives from Babylonia provides these and others plant names of royal gardens of the King Marduk, who reigned at Bablylon around 700 BC (Finkel and Seymour 2008: Fig87, p. 110). Some earlier cuneiform tablets from around 1600 BC of Babylonian collection even provides receipts containing onions, leeks, and garlic (Bottéro 2004). In addition to written and visual sources, better preservation conditions of dry climates, e.g. Egypt, provides numerous non-carbonized remains of vegetables and tubers (Zohary and Hopf 2004: 192), as well as waterlogged sites.
- People gathered various tuberous parts, roots and rhizoms from wild for their starch and taste. Tubers of five species and roots of two plants have been recorded as edible in Central Anatolia (Ertug-Yaras 1997), and they are all eaten raw, and except the Crocus, they are not consumed in large quantities. Turner (2005; 2006) explores the gathering and cooking of traditional root vegetables of NW North America, and provide details of gathering, processing and the social aspects.
Oils and vegetable fats are usually produced from the seeds of various plants, while the oils are liquid at 20 C, fats such as cocoa butter which produced from the beans of cacao tree are solid (Wickens 2001:184). Sesame, sunflower, maize, soybean, olive, mustard, popy, and cotton oils as well as palm oils are considered main sources of vegetable oils, and used mainly in cooking and salad oils. They can be used as substitute to animal based fat. Different oils were used in cooking in different parts of the world according to the growing conditions and peoples choices. Olive trees (Olea europaea) are the native of the Mediterranean basin, and the oil produced from fruits are traditionally used in cooking, in soap producing, as lamp oil, and in so many medicinal treatments. Usually the ripened olives are ground into paste using large millstones, then pressed into sacks or baskets, which are stacked on top of each other in a column, then placed into the press. Pressure is then applied onto the column to separate the oil from the paste.
- Flax is the earliest oil and fibre plant of the Near East (Zohary and Hopf 2004). The linseed oil produced from the flax (Linum usitatissimum) and Eruca sativa were widely used in Central Anatolia as a cooking oil; while olive, sesame, cotton, popy, sunflower, hazel, Cephalaria, safflower, and hackberry were the main oils in other parts of Anatolia (Ertug 2000b). Most of these vegetable oils were not useful only in the cusine, but their residues were used as fodder, especially for draft animals such as oxen and buffalo.
- Almost all vegetable oils but particularly olive, sesame and linseed oil were important in medical treatments.
- The seeds of Lallemantia (Lamiaceae) found at Bronze Age sites in northern Greece. At several of these sites, the seeds were found in significant concentrations in storage contexts, suggesting that they were deliberately stored for use by the inhabitants. Oil from the seeds of Lallemantia can be used for a variety of purposes, including food, lighting and medicine. This genus is not native to Greece, the nearest modern occurrences of Lallemantia species being in Anatolia fromwhere they extend further east as far as Iran, or beyond (Jones and Valamoti 2006).
- In Morocco, Argan oil is extracted from kernels of the fruit of an endemic evergreen tree, Argania spinosa (Wickens 2001:184). The fruits are broken and their kernel are grind by the Barber women on small hand mills to produce a heavy oil. In the past, people collect undigested argan pits from the waste of goats which climb the trees to eat their fruit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argan_oil#Extraction_of_the_argan_oil). The oil is used both as cooking oil and in medicine and cosmetics; in addition to the trees other uses such as forage, timber and fuel.
Herbs and spices seems of a minimal interest within the subsistence of humans, however it covers the demand of humans for diversity, for a healthier living, and needs of exploration. For example the desire for spices in Europe during the Middle Ages, from A.D.1000 until 1500s, was considered as the main force for the exploration of trade routes to the Far East and the America and to the later developments of colonisation (Freedman 2008; Dalby 2002). Spices played a very important role not only in culinary and as drugs, but had a significant social roles, such as indicators of material comfort and social prominence. Symbolic links of fragrance to health, sexual powers and sanctity (as anointment oils and incence) was also important. Spices like black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, nutmegs, cloves and saffron were the most common additives to food in medieval Europe, inspite of their expense and hardship to find, and they are still in use by milions of people to add taste into their food and beverages.
- The cinnamon (Cinnamonum zeylanicum and other species; Lauraceae), whose bark is harvested in sheets or quills from the trunks and branches, is one of the ancient tastes, and still highly valued in many cuisines worldwide. It is also known with its medicinal properties.
- The most important new spice, unknown to the ancient world was sugar, which was imported from the East, considered as an exotic, sold in small quantities, and credited with marvelous properties (Freedman 2008:12). Until the cultivation of sugarcane in Spain, Sicily and eastern Mediterranean by the fifteenth century, honey and dried fruits were available as sweetener. In addition to those, edible inner bark of many tree species has been considered as a famine or emergency food, a staple food, a medicinal or health food, and a rare delicacy among different cultures (Turner et al in press). Inner bark of many species, at the right stage and weather conditions, is sweet and good-tasting, and contains high concentrations of sugars and vitamin C (Swetnam 1984).
- In North America, for thousands of years people have been capturing the sweet liquid sap of trees like maple (Acer spp.), birch (Betula spp.), and larch (Larix spp.). Indigenous peoples have learned how to harvest maple sap by tapping into the trunk in the springtime, then concentrating it into a syrup (Munson 1989).
- Another very ancient sweet taste from trees of the Mediterranean and the Near East is manna, which mentioned in the Bible as well as in the Qur’an, as a mysterious food miraculously appearing in the desert to feed the starving Israelites on their way to Canaan. Today, the Bedouins eat a food called ‘Sinai manna’, which is probably a lichen carried on the wind, or possibly resinous sections of vegetables after insect attacks (see Turner etal in press; Baytop 1999 for discussions of manna and its identities). Another kind of food that is called manna, however, is a sweet resin from ash trees (Fraxinus oxycarpa and F. ornus), which was harvested as early as the 16th century in Calabria, Italy, then later, in Sicily, as a sweetener and natural laxative (Turner etal in press).
- Among the beverages, tea and coffee holds a very important place in the last few centuries throughout the world. Tea is produced from the tip leaves and buds of an evergreen tree (Camellia sinensis), which grows mainly in tropical and sub-tropical climates. It is a well known beverage in China for thousands of years, and used as medicine and freshener throughout the SE Asia, then both its use and later its cultivation spread to the world (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea and see http://www.fda.gov/FDAC/features/296_tea.html). Another important beverage, produced from the coffee berries, which contain the coffee bean, are produced by several species of small evergreen bush of the genus Coffea (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffee). It is probably originated from Ethiopia in Africa, known as early as 9th century, and spread much later than tea. It was in Arabia that coffee beans were first roasted and brewed, similar to how it is done today. By the 15th century, it had reached the rest of the Middle East, Persia, Turkey, and northern Africa, then introduced to Western world. Both of these plants have a very important role not only in the world trade but also how they have adopted, and how they percieved by different cultures of the world.
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