Scholarly article on topic 'Comfrey and Buttercup Eaters: Wild Vegetables of the Imereti Region in Western Georgia, Caucasus'

Comfrey and Buttercup Eaters: Wild Vegetables of the Imereti Region in Western Georgia, Caucasus Academic research paper on "Biological sciences"

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Academic research paper on topic "Comfrey and Buttercup Eaters: Wild Vegetables of the Imereti Region in Western Georgia, Caucasus"

Notes on Economic Plants

Comfrey and Buttercup Eaters: Wild Vegetables of the Imereti Region in Western Georgia, Caucasus

Lukasz iuczAj*'1, Boris Tvalodze2, and David Zalkaliani2

department of Botany, Institute of Biotechnology, University of Rzeszow, Werynia 502, 36-100, Kolbuszowa, Poland

2Kutaisi Botanic Garden, #2 Leselidze St., 4600, Kutaisi, Georgia *Corresponding author; e-mail:


The use of wild greens is an important issue in gastronomic ethnobotany as in some parts of the world, wild greens have been widely used to supplement human nutrition (Bharucha and Pretty 2010; Cruz-Garcia and Struik 2015; Johns 1990; Leonti 2012; Serrasolses et al. 2016; Turner et al. 2011). one of the places where the use of wild vegetables has been sparsely documented until recently, in spite of the incredible richness of their use, is the area of the Caucasus. Some uses of wild vegetables in this area are recorded by older Russian and Georgian sources (see for example Grossgejm 1952; Javakhishvili 1986) and a few general ethno-botanical studies were made recently (Bussmann et al. 2014, 2016a, b, 2017a, b; Hovsepyan et al. 2016), whereas Kaliszewska and Kofodziejska-Degorska (2015) studied the use of wild vegetables in Dagestan (North Caucasus, Russian Federation). However, no such studies have been conducted in the Imereti region. We document the use of all the wild greens, which are predominantly used in a dish called gbaq^c—-which according one of the Georgian transliteration rules (Romanization system for Georgian link 2017) is written pkhali (though in some texts it is also written pxali, phkhali, phali, or pchali). This dish is of great importance in the culinary tradition of Georgia, especially its western part, and is eaten almost on a daily basis. Pkhali is also made with cultivated vegetables such as cabbage (Brassica oleracea L.), beetroot (Beta vulgaris L.), or spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.), but the consumption of pkhali made of wild vegetables, so called veluri pkhali (wild pkhali) or mindvris pkhali (field pkhali), is equally common. Pkhali constitutes

the main form ofconsumption ofwild greens in the area and is served as a side dish. The term mkhali, the literary version, is often used as well, while pkhali is its synonym in the local dialects of Imereti, Guria, and Racha (Lomtatidze et al. 1962). As a large number ofspecies are used in the dish, some of them of little known edibility, it is of scientific and economic importance to document the plants used.

Study Site

imereti is a historical region of western Georgia located on the Colchic Plain, sandwiched between the Great and Lesser Caucasus Mountains. The climate is transitional between humid subtropical and warm temperate, with high rainfall throughout the year. imereti is a plain with some low mountains surrounding it. The climate is transitional between humid subtropical and warm temperate, with high rainfall throughout the year (Kordzakhia 1971). The mean August temperature is 29 °C (the hottest month), and in January, it is 8 °C. In this climate, some wild vegetables may be collected virtually all year, as a clear drought period is not apparent. The native vegetation is composed of deciduous forests, and the dominant trees are Quercus robur spp. imeretina (Steven ex Woronow) Menitsky, Zelkova carpinifolia (Pall.) K. Koch, Carpinus betulus L., Castanea sativa L., Alnus glutinosa ssp. barbata (C.A.Mey.) Yalt, Corylus avellana L., Acer cappadocicum Gled., Fagus orientalis Lipsky, Ulmus glabra Huds., Buxus colchica Pojark., and Prunus laurocerasus L. Large tracts of the Caucasian foothills are managed as wood pastures with freely roaming cattle and pigs, and many species of fruit trees are

Economic Botany, 71(2), 2017, pp. 188-193 © The Author(s) 2017. This article is an open access publication

interspersed between deciduous copses and pastures (Nakhutsrishvili 2012; Otte et al. 2011; Zazanashvili et al. 2000). The area is relatively densely populated. The local farmers plant a variety of annual crops, mainly maize, and there are multi-species orchards around each house.

Kutaisi is the largest town in Imereti (196,000 inhabitants) and the third most populated town

in Georgia. It has two large vegetable markets. The one in the center of the city is a retail market including wild vegetables, while the wholesale market is located outside the city center and hosts less wild vegetables. Single wild vegetable stalls may also be encountered in smaller towns, at least occasionally, particularly in Samtredia and Choni.

Table 1. Species of wild plants used in the dish known as pkhali

Latin name Local name in Georgian Local name in Latin transliteration Number of interviews (N=41) sold in the Kutaisi market Voucher specimen number

Urtica dioica L, (Urticaceae) jinch'ari, ch'incli'ari 40 commonly, separately and in mixes WA0000052380

Chenopodium album L. (Amaranthaceae) íjúOTQBiGÜ^ katanatsera, natsarqatama 30 occasionally WA0000052376

Malva sylvestris L. & M. neglecta Wallr. (Malvaceae) moloka 29 commonly, separately and in mixes WA0000052389 (syl), WA0000052422 (neg)

Ornithogalum woronowii Krasch. (Asparagaceae) Bo¿)obm«>3¿, BOÇ?ct>536 chit'istava, chiltava 28 commonly WA0000052404

Smilax excelsa L. (Smilacaceae) ek'ala 26 commonly, separately WA0000052409

Viola alba Besser & V. odorata L. (Violaceae) Ob, ObOÖ ia, iaia 22 commonly WA000005401 (al.), WA0000052404 (od)

Lamium album L. & L. puprureum L. (Lamiaceae) jincharis deda, chinchris deda 19 commonly WA0000052388

Staphylea pinnata L. (Staphyleaceae) * p^cîB^cîçrio jonjoli 19 commonly, separately (salted) WA0000052406

Symphytum grandiflorum DC. (Boraginaceae) kalshava 19 commonly WA0000052379

Sonchus oleraceus L. (Asteraceae) burchkhala 15 commonly WA0000052396

Rumex conglomeratus Murray, R. crispus L. and R. pulcher L. (Polygonaceae) ghvalo 13 commonly WA0000052434 (con), WA0000052423 (cri), WA0000052390 (pul)

Portulaca oleracea L. (Portulacaceae) danduri, msukana 12 occasionally, separately and in mixes WA0000052377

Primula woronowii Losinsk. (Primulaceae) purisula, purusula 12 commonly WA0000052397

Allium spp. (Amaryllidaceae) k'at'ap'rasa 10 occasionally WA0000052307, WA0000052318, WA0000052325

Table 1. (Continued)

Capsella bursa pastoris (L.) Medik. (Brassicaceae) coçogçooô odelia 9 commonly WA0000052413

Melandrium divaricatum Fenzl. (Caryophyllaceae) ö)c>36ob robob t'ik'nis qura, bat'k'niqura, tkhis qura (and similar names meaning sheep or goat ears) 9 occasionally WA0000052416

Ranunculus chius DC, R. georgicus Kem.-Nath. & R. sceleratus L. (Ranunculaceae) jjiorôob ¿0165, 6oàb£)65, Ob katmis kona, niakhura, baia 9 commonly WA0000052411 (chi), WA0000052417 (geo), WA0000052399 (see)

Cardamine hirsuta L. (Brassicaceae) tsitsmat'ura, veluri ts'its'mat'i 8 commonly WA0000052400

Cirsium arvense (L.) Scop. (Asteraceae) k'akhoura, k'akhoura 7 commonly, separately and in mixes WA0000052385

Althaea armeniaca Ten. & Alcea rugosa Alef. (Malvaceae) t'ukht'i 5 no

Ficaria verna Huds. s.l. (Ranunculaceae) Rboj3ob cr>3ù<£>5, Çjjç^ob ôoq^ibo, chkhik'vis tvala, tsTdis balakhi, lobiana, purk'ak'ala 5 commonly WA0000052395

Taraxacum spp. (Asteraceae) babuats'vera 5 occasionally WA0000052381

Foeniculum vulgare L. (Apiaceae) 3¿05 k'ama 4 occasionally WA0000052393

Geranium columbinum L. & G. rotundifolium L. (Geraniaceae) cojjAo&o^oçoà zghvis moloka, okrobecheda 4 occasionally WA0000052420 (co), WA0000052421 (ro)

Rumex acetosa L. (Polygonaceae) 836365 mzhauna 4 commonly, separately, also cultivated WA0000052450

Centaurea ibérica Trevir. ex Spreng. (Asteraceae) hari qbila 4 occasionally WA0000052391

Allium ursinum L. (Amaryllidaceae) ç>56doç™o ghandzili 3 no

Stellaria media L. (Caryophyllaceae) bodzodzua, bots'va, dzialua 3 no WA0000052405

Fragaria vesca L. (Rosaceae) 956^930 marts'qvi 2 no WA0000052398

Robinia pseudoacacia L. (Fabaceae) ** 536(306 ak'atsia 2 no WA0000052386


We carried out 41 single and group interviews among knowledgeable informants (40 women, 13 men), selected mainly through contacts with village leaders and by the snowball technique between

March and June 2016. The informants were usually accompanied by their extended families who commented on the information and supplied specimens. The informants supplied data about wild vegetable use in the following towns and villages: Bagdati, Banoja, Cholebi, Geguti, Gelati, Gumbra,

Table 1. (Continued)

Arum orientale M. Bieb. & A. albispathum Stev. (Araceae) kala k'oda 2 no WA0000052415

Bellis perennis L. (Asteraceae) 9o6ço(ôob 530(00^5 mindris gvirila 1 no WA0000052403

Erigeron canadensis L. (Asteraceae) b&ob khbos shubla 1 no WA0000052384

Lactuca serriola L. (Asteraceae) 1 no WA0000052383

Melissa officinalis L. (Asteraceae) barambo 1 no WA0000052394

Plantago major L. (Plantaginaceae) 96à35<™>âô6e>35 mravaldzargva 1 no WA0000052378

Tilia rubra subsp. caucasica (Rupr.) V. Engl. (syn. Tilia caucasica Rupr.) (Malvaceae) tsatskhvi 1 no WA0000052419

Armoracia rusticana P. Gaertn, B. Mey. & Scherb. (Brassicaceae) b6g6 khren 1 no, mainly cultivated for roots

Cerastium ruder ale M.Bieb. (Caryophyllaceae) 1 no

Clematis vitalba L. (Ranunculaceae) QOftOÓóíÓQSO tsitsibardi 1 no

Humulus lupulus L. (Cannabaceae) shashquta 1 no (but sold in other regions of Georgia)

Lepidium ruderale L. (Brassicaceae) ts'its'mat'ula 1 no

Scilla siberica Haw. (Asparagaceae) 9^3005063^6 mts'vatinela 1 formerly

For most species, young leaves and shoots are used, unless marked by a letter aFlower buds

bFlowers and very young leaf buds

Khoni, Kumistavi, Kutaisi, Maglaki, Meskheti, Mukhiani, Opshkviti, Partskhanakanevi, Rioni, Sakhulia, Samtredia, Simoneti, Sormoni, Tkibuli/ Hresili, Vani, Vartsikhe, Zarati, and Zubi. The age of respondents ranged from 42 to 85 (mean 65, median 66 years). in the interviews, we asked which wild plants were added to the pkhali dish. We also asked interviewees to list other leaves, fruits, roots, or mushrooms used for food or herbal drinks in order to see wild vegetables in the context ofall wild food. However, for this paper, we only list the numbers of species listed in other food categories without specifying the species. Voucher specimens were deposited in the herbarium of the Faculty of Biology, University of Warsaw in Poland (WA). The International Society of Ethnobiology Code of Ethics (2006) was followed (see website link).


On average, respondents mentioned 10.4 species of wild greens per interview (compared to 6.9 species of fruits and 6.3 species of fungi). Altogether, 53 species of wild green vegetables were documented (Table 1). Vegetables for pkhali are boiled for 10 to 30 min, then strained and minced or finely chopped. They are added to crushed or minced walnuts and spiced with vinegar, dill (Anethumgraveolens L.), coriander (Coriandrum sativum L.), pennyroyal (Menthapulegium L.), celery (Apium graveolens L.), and parsley (Petroselinum crispsum (Mill.) (Fuss). Some more abundant wild vegetables are made as single-species dishes, but most species are used in a mix, and there is no general rule as to which species are served single

and which separately. A form of pkhali is also made without walnuts, in which the green mass is spiced by tkemali, a sauce made of green cherry plums (Prunus cerasifera Ehrh. s.l.) and spiced with similar herbs as the classic walnut pkhali. Mixed plants for pkhali are commonly sold in Kutaisi in the main city market, where 5 to 15 sellers may be encountered every day from the beginning of the year until late April, with a few still selling the plants until June.


We recorded five species which are not listed in inventories of wild edible plants (e.g., Hedrick 1919; Tanaka 1976; Kunkel 1984; Plants for a Future 2017), nor are they listed in any ethnobo-tanical literature concerning wild foods. These are Ranunculus chius DC, Ranunculus georgicus Kem.-Nath., Symphytum grandiflorum DC, Geranium columbinum L., and Geranium rotundifolium L. It must be emphasized that the way wild vegetables are consumed in Georgia, i.e., with crushed walnuts, is very unique to this country. It is interesting that many toxic wild vegetables, such as buttercups Ranunculus spp. and comfrey S. grandiflorum, are used and sold in the market of Kutaisi. Raw buttercups contain protoanemonin, (Aslam and Ijaz 2012) which is very pungent, and Symphytum species contain pyrrholizidine (PA) alkaloids (e.g., Rode 2002; Roitman 1981). Prolonged cooking probably removes most of these toxins, but there is a lack of studies focused specifically on the alimentary use of comfrey after longer cooking.


We are very grateful to Mr. Merab Ikoshvili for his translating services for the first author, to Ms. Tsisana Mskhvilidze for contributing her unpublished data on plant use in Kutaisi area as one ofour interviewees, and to all other participants.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

The International Society of Ethnobiology Code of Ethics (2006) was followed (see website link).

Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate

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