Historical Review of Ethnopharmacology in Karelia (1850s-2020s): Herbs and healers

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J Ethnopharmacol. 2021 Sep 5:114565. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2021.114565. Online ahead of print.


ETHNOPHARMACOLOGICAL RELEVANCE: The traditional medicine of various peoples populating Russia is strongly underrepresented in the international anthropological literature. In addition, it has a multicomponent structure, a long history of relations with official medicine, and is still a living system with many people using folk remedies and visiting ritual specialists.

AIM OF THE STUDY: The article is a review of folk medicine in Karelia (north-west part of Russia) providing a short description of the history of medicine in this region and a comparison of folk medicine among Karelians and Russians.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: The review analyzes and systematizes published and unpublished sources related to the main remedies used by the local populations – plants, animal products, minerals, etc. – from the 1850s-2000s, tracking the main tendencies in publications about the folk medicine of Karelians and Russians of Karelia.

RESULTS: A total of 104 medicinal plants belonging to 46 families were mentioned as medicinal. In total, they represented 386 uses which demonstrate the leading role of plant remedies in the folk medicine of Karelia. The plant species with the most uses were Betula sp., Plantago sp., Rubus idaeus, Viburnum opulus, Vaccinium vitis-idaea, and Daphne mezereum. Medicinal uses of other origins had more modest numbers: animal remedies included 146 uses, and mineral ones 43 uses. Among animal-based remedies, physiological discharges of the human body were the most popular; fish oil and bear body parts were the most used from the wild, while from the household various components of cows, horses, and dogs were used. Animal remedies were mostly used for healing furuncles, scrofula, frostbite, hernia, and lanugo. The most diversely used mineral remedy was salt.

CONCLUSIONS: Karelians and Russians are very disproportionally represented in the literature due to the lack of interest in the folk medicine of Russians in Karelia, in contrast to that of Karelians. The disparity does not allow adequate comparison, but nonetheless the available data demonstrate that the remedies shared by both ethnic groups are quite few. The review also contributes to research on the relationship of folk medicine and various state institutions in Russia/the Soviet Union.

PMID:34496265 | DOI:10.1016/j.jep.2021.114565