Ritual plant use among Hutsuls in Bukovina and the inhabitants of Roztochya (Western Ukraine)
In total, 64 taxa were used by interviewees for religious purposes. We recorded 58 plant taxa belonging to 36 families in Roztochya and 26 plant taxa belonging to 22 families in Bukovina that were used in ten religious celebrations (Table 3). We documented 118 DUR of plants in Bukovina and 238 DUR of plants in Roztochya. Our data show that wild plants were used more than cultivated species in rituals; however, the situation was not the same in the two regions. In both areas, locals used two more wild taxa than cultivated ones.
More than 50% of respondents in Roztochya also mentioned hay as a table decoration for Christmas dinner. Another 30% in Roztochya and 23% in Bukovina only named green herbs for blessing ceremonies, not wanting to discuss further the specific taxa used. The respondents mentioned general bouquets without specifying any names, simply saying “herbs,” “any herbs,” and “just beautiful green herbs.” Some respondents highlighted that they should be “medicinal herbs.”
Salix spp. was the most used taxon, being named by 68% of Hutsuls and 81% of interviewees in Roztochya. In Roztochya, Armoracia rusticana (75%), Allium sativum (62%), Papaver spp. (75%), Triticum aestivum (68%), Malus domestica (75%), and Pyrus spp. (60%) were named by a majority of interviewees. Vinca minor was named by 50% of interviewees in Roztochya, and also shown by the historical data to be the most used taxa in Western Ukraine (17). Sedum acre and Prunus domestica were used by 37% and 56% of interviewees, respectively. One third of the interviewees in Roztochya named Vitis vinifera, Asarum europaeum, Allium cepa, Tilia spp., and Rosa spp., including Rosa rugosa, as used in various celebrations. Twenty-five percent of interviewees used Dianthus spp., Mentha spp., Leucanthemum spp., Fragaria vesca, and Acorus calamus.
Hutsul interviewees named the following taxa: Armoracia rusticana (62%), Papaver spp. (36%), Malus domestica (35%), Allium sativum (29%), Vitis vinifera (16%), Betula spp. (16%), and Hypericum perforatum and Acer spp. (more than 13%).
Comparing the use of plants in rituals and celebrations, 22 taxa were used in both study areas (Figure 3).
In addition to Salix spp., the most used taxa common to both communities were Armoracia rusticana, Papaver spp., Malus domestica, Allium sativum, Vitis vinifera, Betula spp., indicating the dominance of cultivated taxa. In addition to a comparison of all data, we compared only those taxa that were named by more than 10% of interviewees in order to harmonize the data (Figure 4).
Are the uses the same? Similarities and differences in ritual plant use
We recorded 32 wild plant taxa, 2 semi-cultivated plant taxa and 24 cultivated plant taxa used in the two Ukrainian study areas (Table 35). In Roztochya, wild plant taxa dominated with 22 used taxa, followed by 20 cultivated taxa, and only two semi-cultivated taxa. In comparison, Bukovinian Hutsuls named 16 wild taxa, 14 cultivated taxa and one semi-cultivated taxon. Thus, in both areas wild taxa predominated, but cultivated taxa were also quite important.
The Jaccard similarity index for the use of plants for ritual purposes was 34.38, which indicates that the uses are quite different between the two regional groups.
The distribution of the number of taxa used for holidays (Figure 5) clearly shows that the summer-based holidays are the richest in terms of taxa used in both study areas. In both areas, interviewees reported the most taxa used for celebration of the Apple Feast of the Saviour and Makoviya. In the Roztochya area, the Corpus Christi and Pentecost holidays were also rich with 15 and 14 plant taxa used, respectively. In comparison, in Bukovina, Hutsuls reported only six taxa used for Pentecost. The winter holidays, like Christmas, were much less represented with plant uses.
Among the most used taxa (Figure 6), Salix spp. and Armoracia rusticana are predominant in both study areas. Seven taxa were equally popular and named in both areas.
The use of ritual plants in the religious calendar
On the basis of the interviews, we recorded 7 holidays that incorporated plants used in rituals; these were mainly Christian holidays, but some celebrations have pagan roots (e.g. Kupala).
In having the same calendar, but not having the same rituals described by the official church, there were two main differences in the celebrations named by interviewees: in Roztochya bouquets of various herbs were blessed on Pentecost (May-June) while in Bukovina bouquets were blessed on St. John’s Day (July 7th); and wreaths were blessed on Corpus Christi (June) in Roztochya whereas in Bukovina there was no such practice (Figure 7).
Comparison of our results with the historical data from Bukovina (13) revealed the disappearance of the celebration of two holidays with plants incorporated into their rituals, including the celebration of St. George’s Day with the burning of herbs and the decoration of gates with grass and herbs to protect against witches. The Fischer data showed that in the Roztochya region locals used plant bouquets for blessing on the Assumption of Mary (August 28th). While such a practice is still widespread in Poland (7), a single interviewee from Roztochya mentioned the blessing of bouquets on Assumption Day in the Ivano-Frankivsk region of Ukraine.
Christmas – Різдво – [Rizdvo] – 7th of January, celebrating the birth of Jesus (Orthodox and Greek Catholic)
Historically, for the celebration of Christmas, Christmas trees were decorated or bouquets designed and arranged. The ‘diduh’ was a bouquet of wheat which was supposed to be harvested in your own field in August and kept until Christmas. Nowadays, the respondents buy ‘diduh’ at the market, or they have started to abandon this tradition. The historical data mentions the use of ‘diduh’ as a symbol of wealth and a good harvest that has pre-Christian roots (14,32,41).
In both study areas, the dining table for the Holy Supper (traditional Lenten meal on Christmas Eve) is decorated with dried hay, then garlic gloves, walnuts, and poppy seeds, and then a white tablecloth. “We cook 12 dishes for Christmas Eve, and we decorate the table with hay,” explained a retired Hutsul woman. The Christmas tree was rarely mentioned (only one interviewee in each region named it).
Palm Sunday – Willow Sunday – Вербна Неділя, Бичкова Неділя [Verbna Nedilia, Bychkova Nedilia] – one week before Easter, celebrating when Jesus entered Jerusalem
Salix spp. branches were used equally in both areas as the main taxon for Palm or Willow Sunday; names that derive from the use of Salix spp. which is referred to as “Вербна неділя” [Verbna nedilia] in Roztochya and “Бичкова неділя” [Bychkova nedilia] in the Hutsul dialect in Bukovina. In some churches, the priest or the priest’s assistant was responsible for harvesting a large amount of Salix spp. branches for the people that would come to church, and each would get a branch of Salix; this custom was widespread among the Bukovinian interviewees. “We take a willow branch and go to Romania to have it blessed,” explained a Hutsul woman born in 1969, as the nearest church was across the border in Romania. Salix spp. decorated with ribbon was only popular among Hutsuls – “They bless willow in church, we get it there, the priest gives it to everyone,” explained a female Hutsul interviewee born in 1942, while in Roztochya a variety of dried herbs were used. Some interviewees in Roztochya named Buxus sempervirens as a decoration for Salix spp. bouquets, as well as spring forest flowers, e.g. Anemone nemorosa and Primula veris. In our case studies, the saying “Not me, but the willow tree, is beating you because in one week Easter is coming,” can be explained by the fact that the willow protects against evil and aids in “beating out the devil.” The willow tree has a double meaning in Ukrainian folk beliefs with evil being present in old trees and providing protection against evil when the tree is young (11). According to Hutsul folk beliefs, when Jesus was met by children, they welcomed Him with willow branches and for that reason this custom was kept, as documented by Kaindl (13). The historical data confirmed the use of “bychka” [Salix spp.] for blessing on Willow Sunday in Bukovina as early as 120 years ago (13). Surprisingly, the Fischer dataset has no record of Salix spp.
Easter – Паска, Великдень – [Paska, Velykden] – the time of celebration changes, first Sunday following the first new moon after the spring equinox, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus (April-May)
An essential practice on Easter, which was mentioned in both communities, was to have priests bless baskets containing different foods: meat, a special Easter bread called Paska [Паска], painted eggs, cheese and butter, sausages, and smoked meat. Hutsul interviewees explained that it is “obligatory” to have their food blessed on Easter. They decorated baskets with young garlic leaves and horseradish roots with young green aerial parts. In Roztochya, baskets for Easter were decorated with Buxus sempervirens as well as all “spring flowers”. The aerial parts of garlic were named as obligatory in Bukovina, but not in Roztochya. Horseradish roots were named in both study areas as an important component in Easter celebrations both as a ritual food (beetroot salad with horseradish) and for ritual decorations. It was explained that blessed horseradish was used with eggs and in seasoning meat. The historical data shows the blessing of food for Easter in both areas, naming colored eggs called “писанки” or “pysanky” as obligatory. A female Hutsul interviewee, born in 1969, highlighted that “Here people don’t paint pysanka anymore; only elders know how to do it; when they all pass away, no one will know this practice.”
The historical data demonstrate rather strong resilience of the food blessing practice on Easter by Hutsuls (13,14) and in the Lviv region (32), with Armoracia rusticana as one of the requisite products for blessing throughout the 20th century. Recent ethnographical studies in the Chernivci region also reveal the use of Armoracia rusticana and Allium sativum for the Easter blessing (62).
Pentecost – Green Sunday –Трійця - Зелені свята [Triitsia-Zeleni sviata] – 50th day after Easter, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles (May- June)
The local name of Pentecost is “Zeleni Svyata” [зелені свята] or Green Holiday, because everything is so green and beautiful (23). According to our field data, in both regions, the tradition of decorating houses with young branches on Pentecost has never been interrupted. During the lifetime of our interviewees, in both Roztochya and Bukovina, houses, stables, and gates were still decorated with branches or the whole young tree of Betula spp., Tilia spp., and Acer spp. (Figure 2 D). Bouquets of different forest plants were blessed during this feast. Yards and churches were often decorated with young Betula spp. trees (Figure 8).
Kaindl (13) mentioned the decoration of yards and churches in Bukovina. The historical data reveal the decoration of churches, yards, and houses with tree branches in both areas (23,63). Voropai (31) and Kylymnyk (32) explained that Pentecostal blessing of herbs has pagan roots. The name of the holiday in Ukrainian, Green Holiday, derives from a pre-Christian celebration of trees and nature. Quercus and Tilia trees have been considered to have been incorporated into celebrations and rituals during pre-Christian times (57).
Yards, roads, gates, and fences are decorated with the aerial parts of Acorus calamus, and before Pentecost they are sold in markets everywhere (Figure 2C). The interviewees could not explain the significance of many decorations and used expressions like “my grandmom used to do so,” and “it is because the spring is green, everything is green, and so we decorate yards. The holiday is called ‘Green Holiday’” (woman, born in 1965, Roztochya). A Hutsul woman, born in 1960, explained that she used the “yellow bog plant called ‘zovti slipaky’” [probably Acorus calamus, but she could not provide a more specific description nor a voucher specimen, or Iris pseudacorus, which has very similar leaves to Acorus calamus] for fence decoration to protect against all evil, which could not enter the yard; this was done for Green Sunday and St. George’s Day. She was the only interviewee who discussed this holiday and the use of this plant; however, the historical data (13) mention this use of Acorus calamus.
The practice of blessing bouquets was exclusive to the Roztochya area. Our Roztochya interviewees stated that they either collect the flowers themselves or buy them from the local market. They named some specific plants, such as Mentha spp., Dianthus spp., Alchemilla vulgaris, and Paeonia spp., but also just mentioned the beautiful and colorful wild and cultivated flowers. According to Hutsul folk beliefs (13,17,61), flower bouquets are considered to have strong medicinal properties and they are used for apotropaic purposes. Our interviewers still remember using plants from Pentecostal bouquets for healing: “In the past people used these bouquets when cows were sick. They knew what herbs should be in the bouquets. Nowadays we use herbs from the garden, like mint and other flowers and herbs.” At the same time, the tradition of using such bouquets for funeral rituals was stronger and still preserved today: “We still use these bouquets for making a pillow for a deceased person; these bouquets are put into the coffin” (woman, born in 1959, Roztochya).
Historically, aromatic herbs (like Mentha spp.) were used to decorate the house and yard to protect against evil forces (31,32). Acorus calamus was used against bad water spirits and this practice is still widely used in Roztochya (Figure 2C). This practice of decorating the house and yard was also observed during Soviet times as it was not forbidden to decorate the home (31). The trees historically used for yard decoration (11,31,61), such as Quercus spp., Tilia spp., and Acer spp., are the same as those used in both areas today. In Bukovina, Hutsuls decorated churches with carpets of herbs (see Figure 2F), which has been described as a historical practice (31). Yards and fences were decorated with the branches of different types of trees (oak, birch, acer, and linden) in both study areas (Figure 2D, 8).
Corpus Christi – Боже тіло [Bozhe tilo] – 60th day after Easter (May-June)
In Roztochya, wreaths made out of a variety of plants were used for blessing on this holiday (Figure 2A). Our interviewees explained that each household must have three wreaths. The obligatory plants included Fragaria spp., Vaccinium spp., and other forest species. Also, one respondent pointed out that “One has to know how to make proper wreaths, so it is better to buy them. My grandmother always made three wreaths, one was made from rozhidnuk [Sedum acre], and two were made from other herbs. Then those wreaths were kept in the house as protection against evil” (woman, born in 1959, Roztochya). “My mom told me that it should be a separate wreath from rozhidnyk [Sedum acre],” highlighted another woman born in 1979. This is in line with the Fischer data, where Sedum acre was named for the Corpus Christi blessing. “All medicinal herbs are used,” explained a woman born in 1963. “The wreath should be near the entrance door for the whole year,” highlighted a woman (born in 1963) from the Roztochya area.
In Bukovina, such wreath blessings were not reported, as Orthodox Christians do not celebrate this holiday. Historically, in the areas around Lviv, this practice was named by Fischer, but it was not observed in Bukovina based on Kaindl (13).
Kupala – St. John’s – Івана Купала- Івана зілльового [Ivana Kupala- Ivana Zillovoho] – 7th of July, Saint John’s Day
In the Bukovina region, herbal bouquets were blessed at Orthodox churches on the 7th of July, yet this was not reported in the Roztochya district. Different forest and meadow plants were used (Figure 2B). The church was decorated with Betula trees and occasionally other plants (Figure 2D). Attention was given to plants that have medicinal properties, as according to interviewees this holiday takes place at the proper time to harvest medicinal plants. “All herbs need to be collected before the Ivana holiday, then blessed, then used as medicine or just kept in the home to protect from all evil. But one should know which herbs to use,” highlighted a Hustul man born in 1980. “All the [medicinal] herbs should be collected before the Ivana holiday, and bathing with those herbs is good,” explained a Hutsul man born in 1950. “We blessed zillya [herbs] on the Ivana Zilliyovogo holiday,” explained a Hutsul woman born in 1942, and “the blessed herbs are given to cattle,” highlighted a middle-aged Hutsul woman. Most of the interviewees referred to this holiday as “Ivana Zillyovogo,” “Kupala” or just “Ivana,” no one called it St. John the Baptist Day. “Starting with this herb, everything needs to be collected before the Ivana holiday, before Ivana all herbs need to be harvested,” explained a Hutsul man born in 1950. The collection of medicinal plants after St. John’s Day was not allowed (32). Remarkably, 23% of respondents mentioned bouquets in general, not specifying any plant taxa, but rather “just beautiful green herbs” for blessing.
According to popular beliefs, which were documented by Kainld (13), gate decoration with herbs was used to protect against witches. Different ‘zillya’ [medicinal herbs] were blessed on this day and later used for medicinal purposes. Kylumnyk (32) and Hilarion (57) suggested that before the advent of Christianity, Ukrainians used to celebrate a number of holidays connected to the seasons of the year and the harvest. They proposed that the Kupala holiday (Купальська ніч) celebrated at midsummer was then incorporated into the Saint John’s Day holiday, but the ritual of herb collection and that medicinal properties of those herbs retained the best qualities left from that time.
The blessing of herbal bouquets was described by Voropay (31) and Kylymnyk (32); however, both of them detailed the pre-Christian roots of this celebration. The specific plant here was St. John’s herb (Hypericum perforatum), which after blessing was used for healing humans and cattle (31,61). In Bukovina, Hypericum perforatum blessed on St. John’s Day was named by 11% of interviewees. The medicinal plant was then stored at home behind an icon of the Saint (31), which is in line with the description of one interviewee.
There has also been discussion, lead by Kononenko (9), that the re-vitalization of the Ivana Kupala holiday could be of Soviet origin, as in the 1960s some calendar holidays and rituals were re-introduced, especially in Central Ukraine, and this could be the case in Bukovina.
The Makoviya or Makaveya – Маковея- Маковія – [Makoveia – Makoviia] – 14th of August, Honey Feast of the Savior
According folk belief, the name Makoviya derives from that of poppy seeds: “mak” in both Ukrainian and Russian. However, church authorities have argued that it is the name of Saint Makkavei and has nothing to do with poppy seeds (Figure 9).
Poppy seeds with garlic gloves and Arthemisia absinthium, as well as different herbs, were named as parts of the baskets for blessing in both study areas. Respondents in Roztochya identified Arthemisia absinthium and Cirsium spp. as the main herbs for this holiday. Honey was also named as a product to be blessed. A Hutsul woman born in 1965 said, “We bless honey and poppy seeds on Makoviya.” The blessed herbs from the bouquets were used for the fumigation of children and cattle explained a middle-aged woman from the Roztochya area. Most of the interviewees declared that both Makoviya and the Transfiguration (see below) were the fruit blessing holidays, and baskets were often blessed on a single day (as there are only five days between these holidays).
Historical sources describe the blessing of honey, water and poppy seeds on this holiday, which is referred to as “First Savior – Першого Спаса [Pershogo Spasa].” Calendula officinalis, Tagetes paluta, and Ocimum basilicum were among the herbs documented by Voropay (31).
Apple Feast of the Savior – Яблучний Спас – Спаса [Yabluchnyi Spas – Spasa] – 19th of August, celebrating the Feast of the Transfiguration
Garden fruits as well as poppy seeds and garlic gloves are used for blessing in both study areas. Apples are considered the main fruits of the holiday. The flowers of Tagetes spp. were used for the decoration of fruit baskets. Our interviewees explained that in the past only fruit from home gardens were used, but nowadays purchased fruit is also included: “Nowadays even oranges are blessed.” The baskets with fruits as well as bouquets with fruits and herbs were named as equally important for blessing on this holiday (Figure 2E). “We bless poppy seeds and herbs and honey and grapes and apples on the Transfiguration holiday,” highlighted a Hutsul woman born in 1965.
In Bukovina, Kaindl (13) explained that Hutsuls did not eat fruit from their own gardens before this holiday. Only after the fruits were blessed in church on Transfiguration Day were Hutsuls permitted to consume them. A Hutsul woman, born in 1984, explained that now also apples can only be eaten after they are blessed on the Feast of the Transfiguration: “Before the Spasa holiday one cannot eat apples. Apples and honey are blessed on that holiday.”
Overlap of current ritual plants with historical sources
The list of plants used in ceremonies and rituals recorded by Adam Fischer in the 1930s, in the territory of Western Ukraine, contained 85 taxa (17), which is 28 more than were identify in the current study; so we can assume that the diversity of uses today has changed compare to 100 years ago, and one of the factors that influenced the decrease in the variety of taxa used was the prohibition period. But according field results, some traditions were not interrupted. The diversity of past and present uses of plant taxa is shown in Figure 10. The data provided by Kujawska (17) that Vinca minor was the most used taxon for hair decoration by brides is in line with the statement of a retired female interviewee in Roztochya: “In the past every bride had a wreath with barvinok [Vinca minor], but nowadays this custom is gone.” Blessed herbs were burned during storms, against thunder, which is also consistent with the explanation regarding the importance of blessed herbs today given by interviewees from both Bukovina and Roztochya. Out of a combined 64 taxa used in Roztochya and Bukovina, only 18 taxa were shared with the dataset of 85 taxa used in the rituals documented by Fischer (17) (Figure 10). Among the abundant plants which are no longer used are cultivars that were grown as decorative plants (Phlox spp., Ruta graveolens L., Helianthus annuus L., Helianthus tuberosus L., Myrtus communis L., Nigella damascena L., Calendula officinalis L., Malva sylvestris L.), aromatic plants (Salvia officinalis L., Origanum vulgare L. Carum carvi L.), and ruderal plants (Amaranthus hybridus, Plantago media, Urtica spp.). However, the use of Origanum vulgare and Calendula officinalis were witnessed at church blessing ceremonies during participatory observation, but were not named by interviewees.
Eight taxa were commonly used in Roztochya and Bukovina and also listed in the Fischer dataset as plants used in rituals. Those taxa are equally distributed among cultivated (Malus domestica, Triticum aestivum, Papaver spp., Allium sativum) and wild plants (Achillea millefolium, Matricaria chamomilla, Thymus spp., Tilia spp.) (Figure 10).
The decoration of yards for Willow Sunday and Pentecost are the same, but in Bukovina the decoration of houses and gates takes place on St. John’s Day (Figure 11), while in Roztochya wreaths blessed on Corpus Christi are put close to entrance doors for apotropaic purposes. Only Salix branches are blessed in Bukovina while in Roztochya a whole bouquet of willows is used. The study by Piotr Köhler (64) on sepulchral plants and plants blessed in the 19th century from the Rostafiński questionnaire also documented one use of Salix spp. for Easter celebrations (but not for Palm Sunday). The blessing of medicinal herbs takes place on St. John’s Day in Bukovina, while in Roztochya it is bouquets on Pentecost. Fruits in both areas are blessed on the Transfiguration holiday (Figure 11). For the Roztochya territory, the study by Kujawska (65), based on the study by Moszyński (1929), described the use of plants for the decoration of house roofs with an apotropaic purpose, but the holiday has changed as in the 1930s they were used on St. John’s Day, while today they are used on Pentecost.
The dominant color in all three datasets was green, followed by yellow and white in Roztochya and in the past, and white and purple in Bukovina (Figure 12). Nowadays, in both areas, the color red is used more than in the past. The inhabitants of Roztochya mentioned the use of the color blue, and likewise it was used in the past, but it is not used in Bukovina.
In the past, wild plants dominated with 67 used taxa, compare to just 22 taxa in Roztochya and 16 taxa in Bukovina. Cultivated plants in the Fischer dataset were represented by 27 taxa, while 20 taxa were used by the inhabitants of Roztochya and 14 taxa were used by Bukovinian Hutsuls. Semi-cultivated plants were represented by two used taxa in Roztochya, and one taxon both in Bukovina and in the past.\
Possible drivers of the selection and use of ritual plants
From our research, it appears that changes in plant use hinge on a plurality of interconnected factors. First of all, the selection of a plant is linked to the dominant aesthetic of the time. The choice of “only beautiful herbs”, as the informants often explained, should be framed within the religious meaning of the ritual itself and the implicit use of flowers as symbols of the festival and the offering within the festival. In this respect, the aesthetic choice is understood as an expression of a devotional act.
However, as Bourdieu (66) points out, taste is affected by sociocultural factors and changes over time in relationship to the actual interaction among different groups in a society. Thus, the change should be read, first of all, as the combined effect of the application of traditional knowledge passed on over generations (“My grandmother told me to use those herbs” was a recurrent motive in the interviews), in a context of transformation of ethnobotanical practice marked by the introduction of more cultivated plants. Figure 13 shows that the use of wild taxa was more prevalent in the past compared to that of today in both study areas. Over generations, this change affects aesthetic criteria and can explain the fact that nowadays people tend to use cultivated taxa and spend less time collecting wild plants. As one of the interviewees from Roztochya claimed “we have become lazier, we don’t collect wild herbs anymore”.
In parallel with this, we can also observe how interviewees had a preference for medical plants. This particular choice expresses a form of associative thinking that is widely attested to in European folklore (8,67,68). In particular, the choice is based on a sympathetic relationship between the beneficial effects of the plants and the redeeming message of the Christian rituals.