Plants have always been important in human life as food, fiber, tools, etc. but also have been used as medicine and during rituals. In the Mediterranean area, meeting point of three continents, many cultures have interact for millennia, being bound by the same history stream. Recently, the important role of plants in culture has been recognized during the General Conference of UNESCO in 2003. Knowledge and practices concerning nature (and plants as well) have been defined as “Intangible Cultural Heritage” and “a mainspring of cultural diversity and a guarantee of sustainable development”. Howerer, despite this awareness, the spreading globalization process is a concrete threat both to biodiversity and traditional ethnobotanical knowledge. Today, the preservation of this knowledge is more urgent than ever as it is disappearing in many places, and this trend is even more evident in, but not limited to, younger generations. Nevertheless, in many Mediterranean countries, especially in remote areas, as rural and mountainous sites, people still use many wild plants in everyday life and in different ways. To analyze the differences and similarities in traditional uses of native plants, a wide bibliography and data obtained through field researches were screened. Many plants have common uses, well descibed in the ancient Greek, Latin and Arabian liturature, as food, medicine and in religious practices and as an evidence of the old relationships among cultures in the Mediterranean area. Some examples are reported to demonstrate this statement. The olive oil (Olea europaea L.), the sacred symbol of the cycle of life, (which was also sacred to Athena) has been used in ceremonies and rituals in the Jewish and Christian religions for millennia. Many plants with common uses have an old medicinal tradition in the Mediterranean area: Salvia officinalis L. is used to threat respiratory disorders in Albania, Italy, and Spain, Rosmarinus officinalis L. is used to heal sore throats, bronchitis, and digestive/intestinal problems in Italy and Spain. The use of Laurus nobilis L. as aromatic and digestive is, in common among Italy, Cyprus and Syria. However, the different ways in which people use plants are complex and dynamic and ethnobotanical researches continue to detect new or very rare plant uses, even in very well-known medicinal plants. The concept of a common cultural heritage in the Mediterranean ethnobotany and folk knowledge is true but we also have a very variegate and composite Mediterranean culture, which is the product of a complex system of exchanges and relationships which have lasted for millennia. Shared traditions and cultural diversity are both important in enriching the cultural heritage of the Mediterranean basin, and both worth to be protected. Finally, it is worth to mention that Ethnobotany is used as a tool for biodiversity conservation in many international projects and national actions as a sustainable livelihood is often based on traditional practices, thus folk culture. Hence, the preservation of this knowledge is necessary as it is a cultural heritage, because part of the culture of a place and of people, and because it could be used to find sustainable solution to economically exploit a natural resources increasing the incomes of local populations.
Plants, history and cultures in the Mediterranean area / Savo, I; Caneva, G; Camarda, Ignazio. - 1:(2010), pp. 285-290. ((Intervento presentato al convegno Science and Technology for the Safeguard of Cultural Heritage of the Mediterranean Basin tenutosi a Cairo nel 06 December - 08 December.