Folk Knowledge of an Individual Plant Specimen: The Case of the Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis L.) in Virestad Parish, Småland, Sweden

Ingvar Svanberg


Ethnobiological studies of local economic or folk religious uses of plants often rely on the assumption that plant use relates to folk knowledge about specific taxa. However, in some cases, folk knowledge is more about beliefs concerning an individual plant. When Carl Linnaeus traveled in 1749 through his native province of Småland, Sweden, he observed a striking specimen of a royal fern (Osmunda regalis L.), which was being used by a local healer. The appearance and unusually large size of this individual plant specimen were possibly responsible for its use. This species has not been used elsewhere in Sweden and historical data refer only to the single specimen observed by Linnaeus.


healer’s knowledge; historical ethnobiology; intra-cultural diversity; Carl Linnaeus; folk knowledge

Full Text:



Anderson, M. 2000. Sami Children and Traditional Knowledge. In Ecological Knowledge in the North: Studies in Ethnobiology, edited by I. Svanberg and H. Tunón, pp. 55–66. Swedish Science Press, Uppsala.

Blackman, W. S. 1925. Sacred Trees in Modern Egypt. The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 11:56–57.

Brøndegaard, V. J. 1978. Folk og flora: dansk etnobotanik 1. Rosenkilde og Bagger, Copenhagen.

Darwin, T. 1996. The Scots Herbal: The Plant Lore of Scotland. Mercat Press, Edinburgh.

Egenter, N. 1981. The Sacred Trees around Goshonai/Japan. Asian Folklore Studies 40:191–212.

Grieve, M. 1931. A Modern Herbal: The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs & Trees with all their Modern Scientific Uses 2. Harcourt, Brace & Company, New York.

Gunda, B. 1989. A virágzó páfrány. In A rostaforgató asszony, edited by B. Gunda, pp. 71–84. Múzsák Kiadó, Budapest.

Heinrich, M., J. Kufer, M. Leonti and M. Pardo-de-Santayana. 2006. Ethnobotany and Ethnopharmacology: Interdisciplinary Links with the Historical Sciences. Journal of ethnopharmacology 107:157–160. DOI: 10.1016/j.jep.2006.05.035.

Hyltén-Cavallius, G. O. 1863–64. Wärend och Wirdarne 1. F. A. Norstedt & Söner, Stockholm.

Kolosova, V. B. 2005. Name–Text–Ritual: The Role of Plant Characteristics in Slavic Folk Medicine. Folklorica: Journal of the Slavic and East European Folklore Association 10: 44–62.

Lévi-Strauss, C. 1962. La pensée sauvage. Plon, Paris.

Linnaeus C. 1745. Öländska och Gothländska Resa, på Riksens Högloflige Ständers befallning förrättad Åhr 1741. Gottfried Kieselwetter, Stockholm.

Linnaeus C. 1751. Skånska Resa, På Höga Öfwerhetens Befallning Förrättad År 1749. Lars Salvius, Stockholm.

Łuczaj, Ł. 2008. Archival Data on Wild Food Plants used in Poland in 1948. Journal of ethnobiology and ethnobotany 4:4. DOI: 10.1186/1746-4269-4-4.

Molina M., V. Reyes-García and M. Pardo-de-Santayana. 2009. Local Knowledge and Management of the Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis L.) in Northern Spain: Implications for Biodiversity Conservation. American Fern Journal 99: 45–55. DOI: 10.1640/0002-8444-99.1.45.

Myrdal, J. 2009. Source Pluralism and a Package of Methods: Medieval Tending of Livestock as an Example. In Methods and the Medievalist: Current Approaches in Medieval Studies, edited by M. Lamberg, J. Keskiaho, E. Räsänen and O. Timofeeva, pp. 134–154. Cambridge Scholars, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Newkirk, C. N., K. S. Oths, W. W. Dressler, and J. E. Dos Santos. 2009. Intracultural Diversity in Food Knowledge in Southern Brazil. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 48:285–302. DOI: 10.1080/03670240903022304

Pelto, P. J. and G. H. Pelto. 1975. Intra-Cultural Diversity: Some Theoretical Issues. American ethnologist 2:1–18. DOI:10.1525/ae.1975.2.1.02a00010.

Pieroni, A. 2003. Wild Food Plants and Arbëresh Women in Lucania, Southern Italy. In Women and Plants: Gender Relations in Biodiversity Management Concervation, edited by P.L. Howard, pp. 66–82. Zed Books, London.

Reyes-García, V., N. Martí, T. McDade, S. Tanner and V. Vadez. 2007. Concepts and methods in studies measuring individual ethnobotanical knowledge. Journal of Ethnobiology 27: 182–203. DOI: 10.2993/0278-0771(2007)27[182:CAMISM]2.0.CO;2.

Schiöler, S. 1931. Safsan: en vallfart till mor Ingeborg i Mjärhult predikstol. Sveriges natur 22: 41–50.

Sõukand R., R. Kalle and I. Svanberg. 2010. Uninvited Guests: Traditional Insect Repellents in Estonia used against the Clothes Moth Tineola bisselliella, Human Flea Pulex irritans and Bedbug Cimex lectularius. Journal of Insect Science 10: 150. DOI: 10.1673/031.010.14110.

Stearn, W. T. 1994. Linnaeus as an Economic Botanist. Botanical Journal of Scotland 46:702–706.

Svanberg, I., Ł. Łuczaj, M. Pardo-de-Santayana and A. Pieroni. 2011. History and Current Trends of Ethnobiological Research in Europe. In Ethnobiology, edited by E. N. Anderson, D. Pearsall, E. Hunn and N. Turner, pp. 191–212. Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken, NJ.

Sydow, C. W. 1935. Något om träden i folkets tro och sed. In Svenska kulturbilder XI–XII, pp. 227–258. Skoglund, Stockholm.

Sydow, C. W. 1973. Det ovanligas betydelse i tro och sed. In Folkdikt och folktro, edited by A. B. Rooth, pp. 200–214. Gleerups, Lund.

Vickery, R. 1995. A Dictionary of Plant Lore. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Wigström, E. 1896. Växtlifvet i folkets tro och diktning. Ord och Bild 5:12–19.


Copyright (c) 2012 Ethnobiology Letters

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.