Ethnobotanica Slovenica


This is the story of how plants lost the gift of speech

“At first all plants could speak. When a man walked through the woods, the trees spoke, and when he walked through the fields, every plant clamoured, here is my purpose! Here is mine! As they debated which plant would cure which illness, the creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense) said: I will cure diarrhoea! This proclamation was met with laughter from the other plants. God heard them and was angered, and that is why he took their voices away.”

According to Slovenian tradition, however, one can still hear plants today if one eats a soup in which a white snake has been cooked.

(Vlasta Mlakar: Sacred Plants in Folk Medicine & Rituals, 2020)


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Traditional medicine and plant wisdom

Traditional medicine combines beliefs and healing methods known since prehistoric times. Throughout their long development, these methods underwent different changes and improvements. Traditional healing methods are a manifestation of the spiritual life of our ancestors, based on their knowledge of magical properties and effects of plants, as well as material and experiential knowledge about diseases and healing potions. More often than not, they used a combination of both. One of the magic healing methods are incantations, used by shamans, healers or simple folks to chase the disease away, and other witchcraft such as burning of herbs, count-down of spells, spitting, touching, washing or dragging the patient through the magic circle. Traditional healing methods intended for the treatment of people and domestic animals include the use of medicinal plants. In the past, however, poisonous plants were used just as much as the innocuous ones. The wisdom of traditional medicine and medicinal plants was transmitted from generation to generation first by oral tradition, and then, from the 16th century onwards, through written sources. An important role in the spreading of knowledge on medicinal plants was played by herbalists and traditional healers who would collect medicinal plants, use them for treatment and trade, and copy popular medicinal books containing instructions for use of certain plants. Through the consolidation of medicine and pharmaceutical science in the 19th century, the simple traditional knowledge on magic and medicinal properties of plants slowly drifted into oblivion. Our ancestors used some 500 medicinal plants, with approximately 6000 different traditional names.

The role of plants from spring to winter – from birth until death

Plants played a very important role in the material and spiritual lives of our ancestors. Ancient rites, later superseded with Christian celebrations, were very closely related to the vegetation cycle, for they were linked to the worship of Nature and its fertility. Our ancestors ascribed magical and mystical traits to the natural forces, believing that the whole Nature is alive and that plants could talk. Traditionally, plants were seen as possessing supernatural and magical powers. These beliefs persevered to this day through different popular superstitions. Different forms of traditional plant use in the lives of our ancestors are the result of Nature veneration. Plants were used, among others, for weather forecasts, for hunting and fishing, for courting and as an aphrodisiac, they were intertwined with child play and family and geographical names. Plants accompanied man from birth till death, they were an omnipresent companion in a perpetual cycle of life from spring until winter.


The book is a compendium of traditional knowledge and beliefs about the world of plants and the widespread usage of that knowledge in the culture and lives of Slovenian people, which is in many aspects common to all Central European traditions.

The book gives an insight into a thousand-year old treasury of our ancestors’ knowledge about the use of plants for medicinal and ritual purposes, always linked with beliefs about the supernatural world, which allowed humans to channel their spiritual, social and material perception of the world and the individual in it. By highlighting different usages of plants, the author presents this rich cultural heritage, the wisdom of our ancestors and their industriousness, their perception of the world and natural occurrences, developed from a deep understanding and intimate connection with the natural environment.


Photographs (12): black & white documentary photos

Format (mm): 140 x 215 x 10

Number of pages: 204

Weight (g): 297

Binding: soft cover


Author and editor: Vlasta Mlakar

Translator (from Slovene): Filip H. Drnovšek Zorko

Reviser of manuscript: Rachel Budde

Cover design: Waqas Ahmed

Typography and formatting: Lisa Browning

Photos: Archive of Slovene Ethnographic Museum

Publishing: The Raymond Aaron Group, Marham,


First edition, first print, 2020 Copyright © 2020 by Vlasta Mlakar