Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine (Dec 2020)

Taming the pandemic? The importance of homemade plant-based foods and beverages as community responses to COVID-19

  • Andrea Pieroni,
  • Ina Vandebroek,
  • Julia Prakofjewa,
  • Rainer W. Bussmann,
  • Narel Y. Paniagua-Zambrana,
  • Alfred Maroyi,
  • Luisa Torri,
  • Dauro M. Zocchi,
  • Ashley T. K. Dam,
  • Shujaul M. Khan,
  • Habib Ahmad,
  • Yeter Yeşil,
  • Ryan Huish,
  • Manuel Pardo-de-Santayana,
  • Andrei Mocan,
  • Xuebo Hu,
  • Odara Boscolo,
  • Renata Sõukand

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 16, no. 1
pp. 1 – 9


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Abstract Household responses to COVID-19 in different corners of the world represent the primary health care that communities have relied on for preventing and mitigating symptoms. During a very complex and confusing time, in which public health services in multiple countries have been completely overwhelmed, and in some cases even collapsed, these first-line household responses have been quintessential for building physical, mental, and social resilience, and for improving individual and community health. This editorial discusses the outcomes of a rapid-response preliminary survey during the first phase of the pandemic among social and community contacts in five metropolises heavily affected by the COVID-19 health crisis (Wuhan, Milan, Madrid, New York, and Rio de Janeiro), and in twelve rural areas or countries initially less affected by the pandemic (Appalachia, Jamaica, Bolivia, Romania, Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Georgia, Turkey, Pakistan, Cambodia, and South Africa). We summarized our perspectives as 17 case studies, observing that people have relied primarily on teas and spices (“food-medicines”) and that there exist clear international plant favorites, popularized by various new media. Urban diasporas and rural households seem to have repurposed homemade plant-based remedies that they use in normal times for treating the flu and other respiratory symptoms or that they simply consider healthy foods. The most remarkable shift in many areas has been the increased consumption of ginger and garlic, followed by onion, turmeric, and lemon. Our preliminary inventory of food medicines serves as a baseline for future systematic ethnobotanical studies and aims to inspire in-depth research on how use patterns of plant-based foods and beverages, both “traditional” and “new”, are changing during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Our reflections in this editorial call attention to the importance of ethnobiology, ethnomedicine, and ethnogastronomy research into domestic health care strategies for improving community health.