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Philippe Gerard & Ekrem Hajredinaj
[ Tuesday 07 September 2010 ]
Last Update 12 September 2010
Search for the Origin of Medicinal and Useful Plants in Albania
a scientific expedition on Phytotherapy
by Philippe Gérard & Ekrem Hajredinaj
for Primrose Laboratories
from 13/09/2010 till 21/09/2010
Jacques Tavernier &Philippe Gérard
Kwaplasstraat 71 * B 8820 TORHOUT
tel. 003250230230 * fax 003250215230
www.primrose.be * email@example.com
Producers of Herbal Supplements and Medicines
The SOMUPA EXPEDITION
Search for the Origins of Medicinal and Useful Plants in Albania
Research & Development in phytotherapy:
Pharm. Philippe GERARD
Dr. Ekrem HAJREDINAJ
Pharmacist Philippe Gérard
Warschaustraat 22 * B 8400 OOSTENDE
www.primroseacademy.be * firstname.lastname@example.org
Education in Herbal Medicine, Emocony,
Phytotherapy, Aromatherapy and Herbalism
Albania stretches 475 km along the Eastern Adriatic and Ionic coasts covering a territory of 28,748 km2 (VASO 1998; Fig. 5-2; Tab. 5-1). 36 % of Albania’s territory is comprised of forests, 24 % of arable land, 15 % of pastures and 4 % of lakes (REC 2000a). Albania has a warm climate; its landscape is formed by rocky hillsides, large mountain-ranges (up to about 2,751 metres a.s.l.) and forests (VASO 1998, SEED HQ 2000). The country is very rich in water resources, and the rivers have a high annual water flow (REC 2000a).
Economy, Administration and Social Structure
Agriculture – especially cattle-breeding – plays a central role in the country’s economy (VASO 1998, KUPKE et al. 2000). The mountain ranges also provide good natural resources for medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs). These are mostly harvested from the wild and are only rarely cultivated.
Albania suffers from considerable economic and social problems. Before its transition to a market economy in the early 1990s, Albania’s industry contributed over 50 % to the national GDP. Industrial production decreased sharply after the end of the period of state-controlled economy to contribute only about 12 % to the national GDP in 1998 (REC 2000a). Today, more than 50 % of the GDP is attributed to the agricultural sector.
MAPs in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania 21 Geography, Social and Political Strucure, Biodiversity and Nature Conservation
Even if moonlighting employment is included, 62-67 % of the Albanian population is estimated to live below the poverty line of US$ 240 per month, for a family of four (REC 2000a). There are numerous links between poverty and environment degradation (REC 2000a), amongst which are: deforestation, illegal hunting, loss in biodiversity, overexploitation of natural resources. Parcelling out of arable land and fragmentation of agricultural economy; the establishment of protective measures becomes more difficult, because of the small size of many farms.
Albania is divided into 12 prefectural regions subdivided into 36 districts (VASO 1998). The demographic trend in Albania has a serious impact on poverty: Albania’s population has tripled within the last 50 years and reached 3.4 million in 1998 (REC 2000a). Together with this population development the urbanisation process accelerated, which led to a particular stress on the country’s ecologically sensitive coastal and wetland ecosystems. Further destruction of the soil fertility and damage to national parks and other protected areas have been caused by over 500,000 refugees who fled to Albania during the Kosovo crisis. Along the Adriatic coast and in western Albania, the impact of refugee-camps on protected areas is especially visible (REC 2000a). Some camps were built inside PAs like Rrushkull and Divjaka, where illegal hunting and felling became commonplace. Illegal felling to cover the demand for timber in Kosovo increasingly affects Albanian protected areas (REC 2000a). Due to a lack of funds, fire-fighting measures, preventive measures against erosion, improved water treatment and the building of cleaning plants often cannot be carried out.
MAPs in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania 22 Geography, Social and Political Structure, Biodiversity and Nature Conservation
Biodiversity, State of the Environment and Nature Conservation
Albania’s nature has a high biodiversity (species, ecosystems and habitats). About 30 % of all known European plant species occur in Albania, 27 species and 150 subspecies being endemic (REC 2000a). However, degradation of the environment and loss of biodiversity are considerable.
Erosion is a crucial environmental problem in Albania. It results from destruction of the vegetation, inadequate agricultural practices, the country’s relief (steep mountain and hillside slopes, high mean altitude above sea level), its geology and vegetation (REC 2000a). 20 % of Albania’s territory is affected by heavy erosion (over 30 tons/ha/yr) and 70 % by medium levels of erosion (REC 2000a). Areas with high environmental degradation are the hill ranges Kerraba (near Tirana), Mallakastra (near Fier), Sulova and Dumrea (near Elbasan) and the upper Shkumbini Valley (REC 2000a). Degradation is often a consequence of overgrazing by livestock, deforestation (illegal felling for fuel, wood and timber) and poor maintenance of agricultural terraces (REC 2000a).
Until the end of the state-controlled, planned economy in 1991, Albania had a poorly developed system of nature reserves and protected areas (not more than 2 % of the country’s surface, REC 2000a), and overexploitation of timber and non-timber forest products caused major concern. For over 40 years (between the end of World War II and the early 1990s) natural resources were thoughtlessly exploited, industrial effluents were released untreated into the surrounding ecosystems and waste disposal was not regulated (REC 2000a).
As a reaction, the Albanian ‘Law on Environmental Protection’ (No. 7664) was amended in 1993 and upgraded in 1998 (SEED HQ 2000). A National Environmental Agency (NEA) was established, which issued environmental permits for enterprises and projects with an impact on the environment (SEED HQ 2000). In 2000, the NEA was transformed into the Ministry of Environment (G. VILA-STEINACKER, pers. comm.). These efforts and the changes in the political system during the last decade have not improved the basic environmental situation (REC 2000a). To date, the most seriously affected environmental components are the soil (erosion), inland waters (contamination of surface and underground waters by industrial and domestic effluents and waste discharge), forests (deforestation), coasts and urban environments (REC 2000a). Despite its exceptional richness in biodiversity, Albania is considered to have the highest rate of biodiversity loss in Europe (UNDP-GEF, SGP Country Strategy, Albania, Tirana, April 1999, cited in: REC 2000a).
MAPs in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania 23 Geography, Social and Political Strucure, Biodiversity and Nature Conservation
Until the mid-1990s, protected areas in Albania were divided in three categories: National Forest Park, Game Hunting Reserve (A and B) and Natural Monument (WCPA web page). In 1994-95, an ecological survey of virgin forests (WB Forestry Project) was carried out; the report recommended an increase in the number and an enlargement of the territory of the existing protected areas. In 1999, Prespa National Park and Lake Ohrid Landscape protected area were established. Subsequently, a national study on the current network of protected areas in Albania was carried out, and in 2000 an ‘Action Plan’ was initiated. Today, there is a network of 13 national parks and 26 other large protected areas in Albania (Z. DEDEJ, pers. comm.; Tab. 10-1; Appendix A.1). The areas under protection now cover about 5.7 of Albania’s territory; roughly 10 % of the country’s forests and 1 % of its arable land are protected (REC 2000a). This network is still not always representative of the highest nature and biodiversity values and is poorly managed (lack of an overall PA Management Plan, of financial resources and of adequate staff training; REC 2000a).
The deeply rooted, local use of medicinal plants has a long tradition in rural Albania. Until 1992, the Tirana-based ‘Institute of Popular Medicine’ investigated and promoted the traditional use of medicinal plants in folk medicine (VASO 1998). Moreover, MAPs have been an important Albanian export commodity for many years. Until the early 1990s, the purchase of cultivated or wild harvested MAPs and trade in these materials were exclusively state controlled (VASO 1998, LANGE 1998a). State organisations and authorities sold the purchased plant material to the central, state-owned ‘Agroexport’, which exported either the dried MAP raw material or distillations thereof (KUPKE et al. 2000). Principal destinations were the former Warsaw Pact states, the former Yugoslavia and Italy. Today, both MAP export destinations and trade structures have changed in Albania. Many exports are shipped to Western European countries, and a large number of private companies have taken over the formerly state-controlled trade (cf. sections 7.1 and 9.1). The foundation of private companies followed the fundamental law on privatisation, adopted by the Albanian Parliament in 1991. The system of state-owned plant collection enterprises has ceased to exist in Albania; it has been replaced by small private enterprises or branches of foreign companies that operate on the market; some of these have already started to run their own distilleries (A. VASO, pers. comm.).
Between 1995 and 2000, Albania ranked in 15th position among the most important countries for MAP-export, with an annual average of 7,650 tonnes of dried material (UNCTAD COMTRADE database; see LANGE in section 8 of this study). Traditionally, Albania is Europe’s leading sage (Salvia officinalis and Salvia fruticosa) producer, today exporting over 1,000 tonnes annually with a market value of about US$ 2.5 million (SEED HQ 2000). Since the early 1990s and especially after the ‘Yugoslav War’ and the crisis in Kosovo, Albania’s export figures have fallen dramatically, from about US$ 30 million to US$ 10-12 million in the late 1990s (SEED HQ 2000). The production of essential oils (mainly sage and juniper oils) has declined from 60-100 to 10-20 tonnes per annum (SEED HQ 2000). Between 1996 and 1998, Albania became one of the world’s leading low-cost suppliers of St John’s-wort (Hypericum perforatum) exporting raw material with a value of over US$ 5 million annually. Following a drastically reduced demand at the international level (mainly in the USA), the market for St. John’s- wort crashed but has partly recovered in recent years (LANGE, pers. comm.). As a result, Hypericum perforatum was over-produced in Albania, which considerably affected the Albanian MAP export industry (SEED HQ 2000; see LANGE in section 8 of this study). As a countermeasure, Albania took over parts of the MAP trade from the neighbouring Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Bosnia-Herzegovina during the 1990’s war in the former Yugoslavia. However, exporters from these countries complain about the low costs and sometimes low quality of Albanian MAP production, discrediting the Balkans’ reputation as a good or high quality MAP supplier.
Wild-Harvesting and Cultivation of MAPs
MAP Species Harvested from the Wild
About 250 different plant species are wild harvested for medicinal and aromatic use in Albania (VASO 1997). Many of these species are dried by the collectors and sold on local markets or in pharmacies (KUPKE et al. 2000). Medicinal and aromatic plant (MAP) species traditionally harvested in Albania include sage (Salvia spp.), oregano (Origanum vulgare) and thyme (Thymus spp.) (LANGE 1998a, SEED HQ 2000).
In 2001, the most frequently collected MAP species and herbs were (in terms of volume): Salvia officinalis, Salvia fruticosa, Laurus nobilis, Thymus vulgaris, Juniperus spp., Urtica spp., Hypericum perforatum, Viscum album, Lavandula officinalis and Rosmarinus officinalis (Tab. 7-1 ; K. DANO and Z. DEDEJ, pers. comm.), each with harvest yields of over 100 tonnes dried raw material. Table 7-1: Thirteen of the most important MAP species harvested from the wild in Albania. Estimated annual quantities collected (2001).
Estimated annual quantity of dried raw material collected [tonnes]
Plant parts used
Salvia officinalis (*1)
Thymus spp. (*2)
Juniperus spp. (*3)
Data provided by K. DANO (for a complete list cf. Appendix B.1).
(*1): Most likely Salvia officinalis and Salvia fruticosa (D. LANGE, pers. comm.)
(*2): Mainly Thymus vulgaris (ca. 200 tonnes) and T. serpyllum (ca. 100 tonnes)
(*3): Roughly equal quantities of Juniperus communis and J. oxycedrus (ca. 150 tonnes each)
Data availability: Albania started to report their foreign trade statistics according to the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (version 1996) in 1996. Export figures for Albania are available for the period 1996-2000, those of 1995 (only total figures), 1996 and 1997 are from the Foreign Trade Statistics of Albania, those of 1998-2000 are from the UNCTAD COMTRADE database. In the following, average trade data apply, in the case of exports for the period (1995-) 1996-2000 and in the case of imports for 1997-2000.
Exports: Albania reported the export of an average 7,650 tonnes of pharmaceutical plants at a value of US$ 12 million (Tab. 8-2). The exports were destined for 26 countries with the dominance of EU countries, which imported almost 80 % of the commodity. The remaining 20 % were exported to other East and Southeast European countries above all to Greece, followed by FYR of Macedonia and Turkey and to non-European countries such as the USA and, much less important, Japan (Tab. 8-4). Within the EU, Germany is the foremost importer of botanicals from Albania; it imported on average 2,770 tonnes. The second and third most important purchasers are Italy, importing on average 1,690 tonnes, and France, with average imports of 780 tonnes. The prices on export are quite low as one tonne fetched on average only US$ 1,570. The Albanian exports increased from 1995 to 1999 by 12 % from 7,960 tonnes to 9,010 tonnes, and fell in 2000 to 7,520 tonnes (Tabs. 8-3, 8-4)
Imports: Albania reported the import of only an average 167 tonnes of pharmaceutical plants annually to a value of US$ 39,000. In all, the country imported this commodity from eight different, but only European, countries. Most imports came from FYR of Macedonia, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.
MAPs in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania 69 The Role of East and Southeast Europe in the Medicinal and Aromatic Plant Trade Table 8-4: Albania: Export quantities in [tonnes] of pharmaceutical plants to the most important destinations in the period 1995-2000.
Country of import
Figures based on commodity group pharmaceutical plants (SITC.3: 292.4 = HS 1211). − Source: UNCTAD COMTRADE database, United Nations Statistics Division, New York. – n.a. = not available.
Albania is one of the most important European exporting countries for medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) and one of the cheapest MAP sources for importing countries (see D. LANGE, section 8 of this study). In 2001, Albania sold about 10,000 tonnes of MAP dried raw material on the international market (Z. DEDEJ, pers. comm.). To date, prime destinations for Albanian MAP exports are Germany, France, Italy, Greece, and USA (see D. LANGE, section 8 of this study). As Albanian export statistics (and most destination countries’ import statistics) list only MAP commodity groups (HS 1211 ‘other pharmaceutical plants’; HS 0904-0910 ‘spices’; HS 33 ‘essential oils and resinoids’; HS 13 ‘lac, gums, resins, plant saps and extracts’), it is difficult to assign export volumes to single species (LANGE & MLADENOVA 1997; LANGE 1998a). The volume of Albanian MAP imports is comparatively modest (see D. LANGE, section 8 of this study, and LANGE 2002).
Today, about 95 % of the MAPs collected from the wild are exported; only 5 % are consumed privately or locally (VASO 1997, LANGE 1998a). Some sources even estimate that nearly 100 % of the MAP material collected enters international trade (Z. DEDEJ, pers. comm.). In recent years, the traditional domestic use of MAPs in Albanian folk medicine has declined and has been partly replaced by modern western medicine (KUPKE et al. 2000). The large companies (wholesalers) usually hand an annual list with species and amounts requested to the intermediate traders from whom they purchase the MAP raw material. The intermediate traders try to buy the required quantities from collectors or local traders and re-sell the MAP raw material to wholesalers, who export the MAPs either as dried raw material or, in some cases, semi- or fully processed. According to current observations, the market tries to avoid the intermediate trade (cf. section 12.1, and FREMUTH et al. 1999); the large trading companies and local harvesters have built up direct communication links and companies try to buy the material directly from the collectors (Z. DEDEJ, pers. comm.). Direct export of MAP raw material by local or intermediate traders is rare. The most important MAP species exported from Albania are Origanum vulgare, Thymus spp., Salvia officinalis, Salvia fruticosa, and Satureja montana (Tab. 9-1). Orchid species used for the production of salep are also exported in considerable amounts. These species are listed in CITES (Appendix. II) and require permits to be traded legally. Most likely, Orchis morio (Tab. 9-1) is only one of 10-20 different species exported from Albania. As collectors and traders do often not differentiate between the species, one may suppose that a large number of other species are traded under the name ‘Orchis morio’, including genera like Barlia, Anacamptis, Himantoglossum, Ophrys and others (D. LANGE, pers. comm.).
MAPs in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania 78 Current Trade in Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Table 9-1: The 15 most collected and traded MAP species in Albania.
Estimated amounts of MAPs exported from AL in 2001 [tonnes]
Orchis morio (*2)
Annual quantities refer to 2001. Estimations of Z. DEDEJ, Director of the Nature Resources Management and Biodiversity Directorate, Ministry of Environment, Tirana.
(*1): Salvia officinalis: export data almost certainly include S. fruticosa (D. LANGE, pers. comm.)
(*2): ‘Orchis morio‘ is most probably a collective denomination for all orchid species exported for the production of salep. Not only Orchis spp. may be included but also other genera (D. LANGE, pers. comm.)
Albania has signed as a party to the following conventions directly or indirectly related to the protection of natural resources (REC 2000a; see also Tab. 11-1):
• Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar 1971; AL: ratified March 29, 1996)
• Bern Convention on the Protection of Flora and Wildlife Fauna of the Natural Environment in Europe (Bern 1979; AL: ratified March 2, 1998)
• Paris Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (Paris 1972; AL: March 20, 1979)
MAPs in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania 120 Legal and Financial Aspects Relevant to MAP Collection and Trade
• ESPOO-Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo, October 4, 1991)
• Helsinki-Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Helsinki 1992; AL: ratified on January 5, 1994)
• Rio-Convention: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Rio de Janeiro 1992; AL: entered into force January 1, 1995)
• Convention on Biological Diversity (Rio de Janeiro, 1992, AL: entered into force April 5, 1994)
• Convention on Desertification and Dryness Aiming to Combat these Phenomena in Countries which Suffer from them (December 4, 1996)
• Aarhus-Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus June 25, 1998)
List of Plants and Parts of Plants Collected
Albania (from KONSTANDIN DANO, pers. comm.)
List of MAP plants and parts collected from the wild and estimations of quantities collected in 2001 (in tonnes); modifications as recommended by D. LANGE (pers. comm.):
List of medicinal plants
Crataegi sine fol.
Crataegi cum fol.
Cyani cum. cal.
Cyani sine cal.
Pruni spinosae 6
Folia Lauri nobilis
Folia Salviae off.
Folia Saturejae mont.
Origani var. vir. ger.
Thymi serpylli ger.
Thymi vulg. gerebelt
Graminis cum rad.
Plant exploration in Albania
Peter Barnes & Petrit Hoda(originally published in Curtis's Botanical Magazine 18(3): 170-179 (2001))IntroductionThe history of plant exploration may be said to go back to the beginnings of the human species, but in practical terms, it is the history of scientific endeavour in this field that is of greatest interest. In this respect, some parts of the world are much better-documented than others, notably most of western Europe, North America and to some extent, China. Very often, the activities of native botanists and collectors are rather less well-documented than those of visitors. Similar contrasts apply within Europe, much of which has an extensive botanical/historical literature. Greece is perhaps the best-documented part of the Balkans, yet about neighbouring Albania, it is difficult to find many references in the literature. One good reason for this is the fact that the Albanian state we know today was demarcated only in 1912, its southern boundary only extended to its present position around 1921. Nevertheless, Albanians have a long and drama-filled history going back to the times of the Illyrians. Furthermore, during the years from 1945 to 1989, it was difficult for most foreigners even to get into the country, let alone to explore freely. The disintegration of the Communist regime in the early 1990s has led to greater accessibility, but has brought its own problems, too. This paper is intended to draw attention to some of the literature on the flora and vegetation of Albania, and to the various plant hunting expeditions over the years. Whilst the studies of indigenous botanists have progressed steadily in recent years, little of their work has come to the notice of the West, and we also attempt to correct this important omission. The countryAlbania is a small country of 28,748 sq. km, approaching the size of Belgium. With over 28.5% of the land surface exceeding 1000m altitude, it is easily the most mountainous country in Europe. Consequently, it has most spectacular and diverse landscapes, from the mountains of the north and east to the extensive coastline in the west. The climate shows both Mediterranean and Central European influences, with mean January temperatures ranging from 10º to –3ºC, mean July temperatures from 25º to 17ºC; rainfall also shows wide variation, from 600mm to over 3000mm. It represents a meeting place for the Central European and Mediterranean floras, and consequently has a remarkably rich flora with more than 3250 species of higher plants. Strict endemics are few in number - about 1% of the flora - but there are many more near-endemic species, whose distribution extends over the political borders into one or other of the neighbouring countries. Among other Albanian botanists, Hoda (1993) provides a concise overview in English of Albanian phytogeography, useful background reading for anyone contemplating a first visit to the country. Flora Europaea of course includes Albania, but its coverage for the country is probably somewhat incomplete. There are two Albanian floras, of which the 900 page excursion flora, Flora Ekskursioniste e Shqiperisë (Demiri, 1983) is an invaluable field guide, if a bit bulky. Although in Albanian, it is generously illustrated by line drawings (mostly from Fiori & Paoletti, Iconographia florae italicae, 1933). The Flora e Shqiperisë, (Paparisto et al, 1988, 1992; Qosja et al, 1996), is likewise illustrated with line drawings -- in the first volume, at any rate, of rather variable quality and accuracy. Again, the text is in Albanian. Three of four planned volumes have been published so far, and the final one is expected to appear in 2001. Other works covering aspects of the Albanian flora and vegetation are mentioned below. Plant exploration in AlbaniaThe history of documented plant exploration in Albania is rather short, the country appearing to have attracted the notice of foreign botanists only rather late in the 19th century. Botanical activity there falls quite neatly into three distinct periods: the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; the Communist era; and the post-Communist period. The period up to World War II Like other parts of Southern Europe, Albania has a long (and still active) tradition in the use of native plants for medicinal purposes, and this implies a considerable, if specialised and not necessarily ‘scientific’, knowledge of the indigenous flora and its uses. Prior to World War II, however, little if any study was made of the native vegetation by Albanian botanists. Indeed, it appears that there was virtually no scientific activity in the country at this period. The scientific study of the flora and vegetation of Albania began to develop only towards the end of the nineteenth century. At this period, it was foreign botanists such as Ascherson, Baldacci, Degen, Halácsy, Formánek, Weiss, and Wettstein who, between them, made the major contributions to the floristic knowledge of the country. Of these, Baldacci and Wettstein perhaps stand out. Whilst a few developed a special interest in Albania, for most it was but one element in a wider study of the botany of the whole Balkan peninsula. One of the earliest to collect in the area was Emanuel Weiss, perhaps also one of the first to write specifically about the Albanian flora (Weiss, 1866), albeit in the context of the larger area. A further contribution to knowledge of the northern Balkans in general came from Ascherson and Kanitz (1877). Two other early papers specific to Albania were those of Grimus (1871) and Halácsy (1892), the latter recording some species new to the country; in the same year, Richard (von) Wettstein published a contribution to the flora of Albania. Much more significant is the work of Baldacci, whose interest in the region began to bear fruit in 1893, when he published an account of a visit to the island of Sazan, near to Vlora. In 1894 and 1896 he made two important expeditions to southern Albania (Baldacci 1898). His travels and collections during these two trips range from the region from Vlora to the mountain, Mal e Tomorit (east of Berat), south to the parallel ranges of the Lunxhëri and the Nëmerçkë mountains east of Gjirokastër, and east to Mali Melesin on the Greek border near Leskovik. Baldacci’s work, however, covered a much wider region, taking in Montenegro, the mountains of northern Albania (the “Albanian Alps”), and Greece. Under the series title Bemerkungen uber einige orientalische Pflanzenarten (Remarks on some oriental plants), Árpád von Degen described several new species from Albania between 1895 and 1897, including the endemics and near-endemics Ajuga piskoi, Wulfenia baldaccii and Forsythia europaea. Eduard Formánek also published on the region’s flora in 1895, whilst Kosanin (1909) explored the mountains of the north-east. Palacky (1895) compared the floras of northern and southern Albania. Interest in the Albanian flora continued well into the twentieth century, again with foreigners being prominent. Much floristic information on the country has been amassed in the work of Wettstein, Dörfler, Hayek, Bornmüller, Csiki, Janchen, Jávorka, Kümmerle, Markgraf, Pampanini, Beck, and Fiori. Many of these were concerned with a wider region, but newly-recognized Albanian endemics were described by, for example, Wettstein (1918), Jávorka (1920), Dörfler (1921), Kümmerle (1922) and Markgraf (1931). Significant milestones came with the publication of Hayek (1917), Bornmuller (1933) and Turrill (1929), the first providing the basis for subsequent regional floras. This period also saw the first contributions to the description and analysis of Albania’s vegetation from the phytogeographical viewpoint, and some modest studies in towards phytosociology. Lujo Adamoviæ (1907) initiated studies in this direction. Between 1927 and 1949, Friedrich Markgraf followed up with numerous substantial offerings, notably Markgraf (1927, 1932). He subsequently joined Mitrushi on the Flora Europaea Committee, as a regional advisor for Albania, for volumes II to V of that work. The botanists A.H.G. Alston and N.Y. Sandwith, of the British Museum (Natural History) and Kew, respectively, made two expeditions to the mountainous parts of southern Albania in the summers of 1933 and 1935. The first was in June and July, the second in August and early September, so the main flowering season was well-covered. Their visits took in the Nemërçkë and Lunxhëri mountain ranges near Gjirokastër, the serpentine area near Voskopojë, the Morova Planina on the Greek border, and brief explorations around Sarandë and Korçë. The collections made during their visits were copiously documented in Alston & Sandwith (1940). In 1937, P.L. Giuseppi and S.G. Fiedler, with others, travelled extensively in eastern and southern Albania, primarily with an eye to the introduction of good alpine plants to Western gardens. Their party had two cars, and travelled sometimes together, sometimes separately, meeting up from time to time. Both their accounts are entertaining, but that of Giuseppi (1938), he being much the more botanical of the two, is far more plant-oriented than Fiedler’s discursive and amusing account (1941). Another botanist with a strong interest in the introduction of good garden plants was the Austrian, Fritz Lemperg. He wrote of his travels in the Albanian Alps in the far north (Lemperg, 1935), an expedition from which surplus plants, established in his garden at Hatzendorf near Graz, were distributed in 1936. In 1938, he explored extensively in the south, visiting the Nemërçkë, Lunxheri and Gramos mountains). The results of the latter expedition were listed by Rechinger (1939), and Lemperg also distributed wild-collected seed - five lots were received by the Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley. Inevitably, botanising became impossible during World War II, for much of which most of Albania was occupied, first by Italian, later by German forces, until the liberation in late 1944.The Communist era, 1946 - 1991It is well known that the Communist regime, formally established in 1946 and lasting until the early 1990s, saw the increased isolation of the country, to the extent that exploration by foreign botanists became almost impossible. The corollary was that this period also witnessed the establishment and growth of an indigenous botanical and scientific culture. During the succeeding forty years, Albanian botanists have made an increasing contribution to the knowledge and understanding of their native vegetation. Prominent among these are the names of Paparisto, Demiri, Qosja and Mitrushi, now considered the founders of Albanian botany. Numerous important books and papers have come from their work. Among their books, the four-volume (three published to date) Flora e Shqiperisë (Flora of Albania) is pre-eminent (Paparisto et al 1988; Paparisto et al 1991; Qosja et al 1996). Important steps towards the realisation of the full Flora include Mitrushi (1955), on the trees and shrubs of Albania; Paparisto et al (1962) Flora e Tiranës (Flora of Tirana); a forest Flora of Albania by Mitrushi (1966), and Demiri’s (1983) excursion Flora. Ing. Mitrushi was subsequently a regional advisory member of the Flora Europaea Committee. Another significant early work was a dictionary of Latin and Albanian plant names (Lako, 1965). Other publications of note to appear during this era include books on weeds (Qosja, 1966), poisonous and/or medicinal native plants (Qosja, 1977; Demiri, 1979; Xhamo, 1985). This period also saw the beginnings of attention to plant ecology, Qosja (1983) and Mersinllari & Hoda (1985) dealing with aspects of coastal habitats. Various unpublished doctoral theses of this period and later also concerned themselves with ecology and geobotany. Among these we may mention Ruci (1986) on flora and vegetation of the Shkodra district, Hoda (1989) for communities of Pinus nigra, Vangjeli (1982) for oaks, Mersinllari (1988) for the beech, Buzo (1989) for pastures and meadows, Dinga (1980) for roses, Mullaj (1989) for coastal vegetation, Proko (1992) for fir, and Miho (1994) for phytoplankton of the Lake of Butrint. The Communist era also saw the foundation of the Botanical Garden in a splendid setting of 14 ha., on the outskirts of Tirana. Established under the auspices of the University of Tirana Department of Botany in 1971, the garden now has a staff of about 20. It suffered serious damage in the period of instability in 1991-92. Since then, new funding has been secured and significant rehabilitation of the gardens is under way, under the guidance of the Director, Liri Dinga. Inevitably, few foreign botanists were able to take a direct interest in the Albanian flora during this period, and floristic work, in particular, took a back seat. Nevertheless, Gölz and Reinhard (1984) published a detailed overview of orchids in Albania, which included a description of their new Orchis albanica, while Halda described Daphne skipetarum from Albania in 1981). Similarly, Ubrizsy & Pénzes (1960), Kárpáti (1961), Jakucs (1967) and Horvat et al (1974) added to the phytogeographical knowledge of their predecessors.The post-Communist periodIn some respects, the division of Albanian botanical history into three sections is an artificial one, since the third is really a blending of the first two, in that it sees the beginning of cooperative work between Albanian and foreign botanists. The former continue to produce valuable papers, some based on earlier unpublished theses: Buzo (1991) developed his ideas on natural meadow vegetation; Hoda (1992) discussed the geobotany of Pinus nigra; Ruci & Mullaj (1995) wrote on the vegetation of the Karavasta Lagoon; Mullaj, Hoda & Mersinllari (1999) on the Kune-Vaine lagoon complex (both internationally important wetland sites). Conservation is another area that has recently received attention, with the publication of an Albanian “Red Book” (Vangjeli, Ruci & Mullaj 1995). An important trend of the past few years has been the appearance of various international cooperative studies. Fremuth et al (2000) is an excellent example at the “popular” level, whilst Hoda et al (1999), Kit Tan, Mullaj & Ruci (1999) are more substantial works, and doubtless represent the beginnings of a strong new trend. Some recent international cooperative programmes include:1. a programme of skill-transfer, with the Unit of Vegetation Science, Lancaster University, and supported by the UK Environmental Know-How Fund, (1994-1995).2. on the framework of the “Darwin Initiative Programme”, with the Unit of Vegetation Science, Lancaster University, (1996-1998).3. on the framework of the Project “INTERREG II” ( of the European Community), with the University and Botanical Garden of Lecce and Bari (Italy). This project concludes at the end of 2001. The work of the Albanian botanists already mentioned, and of the present generation of botanists in the country, has been of good quality, but there remains a need for more work on the floristics and other aspects of the vegetation of Albania. In spite of the riches of the Albanian flora already recorded, it is certain that more remains to be discovered. There are still areas, mainly isolated mountain peaks, that remain unexplored. In addition, the number of Albanian botanists with a floristic speciality remains small, and their experience is inevitably limited. Most of the endemic species were described by foreign botanists such as Baldacci and Jávorka. More recently, however, a few have been recognised and described by Albanians, notably Leucojum valentinum subsp. vlorense (Paparisto & Qosja 1983) and Gymnospermium shqipetarum (Paparisto & Qosja 1976). At the present time, there appear to be no full-time or professional botanical illustrators active in Albania. Two who contributed to the Flora e Shqiperisë, Pjerin Shala and Agron Marika, both now retired. It is to be hoped that more will emerge in the near future. Already, it is clear that Albanian botany is beginning to benefit from strengthening scientific links with the rest of Europe. For Albanian botanists, it is now much easier to communicate with, and visit, botanists in other countries who share an interest in the flora and vegetation of this part of Europe. Conversely, the relaxation of restrictions on visits to, and travel within, Albania by foreigners is beginning to lead to some useful results. As early as 1990, botanical special interest holidays were being organized (North, 1990; Barnes, 1997): such trips can only help to increase interest in the botany of a little-known country. The wider experience of such as Pignatti and of Rodwell is reflected in their co-authorship of the recent report already mentioned. The years since the disintegration of the communist regime have been sadly troubled in their own way, notably with the frequent and drastic breakdowns in law and order. However, there is every reason to hope that such difficulties will be resolved, and that the years ahead will be as beneficial to Albanian botany as to all other fields of human activity in this small, but intriguing country.
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MEDICINAL PLANTS IN ALBANIA
Althaea officinalis L.
Ammi visnaga Lam.
Apium graveolens L.
Arctium lappa (l.) Willd.
Artemisia vulgaris L.
Bellis perennis L.
Borago officinalis L.
Bryonia dioica Jacquin
Buxus sempervirens L.
Capsella bursa pastoris (L.) Med. Centaurium pulchellum Sw
Centaurium umbellatum Cilib
Ceterach officinarum Lam.& DC
Cichorium intybus L.
Colchicum automnale L.
Cotinus coggygria Scop. Crataegus monogyna Jacquin.
Cupressus sempervirens L.
Cynodon dactylon Pers.
Datura stramonium L.
Daucus carota L.
Dictamnus albus L.
Digitalis lanata L.
leaves and roots
fruits and seeds
dried flowering stems
leaves, dried bark
over ground part
upper ground part
dried plants and roots
flowers, dried fruits
leaves, dried seeds
Rrodhe e madhe
pelin i egër
trikë e bukur
karotë e egër
Dryopteris filix mas (L.) Schott.
Ecbalium elaterium (L.) A. Rich.
Ephedra distachya L.
Equisetum arvense L.
Foeniculum vulgare Mill.
Fragaria vesca L.
Galega officinalis L.
Hypericum perforatum L.
Juniperus communis L.
Juniperus oxycedrus L.
Laurus nobilis L.
Leonurus cardiaca L.
Malva sylvestris L.
Matricaria chamomilla L. Melilotus officinalis (L.) Pall. Melisa officinalis L.
Myrtus communis L.
Nasturtium officinale R. Br.
Nerium oleander L.
Ononis spinosa L.
Origanum vulgare L.
Papaver rhoeas L.
Plantago lanceolata L.
Plantago major L.
Polygonum aviculare L.
liquid of fruits
whole plant body
leaves (rarely fruits)
leaves, dried fruits
flowers, dried leaves
leaves, flowering shoots
all parts of fresh plant
flowers, leaves, bark
dried roots, flowering plants
ground part, dried stems
kopër e egër
dëllinjë e zezë
dëllinjë e kuqe
gjethedelli i madh
Polypodium vulgare L.
Prunella vulgaris L.
Prunus spinosa L.
Punica granatum L.
Rhus coriaria L.
Rosa canina L.
Rubus fruticosus L.
Rubus idaeus L.
Ruta graveolens L.
Salvia officinalis L.
Sambucus ebulus L.
Sambucus nigra L.
Saponaria officinalis L.
Satureja montana L.
Taraxacum officinale Web. Teucrium chamaedrys L. Tussilago farfara L.
Urginea maritima (L.) Bak.
Urtica dioica L.
Viola odorata L.
Viola tricolor L.
Viscum album L.
Verbena officinalis L.
dried flowers, fruits
bark of roots, branchs
fruits, leaves, roots
roots, all parts of plant
all parts of plant
dried flowering plant
young branch with leaves
Boçka, qepa e detit
Medicinal plants used less in the region
Acanthus spinosus L.
Ajuga reptans L.
Alkanna tinctoria Tausch.
Alisma plantago-aquatica L.
Alnus glutinosa (L.) Gaerth.
Anagallis arvensis L.
Arbutus unedo L.
Asparagus officinalis L.
Asplenium trichomanes L.
Capparis spinosa L.
Ceratonia siliqua L.
Clematis vitalba L.
Colutea arborescens L.
Convollaria majalis L.
Convolvulus arvensis L.
Cornus mas L.
Corydothymus capitatus (L.) Hoff. et Link
Crithmum maritimum L.
Echium vulgare L.
Eryngium campestre L.
Eryngium maritimum L.
Gentiana lutea L.
Glacium flavium Crantz.
Glycyrhiza glabra L.
Ilex aquifolium L.
Inula viscosa L.
Lycopus europaeus L.
Lotus corniculatus L.
Mercurialis perennis L.
Pistacia lentiscus L.
Pistacia terebinthus L.
Ruscus aquleatus L.
Salicornia herbacea L.
Salix alba L.
Salix fragilis L.
Salix purpurea L.
Sideritis roeseri Boiss. et Heldr.
Smilax aspera L.
Spartium junceum L.
Taxus baccata L.
Teucrium chamaedrys L.
Teucrium pollium L.
Trifolium pratense L.
Tab. 4 Medicinal plants extensivly used in the region Nr.
Population sizes (approx.in ha)
(approx. in tons)
Mëllagë e egër
Shtogu i zi
Gjethedelli i madh
Çaji i malit
COLLECTION AND TRADE OF MEDICINAL PLANT SPECIES
Prior to 1992, trade structure was hierarchically organised. Rural collectors gathered the bulk of produce, which was collected by local branches, or mobile units, of the district Produce Collector Enterprises. Another body, the district forestry enterprise, had responsibility for collecting medicinal and aromatic plant material from cultivated areas and forests. If not for use within the country, from district level, plant material generally came next under control of the Agroexport Enterprise.
Nowdays, the majority of medicinal and aromatic plants, being wild-collected in this region are still sold by rural collectors to the local dealer. From the local trader, plant material pass to a Vlora District trader, before release onto the domestic market, or to one of the main companies in Albania involved in international trade in medicinal and aromatic plant material. In general, trade in this commodity is mainly oriented towards export, and 90% of its external trade is dealt with by just four trading companies, three in Durres, one in Tirana.
One reason for the majority of plant material being traded dry in this region is the fact that local traders do not necessarily visit collectors frequently, but may wait until the end of the collecting season, or until a surge in demand, before coming to buy.
Much of the wild collection of medicinal plants takes place on state lands in the hill and mountain areas of the region. Many species occur within forests – albeit often within grassland communities in forest clearings – and can thus be regarded as good examples of non-timber forest products. In such rural situations, collection is undertaken by all members of a family, but most commonly by women within forest villages, together with children (period of school hollydays), retired people and in some instances stock herders. Medicinal plants collection is regarded by the inhabitants as a valuable means of supplementing low family incomes. The collecting period and the geographical distribution of medicinal plants in region varies ( in relation with their physiology, vertical distribution from the sea level The natural medicinal, aromatic and tanning plant species are declared National Property under the Article 1. The General Directory of Forestry and the administrative bodies under its order are responsible for taking protective and improvement measures for these groups of plant. They have the right to execute the duties of this law as well; Article 2 and 6. According to article 3, local forestry authorities have the right to grant licenses for physical and legal persons inside their administrative territory to execute the right on collecting medicinal plants. Every October, the Minister of Agriculture and Food with a declaration could stop or limited amount of medicinal plants which should be collected or prohibited during the consecutive year or further on. For that purpose the compilation of a species list is attached to the decision; Article 4. Article 5 gives the right to establish procedures regarding the technical exploitation and collection in respect with their biological characteristics. The Minister of Agriculture is the authority who declare these procedures. Article 7 define the penalties in cases of abusing this law, fines which starts from 250 leke till in the blocking of the total collecting product.
Even though a number of improvements are realized for the legal framework, the reality shown that the damages of the fond of medicinal, aromatic or tanning plants come as a result of the lack of knowledge on the laws, than because of the lack of laws or their uncomplete content. Thus, in this area there are overexploitation, often collections before the ripening time, or by the use of techniques which are not allowed as uprooting the whole plant body or cutting branchs etc. These have caused an overexploitation of some of the species, which has endangered their resources.
After the 1990s, Albania started to participate in international environmental agreements or conventions as well. On October 31, 1995 Albania signed the Bern Convention “ For the protection of flora and wildlife fauna of the natural Environment in Europe” which was ratified by the Parliament on March 2, 1998. On January 5, 1994 the country has signed also convention “On Biological Diversity”, and it entered into force on April 5, 1994 joining into agreement among other countries for the conservation of Biological Diversity, the sustainable uses of genetic resources and the transfer of relevant technologies by appropriate funding.
The access to the “Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES)” by parliament decision in 2002 is seen as an important instrument for strengthening and harmonising of solidarity among the countries of the world for better managing the world’s Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna.
Participation in this Convention, besides providing powerfull environmental monitoring mechanism, plays important role in the preservation and management of medicinal, aromatic and tanning plant species, even though there is quiet a few species of the group in the flora of Albania ( some species of genus Orchis, Anacamptis pyramidalis (CITES), Galanthus nivalis, Gentiana lutea, etc).
Although the engagement of Albania in international environmental agreements or conventions has been growing, implementation and fulfilling the duties specified in these agreements is still lacking in many instances. A better work must be done regarding the proposals which should include in these agreements of a greater number species from our spontaneous flora that fulfill the criteria of including in these agreements (Çaji i Malit, Sideritis raeseri).
Sustainable herb development in Albania
In April, HRF President Rob McCaleb's international herb development work took him to Albania, where a much-needed effort to promote sustainable use of wild medicinal plants is underway. Wild harvest of medicinal plants is an important part of the traditional rural economy in this isolated Balkan nation, which has a rich history as a major center of herb commerce between east and west. In recent years, the Albanian herb industry has suffered from political turmoil as well as from grave depletion of wild plant resources due to non-sustainable harvesting practices and habitat loss. McCaleb was invited to participate in the Albanian Private Forestry Development Project (APFDP), which aims to revitalize the Albanian herb industry while emphasizing wise stewardship and conservation of forest resources.
APFDP, which is sponsored jointly by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and Chemonics International, has been promoting preservation and sustainable use of Albanian forests for the past five years. The group has already met with success in developing an environmentally conscious wicker furniture industry using sustainably harvested willow boughs. APFDP is staffed by a variety of timber and non-timber professionals, including agroforesters, agricultural economists, agricultural development officers, and training specialists who help members of forest-dependent industries meet international quality standards for their products.
Albania has only recently made the difficult transition from communist rule to a free market economy and remains one of Europe's poorest countries. At its peak in the early 1990s, the Albanian herb industry generated approximately $20 million (US) and employed as many as 70,000 people, from wild harvesters to herb buyers to warehousers and exporters. Due to a decline in raw material sales and the political chaos of the past few years, this number has fallen to around 20,000, and the industry now generates around $10 million (US). However, thousands of Albanian villagers still depend on herbs as a primary source of income. Some subsist strictly as herb collectors, while others supplement their income by collecting herbs in season. Small farmers, for example, may plant their main crops in spring and then turn to herb collection for extra income during the summer months, returning to their fields in the fall to harvest the planted crops.
Few herbs are actually cultivated in Albania, meaning that most are harvested from wild sources. These include such common herbs as raspberry and blackberry leaf, bilberry, nettle, rosehips, chamomile, thyme, oregano, sage, bearberry, licorice, and many others. Albania is also a major source of orchid roots used to make salep, a cappucino substitute popular in Albania and Turkey and an essential thickening ingredient in Turkish ice cream. Gentian, a primary ingredient of bitter apéritif beverages such as Campari, is also heavily harvested from the wild in Albania.
Today, habitat loss (including that caused by legal and illegal logging) and unsustainable harvesting practices threaten many of these common and easily cultivated wild plants. The problem affects not only plants harvested for their roots and bark, but somewhat surprisingly, also those collected for leaves and berries. For example, bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is now endangered in Europe, even though only the leaves are used in international commerce. The decline in bearberry populations is attributed not just to habitat loss but also to the common and destructive practice of uprooting plants in the process of harvesting leaves. Plants taken for their roots, including gentian, licorice, and orchid, present an even greater conservation challenge.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, more than 130 species of common European plants are currently threatened or endangered by over collection from the wild and habitat loss. Many of these are listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international treaty designed to monitor and conserve endangered plants and animals in trade while protecting trade interests. Albania is not a signatory to the CITES treaty, so the Albanian herb industry is not subject to CITES regulations.
HRF's recent research mission identified two of the most critical needs of the Albanian herb industry. Of primary importance is the development of a strong trade association that will protect wild herb resources while simultaneously improving the industry's reputation and ability to compete internationally. The second pressing need is for quality management and training in proper herb collection, handling, drying, and storage. "It is always challenging when a single shipment of herbs represents the output of thousands of small collectors harvesting in the wild," McCaleb remarked. "To maintain consistent quality requires education at a level as close to the source as possible - in other words, the harvesters."
During his trip, McCaleb presented a series of workshops for Albanian herb dealers on international quality specifications, quality management, plant conservation, marketing, and business linkages. The dealers in turn will help educate the thousands of individual herb harvesters who are ultimately responsible for herb quality. "We found a strong knowledge of quality and recognition of some of the methods for increasing quality among the dealers," said McCaleb. "The goal is to shift quality management closer to the source. The dealers need to help train the villagers to maintain very high quality standards, and must also be willing to pay more for higher quality herbs." - Evelyn Leigh, HRF
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Replacing Medicinal Chemicals Extracted from Wild Plants in Albania
RASP, in collaboration with Kukes Farmers Federation, has already started to implement the project “Replacing Medicinal Chemicals Extracted from Wild Plants in Albania”. The project will take place in Kukes district, in 4 communes that include 29 villages and will have an extension of 18 month starting from March 2009.
The aim of the project is to demonstrate that the cultivation of aromatic plants can provide a viable alternative to wild collection as a source of medicinal chemicals and reduce the threat to fragile mountain ecosystems and biodiversity in Albania.
Important elements of the projects are awareness raising and sensitization of many people on the types of medicinal herbs, their values, the way we should grow or collect them. The project will include effective practices, field demonstrations of the cultivation techniques on certain varieties of medicinal plants, training of farmers who are medicinal plant collectors and sensitizing campaigns with schools. On this purpose, there will be organized seminars, informational meetings with schools' students who would familiarize themselves with medicinal plants and protection of biodiversity. The seminars will include information on how plants can be collected in the nature, in order to preserve natural biodiversity of our country. The seminars will be assisted by foreigner specialist and by experienced Albanian ones.
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