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Tulip bulbs and beechnuts: famine food consumed during World War II

Posted on 04-12-2017 by Julie de Graaf

The Dutch wartime diet explained from an ethnobotanical perspective, with contributions of 78 Dutch world war 2 survivors.

 Flower bulbs, horse chestnuts, dandelions and common daisies; in the so-called Dutch famine of the Hunger Winter during the last year of the war, the food shortage was so severe that people were forced to eat food that they normally did not consider edible. Scientists from Naturalis Biodiversity Center and Leiden University examined the Dutch wartime diet from an ethnobotanical perspective. November 17, their research about the consumption of vegetal famine food in the Netherlands during World War II was published in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. Thanks to their research, the knowledge of the last living witnesses of the Hunger Winter will be saved for future generations.

 In the Hunger Winter of 1944-1945, people in the Netherlands foraged famine food plants. How did they know how to prepare such plants? The answer to that question is not written down in books, but it was saved in the memories of the people who lived during the Hunger Winter. “Even after seventy years, a lot of people have a lively recollection of their search for wild mushrooms and common nettle. That knowledge did not disappear.”, says professor and ethnobotanicus Tinde van Andel.

Pamphlet famine food

A Dutch WW2 pamphlet to encourage people to collect acorns and beech- and chestnuts, as shown in the article.

Van Andel’s student Tom Vorstenbosch (MSc biology, Leiden University) interviewed 78 elderly Dutch citizens to verify what they remembered of the consumption of vegetal and fungal famine food during World War II. Almost one third of the interviewees explicitly described to have experienced extreme hunger. In total, they listed 38 emergency food species, with people from rural areas listing significantly more wild species than urban people. Knowledge on the edibility of famine food was obtained largely by oral transmission. None of the interviewees remembers experiencing food poisoning from eating famine food. In their recollection, negative effects were limited to sore throats and stomach ache from the consumption of sugar beets and tulip bulbs.

Posted in Research | Tagged tulips, food, famine food, ww2, dutch, world war 2,