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Department of Biological Sciences


Local Greenlanders assume that traditional knowledge of plant uses in Greenland has been lost due to extensive Danish contact and modernization. We used an interdisciplinary approach to reconstruct this lost knowledge: the biologist provided botanical identification, plant uses, methods of collection, preparation, and storage, while the linguist provided access to the linguistic identification of the plants, both in Greenland and in a pan-Inuit context, and access to the historical documentation. We conducted open-ended and semi-structured interviews at two sites in South Greenland to document plant names and uses. Our findings indicate that local knowledge of is greater than believed. We documented over 170 uses of plants, mosses, fungi, and seaweeds. Here we consider the meaning and etymologies of Kalaallisut plant names, how they correspond or differ to other Inuit terminology, and compare traditional uses with those from other Arctic peoples to identify traditional Inuit knowledge versus that influenced by Danish contact. Certain medicinal plants appear to be known across the Arctic but differ in preparation between peoples. Some uses are clearly derived from Danish culinary practices. From a linguistic standpoint plant names appear to be derived from the Inuit language family. These data demonstrate the fusion of traditional and colonialist knowledge.



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