In northern Belarus not far from the Russian and Latvian borders lies the district of Rosson, a wooded, wetland area in the Vitebsk region. On the Nischa River, which plunges into the Daugava river as it makes its way to the Baltic Sea, is the village of Kliastizy, with its one hundred or so white-rimmed wooden houses settled upon the hills.
Here, one of the inhabitants’ oldest traditions is collecting berries and wild herbs. There are over 12,000 active gatherers in this region who are dedicated to collecting large, juicy blueberries and cranberries, mushrooms, dog-roses and wild herbs. The custom is well-suited to the area as 70% of the land is covered in forests and the humid wetlands surrounding the lakes are interspersed with small clearings that are exposed to the sun. While an ideal natural environment for aromatic herbs and forest fruits, agriculture has proved difficult, due to the poor terrain.
The plants, flowers and fruit of the berries and herbs are only dried to make infusions, which are used for domestic consumption.
The woodlands offer black currants, wild strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, dog-rose, raspberries, fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium), wild mint, thyme and meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria). All parts of the plant, including the stems, berries, flowers and leaves, are used in making the infusions. Each recipe combines different types and quantities of ingredients according to their flavors, tastes and colors but also with respect to their medicinal effects.
Usually the infusions are accompanied by honey or with a caramel-colored jam made by boiling yellow dandelion leaves in a sugar syrup.
Herbs and fruit are dried out in the open but are sheltered from the sun’s rays. The herbs are allowed to wither for a day on a rough sheet laid out on the ground. The drying process takes place in a large wooden oven (for 2-3 hours) or in a Russian bath using the heat left over from the sauna (less than two hours) or even on top of a wooden oven (for an entire day).
Now the Presidium unites 25 producers from three villages: Kliastizy, Yankovitchi and Zaborye, which founded the Slow Food Rossonu Convivium. In 2010, a Museum of Herbs was inaugurated, where one can see how the traditional wood dryer works and enjoy a cup of herbal tea. The Presidium was founded to offer producers additional opportunities, highlighting their skills in collecting, selecting, drying and pairing wild herbs and fruit. These wild herbs and fruit could furthermore be processed to make preserves, liqueurs and so forth, becoming an important economic resource for the area. Arkadij Skuratovich, scientific researcher from the Belarus Institute of Experimental Botany, is currently helping the Presidium to choose the most interesting recipes and carry out analysis.
Kliastizy, Yankovitchi and Zaborye Villages, Vitebsk region, Rosson district