The following is the established format for referencing this article:Kujawska, M., and N. D. Jiménez-Escobar. 2023. Shaping garden landscape with medicinal plants by migrant communities in the Atlantic Forest, Argentina. Ecology and Society 28(4):14.
Migrants’ home gardens may be created from elements of both old and new landscapes. We assume that medicinal plant assemblages in migrants’ gardens are shaped by plant diversity and availability, therapeutic needs, and heritagization processes. Which of the factors prevail: those related to biodiversity and ecology, epidemiology, or heritage and memory? In this paper we offer new knowledge on the garden landscapes of the Global South. The research was conducted in the Atlantic Forest in Argentina. We surveyed 120 home gardens: 60 of transborder Paraguayan migrants, and 60 of transcontinental Europeans who arrived in Misiones, Argentina before WW2 and their descendants. We compared the richness, composition, medicinal uses, and the relationships of garden plants (via plant networks) between these groups, taking into account everyday scales and the transnational scale. Paraguayans cultivated and protected 137 species, predominantly native, and people of European origin 119 spp., native and exotic in similar proportions. The similarity in plant composition (68%) and the consensus in the medicinal use of plants (62%) were high between the migrant groups. Plant network analysis revealed many overlaps in assemblages of plants, but certain particularities of each group remained because of cultural expressions and therapeutic needs. This high level of similarity suggests that plant diversity, both native and allochthonous, shared concepts of illness, and the flux of knowledge between these groups was more significant than heritagization practices in shaping home gardens’ medicinal plant assemblages. People of Paraguayan and European origins do not make an active effort to convert their home gardens into heritage. Medicinal plants are connected to the lived emplacement—intimate daily practices—rather than to ethnic identity strategies. Nevertheless, the plant assemblages in gardens have been shaped by ecology, colonial legacy, nostalgia, and transfer of knowledge; therefore migrants’ home gardens can be considered heritage in a broad sense.
When people migrate to other countries or continents, they often take plants with them (Pieroni and Vandebroek 2007). These plants help them to explore new places and create new homes (Nazarea 2005, Graham and Connell 2006, Nesheim et al. 2006, Stokker 2007). Migrants also “rediscover” known species in a new place or they find congenerics exhibiting morphological and chemosensorial similarities to already known plant species (Ceuterick et al. 2008, Vandebroek and Balick 2014, Kujawska and Pardo-de-Santayana 2015). It also happens that migrants try to strengthen their cultural identities in a new place and in this process some plants of a special value become markers of identity (Nguyen 2003, Pieroni and Vandebroek 2007, Can Emmez 2020).
Home gardens are described in the literature as places of great agro-biodiversity with structural complexity and multifunctionality (Smith et al. 2006, Pulido et al. 2008, Sharma et al. 2022). Researchers often see an indissoluble link between home garden biodiversity and cultural heritage (Galluzzi et al. 2010, Birol et al. 2005). Migrant home or allotment gardens are usually created from elements of both old and new landscapes, containing allochthonous species, brought or rediscovered by migrants, and plants native to the host country or region (Spring 1989, Corlett et al. 2003, Morgan et al. 2005, Graham and Connell 2006, Gerodetti and Foster 2016). The gardeners’ origin and status, as well as their traditional foodways, are factors that are likely to influence the choice of plants cultivated in home gardens (Nguyen 2003, Taylor and Lovell 2015, Philpott et al. 2020). However, little has been written about heritagization processes taking place in migrant gardens. Heritagization, in this context, would be a process in which certain plants or assemblages of plants or even the whole ecosystem of a garden are converted into “objects” or spaces of a display with high symbolic value and meaning. In other words, it is a process of symbolic valorization that has tangible consequences for the objects themselves turned into heritage and for their users (Walsh 1992, Smith 2006, Dabezies 2018). This process can be part of local/regional policy (authorized heritage discourse) or a bottom-up initiative of migrant communities or associations in order to embed cultivated plants in a wider discourse of memory, nostalgia, and identity. Immigrants not only transform space incentivized by memory and nostalgia, but they also adapt and engage with new places, learning about new flora and fauna; however, little has been written so far about the particularities and technicalities of this intimate, immersed engagement or emplacement through gardening (Benson 2010).
In this paper we concentrate on the human-landscape and human-plant interactions and relations within migrant home gardens of two diasporic communities in the province of Misiones in Argentina. The first group are Paraguayan migrants who hail from the eastern Paraguay, which belongs to the same ecoregion of the Atlantic Forest as Misiones (Maeder 2010). The second group are transcontinental migrants from Europe, together with their descendants who settled in Misiones in the first decades of the 20th century, before WW2 (Stemplowsi 1991a).
Home gardens are cultural landscapes (Taylor and Lennon 2011, Avilez-López et al. 2020), but most importantly they are places of human and non-human co-creation and co-engagement. Both humans and plants are agents capable of acting in the gardens, as well as relating and communicating with others and with the environment of the garden (Ojalehto et al. 2017). Human and non-human agencies manifest differently, but they can be observed through ongoing interactions in this generated space (Doody et al. 2014). A home garden is not a pre-existing place that a gardener fills with chosen plants that then grow under their command. It has material (ecological and biological) characteristics that are temporally fixed but overall is a place in constant making (Hitchings 2003, Doody et al. 2014, Bartolini and DeSilvey 2020). They are places where human-plant interactions, including tolerance, selection, promotion, and care, take place. These interactions generate processes of co-evolution and domestication (Smith 1996, Blanckaert et al. 2004, Altman and Mesoudi 2019). In Misiones, Argentina, home gardens are environments co-created and shared by humans with different cultural backgrounds and plants that also have diverse origins (Furlan et al. 2016, 2017, Kujawska et al. 2018). Thinking about the plants that create, shape, and dwell in a landscape, we looked more closely at the relationships that are woven between the species of different biogeographic origins (plant-plant relations), the home gardens, and the migrants (plant-human and human-human relations).
Starting from plants as protagonists and seeking to understand plant-plant relations and links, we focused on the following thematic-methodological approaches. We analyzed the biogeographic origins of plants (native versus exotic/allochthonous), understanding exotics as those plants introduced deliberately or non-deliberately by humans that spread and proliferate from one geographic area to other non-native areas (Jiménez-Escobar et al. 2021). We looked at the species richness (number of species) in home gardens, and compared the two factors of richness and origin of plants between the home gardens of two migrant groups. Then we looked at the composition of plants and analyzed the similarities in plant compositions between the home gardens of the two migrant groups. The composition is the set of species in a specific area or ecosystem and this term is used in ecology by some authors interchangeably with assemblages of plants or vegetation assemblages (Hill 1996, Smith et al. 2006). In home gardens, the composition of plants may be shaped by different factors, such as climate, land structure, and use, and plant biodiversity and availability, as well as cultural factors such as the habits, needs, and preferences of gardeners, levels of knowledge and expertise, and the social networks of plant exchange between gardeners (Blanckaert et al. 2004, Poot-Pool et al. 2015, Taylor and Lovell 2015, Díaz-Reviriego et al. 2016, Philpott et al. 2020). Smith et al. (2006) suggest that one reason why home gardens are rarely viewed from the ecological perspective is because garden plant assemblages are overwhelmingly influenced by humans. In this paper we apply a social networks method to look more closely at the relations between plant species with different bio-geographic origins, and the magnitude of links (connections) that they establish between themselves (see Groom et al. 2014). In this respect, we use the term “assemblages of plants,” which, in our view, includes an aspect of relationality, unlike the concept of the plant composition, which is closer to an inventory of plants. The assemblages of plants can be described and understood in social-ecological terms because of interactions and relationships that they establish between themselves and also with other organisms, including humans. The social-ecological connections that shape plant interactions include the selection and propagation of plants, different agricultural practices, as well as the climate, the quality of soils, interaction with pollinators, the presence of pests, tolerance to other plant species (allelopathy). Although human-plant relationships are extensively addressed in ethnobiological studies (Corlett et al. 2003, Albuquerque 2006, Pieroni and Vandebroek 2007), much less attention has been given to plant-plant relationships and interactions (Lema 2013, Doody et al. 2014) and how varying socio-cultural contexts might be promoting or influencing these interactions.
We looked at plant-human relations by analyzing how medicinal plants are embedded in the migratory process, including how nostalgia and memory may shape plant assemblages in the gardens. We also paid attention to plant and human agencies displayed in home gardens. Finally, human-human relations were addressed by the analysis of migrant health concepts and the flux of knowledge about medicinal plants. Local health concepts and etiological systems are usually embedded in local ontological frameworks and cosmologies. They also depend on the community members’ exposure, in terms of time and intensity, to biomedicine. Shared health concepts and the place of medicinal plants in the overall ethnomedical system may favor the flux of medicinal knowledge between different migrant groups living in one region (Pieroni and Quave 2005, Kujawska et al. 2017). On the other hand, whenever the use of medicinal plants is embedded in very specific cultural-etiological systems not understood by other sympatric societies, the flux of knowledge seems to decrease (Leonti et al. 2003, de Boer et al. 2012).
In this study we concentrate on medicinal plants, which are the second most important plant category in Latin American home gardens after food plants (Pulido et al. 2008). Our major research question is: what shapes the assemblages of plants in migrant home gardens? We assume that there may be botanical and ecological, as well as epidemiological and cultural drivers that lie behind the richness and composition/assemblages of these plants in home gardens. Taking as a case study Paraguayan and European migrants and their descendants in Misiones, Argentina, we analyzed two botanical-ecological factors that may determine the composition of plants in home gardens (richness and biogeographic origin); as well as those factors related to migrants’ concepts of health and illness and the prevalent epidemiology picture in the region; and finally cultural traits, especially those related to memory, nostalgia, and heritagization processes. With this study, we would like to ascertain factors that seem crucial in shaping migrant garden landscapes. Moreover, few studies dedicated to migrant home gardens have included and discussed lists of medicinal plants cultivated in these spaces (Spring 1989, Corlett et al. 2003), which hinders ethnobotanical and ethnoecological comparative studies. With this paper we would like to contribute to migrant ethnobotany and ethnoecology.
MATERIAL AND METHODS
Study area and the people
The Atlantic Forest ecoregion extends northwards along the coast of Brazil and includes the eastern part of Paraguay and Misiones in Argentina. The Atlantic Forest was one of the largest rainforests of the Americas, originally covering around 1,500,000 km². But 89.08% of its original cover has been lost, and only 10.92% of the original vegetation (163,774.72 km²) remains (Ribeiro et al. 2009). Because of high species richness (flora and fauna) and high rates of endemism (about 40% of 20,000 plant species are endemic), this ecoregion is ranked among the most biodiverse spots in the world (Myers et al. 2000). About 7% of all biological species of our planet live in its area (Plací and Di Bitetti 2006, Ribeiro et al. 2009).
The Atlantic Forest of the Upper Paraná (Bosque Atlántico del Alto Paraná) is the largest (471,204 km²) of all ecoregions of the Atlantic Forest ecological complex. It stretches from the western slopes of Serra do Mar in Brazil (states: São Paulo, Santa Catarina, Paraná, Río Grande do Sul) and covers eastern Paraguay and the province of Misiones in Argentina. Until the 1970s, a large portion of the forest cover of the Atlantic Forest in eastern Paraguay and Provincia de Misiones in Argentina remained, with limited alterations. Since then, the Atlantic Forest in Paraguay has suffered massive and continuous deforestation (Da Ponte et al. 2017). Currently, it is much better preserved in Argentina than in Brazil and Paraguay (Galindo-Leal and Câmara 2003).
The Atlantic Forest of the Upper Paraná was traditionally populated by Guaraní Indigenous people (Bartolomé 2009). During colonial times this region was dotted with Jesuit missions. The Jesuits were one of many agents of what was later called “Columbian exchange,” a movement of plants on an unprecedented scale after the conquest of America (Butzer 1992). The Jesuits introduced numerous medicinal plants of Mediterranean and Asian origin that they propagated among the native people (Montenegro 2007 , Stampella and Keller 2021). They also introduced Hippocratic humoral concepts, popular at that time in Europe, which filtered into Guaraní and mestizo society (Chase-Sarandi 1990).
Paraguayan bilingual society, Spanish and Guaraní, emerged relatively early during colonial times (Austin 2020). Both Guaraní and European phytotherapeutic knowledge and practices were preserved in this society (Chase-Sardi 1990). Many scholars have highlighted the importance of medicinal plants in the daily life of Paraguayan people until today (Chase-Sardi 1990, Breuer Moreno 2007, Degen de Arrúa et al. 2019, Kujawska and Shmeda-Hirschmann 2022). The reason(s) for this might be: the relative political and geographical isolation of Paraguay during colonial and early independence times; its ecological diversity and low population density; the mixing of the indigenous Guaraní people with the early Spanish settlers to a higher degree than in other areas of South America; and/or a weak representation of Western-style medicine (biomedicine) in rural areas (Angeles et al. 1999, Breuer Moreno 2007).
Since colonial times Paraguayan people have been moving across the Paraná River (1699 km), which has marked a border between Paraguay and Argentina since 1876, in search of work. In the 19th century this was mainly selective logging and the collecting of wild-growing yerba mate, and in the 20th century Paraguayans found occupation in a growing forestry industry (including sawmills) and as farm and domestic labor in European migrant farms and households (Bolsi 1976, Kraustofl 2008). The flow of Paraguayans intensified in the second half of the 20th century. The economic incentives were coupled with political ones, such as the long dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner (1954–1989). In the last three decades important motivations have also included access to the public health and social security system in Argentina. In both countries, patients without medical coverage from other institutions may receive public health care, but the Argentinean system is perceived as better by the Paraguayans (Vindrola-Padros 2015). According to the census of 2010, Paraguayans represent 30.5% of all immigrants in the country, equivalent to 8.6% of the total population of Paraguay (INDEC 2010, Torres 2014). The massive immigration wave of Paraguayans, together with Bolivians and Peruvians, to Argentina since the 1990s has been faced with racist and xenophobic narratives from some sectors of Argentinean society (Grimson 2006).
The architects of the Argentinean nation believed that the “non-productive” forest of Misiones should be subdued and transformed through an intensive process of settlement by European farmers, and not Paraguayan or Brazilian mestizo people (Wilde 2008). Between the 1890s and the end of the 1930s, Misiones was practically flooded by settlers from almost all European countries (Bolsi 1976, Bartolomé 2007). During the 1920s and 1930s, the densely forested areas in the Upper Paraná were parceled. Through this process settlements were created, such as Puerto Rico, Montecarlo, and Eldorado, which were inhabited mainly by Germans, then Ruzi de Montoya inhabited by the Swiss, and finally Wanda and Gobernador J.J. Lanusses villages, where Polish migrants with an admixture of other Slavs were settled (Stemplowski 1991a, Gallero 2008, Zang 2020).
The rapid influx of the European population led to complicated socioeconomic relations and interdependencies. The migratory project in Misiones privileged Europeans: they acquired much larger land parcels with titles (minimum 25 ha) than Paraguayans, who obtained their land via the purchase, settlement, or squatting of state lands (Span. tierras fiscales) or private lands, and farmed on small size plots of 1–2 ha (Schiavoni 2006, Kraustofl 2008, Furlan et al. 2017, Zang 2020). The main asset of the Paraguayan migrants was their traditional environmental knowledge, including medicinal and food plants, which enabled them to continue their foodways and phytotherapy and rely on local plants, which were the same species or congenerics known from eastern Paraguay (Furlan et al. 2017, Kujawska and Schmeda-Hirschmann 2022). Their environmental knowledge and associated skills were channeled to farm labor for Europeans and in the forestry sector. European migrants, however, also brought phytotherapeutic knowledge to Misiones, but this could not easily be utilized with the subtropical flora of Misiones. Before WWII, folk and home medicine including phytotherapy predominated in Central and Eastern Europe (Talko-Hryncewicz 1893, Paluch 1984, Cero et al. 2014, Weltz et al. 2019). Phytotherapy continued to be the primary treatment enhanced by the absence of biomedicine in the rural areas of Misiones until the 1980s (Kujawska 2016).
Migrant communities continued to perform their own cultural, educational, and economic activities, most often through the initiative of their institutions, such as associations, cooperatives, churches, and ethnic schools (Stemplowski 1991b, Gallero 2008). These actions created a space for transmitting the native cultures of migrants and for the bottom-up heritagization processes around festivity, as well as ethnic and traditional food (Gallero 2008, Porada 2018). The local museums commemorating the European migratory process to Misiones were established as part of the diasporas’ initiative in Montecarlo, Ruiz de Montoya, Wanda, inter alia. We are not aware of any heritagization movement around landscape and plant species either from migrants or on the initiative of the provincial authorities.
Fieldwork and data collection
Altogether 120 home gardens were surveyed for the presence of medicinal plants (Fig. 1, Table 1). Sixty gardens were of Paraguayan migrants and their descendants born from Paraguayan parents. Sixty gardens were of European migrants and their descendants, and they included 42 gardens of people with Polish origin, 9 of people with German origin, 5 of Ukrainians, and 4 of Swiss origin people (from German cantons). They are treated here as one group of European migrants and their descendants, as they belonged to the same colonization project and they originated from similar climates. They also share a rhetoric of war waged against subtropical forest (Span. selva) as an untamed and hostile place.
We used a snowball sampling technique to recruit study participants (Martin 2004). In the pool of participants were both migrants and their descendants from the first, second, and third generation born in South America. As for the Paraguayan people we worked with, there were 45 migrants and 15 persons born in Argentina of Paraguayan parents, 44 of them women (mean age 62.5), and 16 men (mean age 67). As for the Europeans, 7 were migrants and 53 descendants mostly from the first generation born in South America, among them 45 women (mean age 59) and 15 men (mean age 60). The descendants of these migrants were people with multilayered identities who not only preserved the last names of their European ancestors and memories of their roots; they also often maintained relations with the county of origin of their parents or grandparents via real contacts and visits, or symbolically through the retention of some inherited habits and customs.
During guided walks in home gardens with individuals, we asked the gardeners for the names of plants, their uses, modes of obtaining and propagation, and any other information and stories related to these plants. During a semi-structured interview that followed the guided walk, we asked about their favorite plants, about the plants they missed from their country of origin, and also about plants they brought from their visits to Paraguay or Europe, respectively. Additionally, the life stories (i.e., oral, autobiographical narratives) of 14 gardeners were recorded during one-on-one interviews. In this pool were people born in Europe and Paraguay and a few Polish, German, and Swiss descendants from the second and third generation born in South America, but who retained their mother tongue. This was done to better contextualize plants in the migratory process. Moreover, we conducted open-ended conversations with the authorities of migrant associations (Polish and Swiss), which were helpful in establishing their potential activity oriented toward heritagization processes. This research was embedded in two larger projects focused on the medical and food ethnobotany of European and Paraguayan migrants in Misiones (with fieldwork in 2009, 2011, 2014, 2015, and 2019). The research in home gardens was performed in 2011, 2014–2015, and 2019. The main language of inquiry was Spanish, but occasionally interviews were done in Polish. Most Paraguayan study participants were bilingual, speaking both Spanish and Guaraní. We followed the ethical protocol of the American Anthropological Association and the International Society for Ethnobotany while working with study participants. Every time a species was recorded, a voucher specimen was collected, then identified and stored in the Herbarium of the Instituto de Botánica del Nordeste (IBONE) in Corrientes, Argentina. Moreover, all medicinal plants of each home garden were documented in photos and they can be verified in the affiliation site of the first author.
In answering the question of which features may shape the composition/assemblages of medicinal plants in migrant home gardens we performed the following analysis. First, we wanted to analyze the similarities between the home gardens of two study groups. In order to do so, first we estimated the richness of medicinal plant species growing in all home gardens, and then we compared the richness of native and exotic species between the two migrant groups. The binomial test was used to test the null hypothesis that exotic and natives were used in the same proportion (p < 0.05). For the binomial test, naturalized species of the Neotropics were included in the native ones and Citrus aurantium, of eastern Asian origin, was grouped with exotic species. The statuses of plants, native, naturalized, or exotic, were determined based on the information found in the Flora del Cono Sur database (Zuloaga et al. 2008). The South Cone region (Span. cono sur) geographically corresponds to Argentina, southern Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The exotic species are those introduced to this area since colonial times (the 16th century), and naturalized are those exotic species whose populations grow without human intervention and are not considered invasive.
We estimated the level of similarity in the composition of medicinal plants between the home gardens of the Paraguayan and European migrants and their descendants. This was done using the Sørensen similarity coefficient (Murguía-Romero and Villaseñor 2003).
On the next level of analysis, we wanted to find out whether the richness and composition of medicinal plants in home gardens was indeed correlated with the origin of the gardeners. A binary matrix was prepared (1 = presence, 0 = absence) with all the medicinal plants found in 120 home gardens. The home gardens were codified: from 1 to 60 of European migrants and from 61 to 120 of Paraguayan migrants. The columns were of plant species (169), and the rows were gardens (120). The matrix was used to perform a principle component analysis (PCA) and cluster analysis. The PCA was performed in order to find out whether there was an important variance in the gardeners’ plant composition. Cluster analysis was done in order to see which gardens were most similar based on the richness and composition of the medicinal plants cultivated in them, regardless of the origin of a gardener. The cluster analysis was performed using Python’s SciPy hierarchy module, with a ward method. This was part of an analysis of plant-plant and human-plant relationship.
In order to establish additional aspects of plant-plant relationships as well as human-plant relationship, an analysis of plants’ network structure in the home gardens was carried out. The networks were made with the NetworkX module in the Python programming language. In our analysis plant species are nodes. The degree for each node establishes the number of connections (edges) that the species presents with other species in the home gardens. This was obtained from the NetworkX output graph. When the same assemblage of species is repeated in different gardens, the degree value does not increase; it increases for a species every time it is linked to another different species. For instance, a species A present in garden 1 with species B, C, and D has a degree 3. Then if in garden 2 species A is present with species B, D, and E, its total degree is 4 (the unique species with which A is connected being B, C, D, and E). If chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) was present as a sole species even in 120 gardens, its degree would be 0, but if in each of the gardens it was cultivated together with another, always different species, its degree would be 120. The degree is a measure of the centrality of nodes (here, plant species) in the plant network in home gardens. Plant network analysis was useful in order to: (1) find out which species had the highest number of degree (connections) in home gardens, (2) calculate the most exclusive and yet representative species of each group (understood as the value of the degree in Paraguayan gardens minus the value of the degree in European gardens), and (3) graphically represent the complexity of the connections between plants. The network diagram is a graphic representation, which schematizes the diversity of plants and the links with which they establish between themselves in home gardens. Although other authors have used different methods to schematize networks in studies with plants (Calvet-Mir et al. 2012, Groom et al. 2014, Díaz-Reviriego et al. 2016), this work explores the social networks to present an additional view on the relationships between plants, providing an effective visualization of these connections. We seek to explore the complementarity of tools to understand dynamics, reveal patterns and relationships, and thus develop the field of ethnobiology.
We also compared the medicinal categories and illnesses prevalent in both groups studied that were treated with garden plants. We did it in order to see whether the two groups of migrants used plants for treating similar illnesses. If this was the case, it might inform us about the flux of knowledge related to medicinal plants. The magnitude of medicinal categories and illnesses was established by taking into account the number of species employed in their treatment. Additionally, we checked the level of consensus on the medicinal use of plants between Paraguayans and Europeans. In doing so, only shared species were considered. We used a 0/1 scoring: when the prevalent medicinal use of a given plant was the same in both groups, the plants scored 1, and when it was divergent, it scored 0. Then the overlaps were calculated and the consensus was expressed as a percentage. This was part of the analysis of human-human relationship.
We searched for direct expressions of nostalgia, memory, and attachment to particular medicinal plants from the country of origin that could act as markers of identity or that could be subject to heritagization processes. We analyzed the content of our interlocutors’ recorded life stories and interviews which included information about their favored medicinal plants, or those that have played a special role in the migratory process. This was part of the analysis of human-plant relationship.
Home gardens of migrant communities
Migrants from Europe and Paraguay have already had experience with home gardens in their countries of origin, but the previous experience has gone through certain adaptations in Misiones. Home gardens in rural and semi-rural areas in Misiones are composed of a patio, which is a frontal part of the garden, but usually extended to the sides of the house, and a huerto, usually an encircled part of a garden at the back or side of the house, where vegetables and herbs are cultivated. European migrants and their descendants generally maintained larger home gardens, including huertos with a greater diversity of green and root vegetables, than Paraguayan migrants did. In some gardens of European descendants, we found an orchard as a separate garden unit. The reason for these differences may be due to the overall size of the plots of these two groups. The Paraguayan migrants were under greater pressure if they wanted to have manioc and/or maize plantations (their staple food) within the same plot of 1–2 ha together with culinary herbs and fruit trees as well as medicinal and ornamental plants. In the rural areas of Misiones, the sizes of the home gardens of the European migrants increased while those of the Paraguayan migrants decreased compared to their gardens in their country of origin. In the urban areas, the home gardens of Paraguayan and European migrants and their descendants were of similar size and they often lacked a huerto. Medicinal plants were cultivated in patios in the gardens of rural and semi-rural areas, while in urban home gardens they were scattered throughout the whole garden. These gardens and adjacent areas were important sources of medicinal plants for both Paraguayan and European migrants and their descendants.
Richness of medicinal species in home gardens
We recorded 169 species of medicinal plants grown in 120 home gardens of both the Paraguayan and European migrants and their descendants. Of this total, 94 medicinal species were native (55.6%), 69 were exotic (40.8%) to the Atlantic Forest of the Upper Paraná, and six had been naturalized to this ecosystem. There was a huge heterogeneity in the plant species grown in home gardens: 56 species (33%) grew in at least six home gardens, ≥ 5% of all gardens, while 113 plant species (67%) grew in five or fewer home gardens (Appendix 1).
In the Paraguayan home gardens 137 plant species were recorded, of them 87 (63.5%) native and 46 (33.6%) exotic species, and four naturalized species. This difference, in relation to the biogeographical origin of the species in the Paraguayan gardens, was statistically significant (Binomial Test = < 0.001, p < 0.05). In the home gardens of European migrants and their descendants, 119 botanical species were registered: 58 (48.7%) native, 56 (47.1%) exotic, and 5 naturalized species. The differences in native and exotic species in the European migrant home gardens were not statistically significant (Binomial Test = 0.359, p < 0.05).
Similarities between medicinal plants in home gardens
The Paraguayan migrants, as a group, cultivated a greater number of medicinal plant species in their gardens compared to the European migrants and their descendants. However, the mean number of cultivated species per garden was similar: Paraguayans: 11 (max. 26, min. 2; SD = 5.8), Europeans: 10 (max. 38, min. 2; SD = 6.4), but a greater variability in plant richness between individuals was observed in the European group.
The similarity in medicinal plant composition in the gardens of both groups was high, at 68% (Sørensen coefficient). The two groups shared 87 species. The Paraguayan migrants had 50 and the European 32 exclusive species. Among the exclusive species of the Paraguayans we found: (1) native trees protected or transplanted from the forest (Gleditsia amorphoides, Luehea divaricata, Myrocarpus frondosus, Picrasma crenata), (2) Atlantic Forest fruit trees used in the function of medicine (Campomanesia xanthocarpa, Eugenia involucrata, Garcinia brasiliensis), (3) tolerated and protected native weeds (Alternanthera pungens, Calyptocarpus biaristatus, Cyclospermum leptophyllum, Euphorbia prostrata, Pluchea sagittalis, Scoparia dulcis), (4) plants of special importance in the Guaraní cosmology and pharmacopeia (Acrocomia aculeata, Dorstenia brasiliensis, Parietaria debilis), and (5) plants brought and propagated by the Jesuits or Spaniards as foods and medicines (coriander, lavender, mango). In the Paraguayan migrants’ home gardens the number of tolerated, protected, and transplanted forest plants was greater than in the European migrants’ home gardens (see Appendix 1). These plants usually need less tending and management than cultivated plants. On the other hand, the exclusive European migrants’ and their descendants’ plants were: (1) European vegetables used as medicine (onion and cabbage), (2) European medicinal plants that were recognized or directly brought by migrants or their descendants during visits to Europe (Arnica angustifolia, Artemisia vulgaris, Capsella bursa-pastoris, Hypericum perforatum, Malva parviflora, Sonchus oleraceus, Urtica dioica), and (3) currently “fashionable” medicinal plants, first promoted in Brazil, and which could only be purchased in plant nurseries in urban centers (Annona muricata, Artocarpus heterophyllus, Malpighia glabra).
Patterns behind home garden groupings
The principal component analysis (PCA) identified a dominant feature, which singly accounted for 18% of the variance in the gardeners’ plant matrix. Was the origin of migrants this dominant feature? To understand this, we prepared a hierarchical clustering directly from the binary matrix, which took into account the plant richness and composition of each garden (Fig. 2).
The clustering suggests four clusters as optimal; however, one of them was very small, thus it was merged with the most proximate one. In this way we obtained three groupings. In our search for the relationships between gardens and plants and the interpretation of this clustering we found that the groupings were made based on the plant richness in the home gardens, and not based on the composition of plant species in these gardens (Fig. 3).
The grouping of gardens and at the same time the difference between the clusters are due to the plant richness: the number of medicinal species per garden. These groupings are partly correlated with the origin of the gardener. An orange grouping, small number of species, is represented by both gardeners of Paraguayan and European origin; a green grouping, medium to high number of species, is represented mostly by European migrants; and a purple cluster, high number of species, is represented mostly by Paraguayan migrants (Table 2).
Plant networks in the migrant home gardens
The diagrams of plant networks are a graphic representation of the existing connections and relationships between plants in different home gardens (Figs. 4 and 5). Both networks contain native and exotic species without clear grouping patterns, which means that native and exotic species were mixed together in these gardens (Appendix 1 contains all species with their node numbers and the degree values). The core of each network is well marked; these are the plant/nodes with the greatest degree; however, the networks are not only created by core species but also by those that are specific to each migrant group, and the ones that are more peripheral, thus the robustness of the networks.
In the plant network found in Paraguayan migrants’ gardens, the species with the highest degree (number of connections) and that participated in the greatest number of assemblages are in the center of the graph. They are presented as the larger nodes. Among the exotic species with the highest degree were found: Ruta chalepensis (degree = 113), Cymbopogon citratus (112), Rosmarinus officinalis (112), Mentha spp. (106), Artemisia absinthium (103), and Aloe maculata (100). From the pool of native species, only salvia’s (Lippia alba) number of connections exceeded those of the mentioned exotic species (115), and other distinguished native species in this network were: Allophylus edulis (94), Sida cordifolia (89), Baccharis trimera (87), Maytenus ilicifolia (86), Aloysia polystachya (81), and Heteropterys glabra (80).
In the plant network in the gardens of European migrants and their descendants some exotic plants had a great number of connections (high degree), such as Ruta chalepensis (100), Mentha spp. (97), Rosmarinus officinalis (87), Aloe maculata (84), Cymbopogon citratus (84), and Artemisia absinthium (82). From the group of native species, Lippia alba (107), Allophylus edulis (85), Baccharis trimera (85), Eugenia uniflora (78), Baccharis gaudichaudiana (75), Aloysia polystachya (74), and Sida cordifolia (71) stood out for the number of connections they had in these gardens. In general, four species were responsible for the largest number of connections, being the most characteristic in home gardens, regardless of whether they were Paraguayan or European migrants’ gardens: Lippia alba, Ruta chalepensis, Rosmarinus officinalis, and Aloe maculata.
We calculated the difference in the degree of the plants from the Paraguayan and European migrants’ home gardens to find out which plants were the most characteristic and exclusive in the gardens of the two groups studied. In other words, this was done to find species important for one group but of little or no relevance to the other. The degree values were split into tertiles and sorted. The first tertile (degrees between -58 and -7) included the plants characteristic of the home gardens of European migrants, the second tertile (-6 and 16) plants with similar degree between the home gardens of both groups, and the third tertile (17 to 67) plants representative of Paraguayan home gardens. Thus, in the first tertile, the plants that characterized European migrants’ gardens were native Baccharis gaudichaudiana, Chaptalia nutans, and Cunilla microcephala, and exotic Artemisia vulgaris and Citrus limettioides (these last four being exclusive to these gardens). The third tertile included the characteristic species of Paraguayan home gardens; these were exotic Coriandrum sativum, Foeniculum vulgare, and Rosa sp., and native Heteropterys glabra, Rollinia salicifolia, and Xanthium spinosum (exotic coriander and rose being exclusive to these gardens).
Flux of plants and strategies for obtaining them
The Paraguayan people who moved from eastern Paraguay to Misiones have been able to continue their phytotherapy without major changes. This cultural-ecological convenience was expressed by one of our interlocutors: “All medicinal plants that grow here grow also in Paraguay. But do they have different names? I don’t think so, because salvia in Paraguay is salvia, ruda is ruda, menta is menta, romero is romero; no, they don’t change” (W, 62, Par.). Interestingly, the interlocutor elicited the core home garden species, apart from salvia (Lippia alba), all of European origin. When Paraguayan migrants mentioned differences they had found in Misiones, they were concerned about the characteristics of the soil rather than the plants themselves.
Nevertheless, some migrants took plants from their gardens in Paraguay and moved together with them to new localities in Misiones. This is how “rosa blanca” (Rosa cf. chinensis) traveled from Itavera to Puerto Wanda, both being small settlements located on opposite sides of the Paraná River: “It is a small rose. It has a lovely scent. You know what I use it for? I am easily constipated. I am dry inside, and with this I regulate myself. My mother said that it was given to newborns, to purge them, and this plant I have here, I brought it from Paraguay. This is a rare rose, not like the others, and it has only four petals. It is very white and has this special scent. I take it with mate [yerba mate drink]” (W, 74, Par.).
Other Paraguayan migrants mentioned that it was during visits to their family in Paraguay that they were bestowed with seeds or seedlings, which then they brought back to Misiones. Yet other migrants, after a thorough inspection of vegetation in the area of the new settlement, figured out which important species for them were unavailable, and tried to obtain them during visits to Paraguay. Finally, some plants became popular in Paraguay sooner than in Misiones, e.g., moringa (Moringa oleifera), of Asian origin; thus some migrants made an effort to obtain them personally or via a network of family and friends in Paraguay. Last but not least, on some occasions we learned that a given species was brought from Paraguay after it had been recommended as a remedy for a particular chronic disease; this is the case with “insulina” (Cissus verticillata) and “yaguarete po” (Smallanthus connatus), remedies for diabetes. The plants were brought clandestinely to Misiones because the legal regulations forbid the free transit of plant material across the international border. The urge to bring plants from Paraguay is largely motivated by family healing traditions (attachment to old and known remedies), memories (also connected to taste and scent), affection for certain species (nostalgia), and also by search for accessible and available herbal remedies. For many of the Paraguayan people we worked with, home phytotherapy was the primary and the most important form of prophylaxis and healing, especially of chronic diseases.
We recorded testimonies of European migrants who brought along a few medicinal plants and planted them in their home gardens, such as mint (Mentha spp.), chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), dill (Anethum graveolens), wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), and, in the case of one Swiss descendant, nettle (Urtica dioica). Mint and chamomile were already present in Misiones, brought by Jesuit monks (see Montenegro 2007 ). Wormwood must have come with Spanish settlers or the Jesuits, but yarrow and mugwort were introduced by German or Swiss migrants. These plants are common synanthropic weeds in Central and Eastern Europe, but in Misiones they happened to be cultivated in home gardens, their use being maintained in the family pharmacopeias. A descendant of Polish migrants remembered: “Mom didn’t know herbs; the one thing she drank was wormwood and chamomile, the one thing mom had in the garden. They didn’t know other things” (W, 79, Pol.).
European migrants had two opportunities during which they could introduce European plants to Misiones: first, upon arrival in Misiones in the prewar period and second, when the migrants and descendants explored their European roots and returned to Europe to visit their families. One of the Swiss migrants brought from such a visit half a kilo of yarrow seeds found in the Alpine region where his relatives lived. He spread the seeds throughout the whole garden and gave some extra seeds to his neighbors of German and Swiss descendants. Swiss descendants also brought nettle and poppy (Papaver rhoeas) seeds from their visits to Switzerland, then shared them with their neighbors in Ruiz de Montoya.
Paraguayan migrants, commonly called Criollos, were a very relevant source for learning about medicinal plants by European migrants:
Mom was afraid to give us some herbs, not knowing them. And others used more, they were not afraid, or knew them better. My mother, by virtue of being a woman, had no contact with Criollos, unlike the men. Then some had peons [farm workers] whom they paid. And those learned from the peons about the herbs (W, 46, Pol.).
It seems that the knowledge about local medicinal plants that were suitable for cultivation in the home gardens was growing among the European migrants and their descendants: “They didn’t use herbal medicines in the past, because there weren’t any, and even if there were, no one knew them. When they started using carqueja [Baccharis trimera], everyone drank it and for any event” (W, 73, Ukr.). Some European migrants followed the Paraguayans in their phytotherapeutical practices despite racist attitudes toward them: “Cocú [Allophylus edulis] is good for jaundice, so primitive people say [orig. la gente primitiva]. Cocú takes the fever out of the liver. I used to treat my daughter with it when she had jaundice” (W, 74, Pol.).
Paraguayan migrants and the descendants of European migrants nowadays have diverse strategies for obtaining medicinal plants in their home gardens. These strategies should not be discussed separately because most exchanges cross ethnic borders. If we have so far, it was done for analytical reasons, to highlight historical events and to point to some particularities caused by local and transcontinental migration. The local market of seeds and seedlings of medicinal plants is practically non-existent; hence plants are obtained mainly via family, neighborly and friendship circles. Some species require special propagation techniques, such as wormwood and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), because they rarely produce seeds in the subtropics and are propagated in a vegetative way. It was reported by our interlocutors that in the case of annual plants they collected and re-sowed seeds each year or, when lost, recovered them via family and neighborly networks. Another strategy was the transplanting of young trees and shrubs from the forest. This is how a few very important medicinal plants, especially for Paraguayans, such as “cangorosa” (Maytenus ilicifolia), “ňandy’pa” (Sorocea bonplandii), and the liana “isipó milhombres” (Aristolochia triangularis), were propagated in home gardens. Medicinally important herbs and ferns were also transplanted from the forest. One of the Paraguayan interlocutors asked during one of the conversations:
Do you know pipi [Petiveria alliacea]? - Yes, this grows naturally, one doesn’t have to plant it, does one? - No, you have to plant it, because it is from the forest. People of old times always had this plant near their homes. They would bring it from the forest and plant it, because they said that it warded off bad emotions and vibes (Span. malas ondas). And, look, we carry on with what we were taught. (W, 74, Par.)
Similarities in medicinal uses of plants cultivated in home gardens
The analysis of medicinal categories shows that both groups used medicinal plants cultivated in home gardens in the treatment of similar health categories (Figs. 6 and 7). In both groups these plants were predominantly used in digestive, circulatory and respiratory illnesses. Both groups also recognized hot and cold remedies, which are remnants of the Hippocratic-Galenic system.
The particularities of each group were found in the importance of functional food for Europeans and numerous plants used in prophylaxis by Paraguayans. European migrants incorporated diverse foods, also in the function of medicine, as a healthcare strategy. This can be observed in the cultivation and protection of a wide array of green vegetables and weeds in their gardens used in salads, such as native “achicoria silvestre” (Hypochaeris chilensis), “mintruz” (Lepidium didymum) and “llantén” (Plantago australis), a congeneric known from Europe of plantain (Plantago spp.). Apart from the native green vegetables/weeds, introduced species were also employed, such as “borraja” (Borago officinalis), “diente de león” (Taraxacum sp.), “ortiga” (Urtica dioica), and “lechuga japonesa/brasiliana” (Lactuca virosa).
At the same time, Paraguayan migrants incorporated different medicinal plants on a daily basis into their most important social drink: the infusion of yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis). Paraguayans were labeled by their neighbors of European backgrounds as those who always drank their yerba mate with an admixture of medicinal plants: “If you go by boat to the other side of the Paraná [to Paraguay], there you’ll see Criollos drinking mate; it’s so green from the herbs, your nose twists from the smells” (W, 47, Pol.). Paraguayans hardly ever employed rosemary, mint, or coriander in food preparation but rather used them as medicine (or medicinal food):
Coratu [Coriandrum sativum] was used by people in the past. There were these anemic kids; this [coratu] was given to them with an egg. It was ground or crushed and put onto a soft-boiled egg and they were fed with this. And this is how the kids were treated. I take it out of habit. (W, 74, Par.)
Another analysis we performed shows that out of 87 species shared by both groups, 54 (62%) had the same prevalent medicinal uses among both groups studied. Even the most versatile plants, endowed with many medicinal uses and properties, stood out for one particular use, measured here by the number of mentions.
Shaping migrant home gardens with medicinal plants
This study contributes new data from the Atlantic Forest in Argentina into the discussion of human-plant interactions that shape home gardens. It also provides new insights to an ongoing debate about migrants’ home gardens and how they are created from elements of both “old” and “new” landscapes (Corlett et al. 2003, Morgan et al. 2005, Gerodetti and Foster 2016). Home gardens are never static but always in the making (Jones 2006, Bartolini and DeSilvey 2020), thus the composition of plants, including the proportions of “old” and “new” plants may change with the time spent by migrants in the host country (Graham and Cornell 2006, Taylor and Lovell 2015, Mancini 2020).
European migrants experienced a total change of climate, seasons, landscape, and flora and their activities concentrated on both the transformation of subtropical forest into big gardens and plantations, and at the same time, the adaptation to local conditions (Wilde 2008, Kujawska and Pardo-de-Santayana 2015, Zang 2020). When we look at these processes through medicinal plants cultivated in gardens, we see that the transformation of the landscape was managed by the introduction of exotic species into the network of local plant relations, and the adaptation to local healing flora by learning how to distinguish, cultivate, and use local plants. European migrants have benefited more from what has been an unbalanced medicinal knowledge flux than Paraguayan people have. They expanded their ability to interact with the environment and have learned about the native species disproportionately more than they could offer to Paraguayan migrants from their European pharmacopeia. Moreover, when they arrived in Misiones, most of the important medicinal species of European origin were already there (Montenegro 2007 ). Paraguayan people not only transferred knowledge about local healing flora to the Europeans, but also the cultural legacy attached to these species. The similarities in the folk medicinal systems of Paraguayans and central Europeans, which in both cases privileged phytotherapy, together with the similarities in etiological systems made the transfer of knowledge about medicinal plants possible (Kujawska et al. 2017).
The richness of medicinal plants in migrant home gardens may be influenced by therapeutic needs, especially the importance and reliance on phytotherapy in daily life (Spring 1989, Furlan et al. 2016). A relatively large number of cultivated and protected species increases therapeutic sovereignty (Corlett et al. 2003). Moreover, it may also reflect the extent of the environmental knowledge of the gardeners (Corlett et al. 2003, Kujawska et al. 2018). From a plant perspective, a large richness means a greater interconnection of species (Archambault 2016). Compared to the limited number of other studies that have included lists of medicinal plants cultivated in migrant gardens, we found a relatively large richness of medicinal plants in migrant home gardens in Misiones. Spring (1989) recorded 37 medicinal plants cultivated by Laotian Hmong refugees in Minnesota, and Corlett et al. (2003) 36 medicinal plants cultivated by Hmong in central California. Indigenous Mbya Guaraní people from Misiones use a great number of medicinal plants in their therapies, close to 400, but only 51 species, mainly of exotic origin, are cultivated in their home gardens, the rest coming from natural habitats (Keller 2008). Therefore, even though we did not study the whole richness and composition of migrant home gardens, we may claim, based on the richness of medicinal plants, that these plants are recognizable and meaningful features of the migrant home garden landscapes in Misiones.
We are aware that the apparently neutral ecological discrimination into native and exotic species is part of the colonial legacy and postcolonial reflection (Mastnak et al. 2014). Moreover, from an emic migrant perspective, non-ecological perception is important, such as divisions into “known” and “unknown,” “our” versus “their” plants (Medeiros et al. 2017). In this study we followed the ecological division because it enabled us to compare the proportions of native and exotic plants between the study groups and see how migrant communities in Misiones contribute to preservation of the native flora. The greater reliance on native species by Paraguayan and similar proportions in the use of native and exotic species by European migrants and their descendants may be attributed to the similarities of the flora in Misiones and eastern Paraguay (Galindo-Leal and Câmara 2003, Da Ponte et al. 2017), which favored the retention of knowledge and possibilities in cultivating native medicinal plants by Paraguayans, contrary to European settlers, who incorporated a great number of native species of the Atlantic Forest into their home gardens. Our results demonstrate the great value of native species in biological and cultural terms, and also the pivotal role of traditional ecological knowledge in preserving the use of native species.
On the other hand, some species of exotic origin may gain a dominant role in medicinal plant assemblages in home gardens because of their absence in the natural environment (Keller 2008, Molares and Ladio 2014, Kujawska et al. 2018) or because of changing plant fashions and new therapeutic needs, phenomena that often lead to the diversification of home gardens (Furlan et al. 2016, Caballero-Serrano et al. 2019). The cultivation of exotic species may also stem from complex historical trajectories. For example, Paraguayan mestizo people are renowned for their traditional use of exotic coriander and white rose (Rosa sp.), species introduced and propagated by Jesuit monks in the colonial period (Montenegro 2007 ). We could establish by this study that there were German and Swiss migrants who introduced mugwort and yarrow to Misiones and maintained their populations ever since. There are more examples in the literature of exotic edible plants than medicinal ones cultivated in gardens by migrants, which help them to establish in new places and continue their traditions (Nguyen 2003, Graham and Connell 2006, Gerodetti and Foster 2016). In general terms, home gardens may become a convenient venue for the acclimation of potentially invasive alien species (Marco et al. 2008). Some authors have shown how the inclusion and use of exotic plants in local settings of Argentina and Brazil not only enriched the repertoire of species and associated practices, but also diversified the social-ecological systems (Albuquerque 2006, Alencar et al. 2010, Medeiros et al. 2017, Jiménez-Escobar et al. 2021). Thus, the exotic species cultivated for medicinal use may be as important as the native species in the subsistence lifestyle of the local communities (Manzano-García et al. 2023).
From the perspective of this study, the composition of medicinal plants in migrant home gardens is shaped by plant diversity, historical and current plant conjunctures, epidemiology and therapeutic needs, as well as cultural and individual expressions of migrants and their descendants. Other studies showed that land structure and biodiversity of the surrounding areas of the gardens influenced the plant composition in home gardens, namely that people tended to grow plants that were not directly available in their surrounding landscape (Poot-Pool et al. 2015, Kujawska et al. 2018). In our study we also observed that certain plants, mainly exotic, were cultivated in home gardens because they were not available in natural habitats and they were considered important medicines, often legitimized by a long history of use within family or ethnic circles. In this context, an interesting case is the presence of common ruderal species of central Europe, such as Urtica dioica, Artemisia vulgaris, Achillea millefolium, Capesella bursa-pastoris, or Hypericum perforatum (Mirek et al. 2002), which, in Misiones, became managed home garden plants for the migrants of German and Swiss origin. Also the ecological succession in the gardens may be a factor influencing the composition: wild native plants that self-propagate in gardens are not removed by gardeners when they are considered useful. Other species are transplanted from natural habitats, planted from vegetative propagules, and sown from seeds. These practices, especially observed in Paraguayan migrants’ home gardens, were also recorded in other studies too (Blanckaert et al. 2004, Coomes 2010, Vogl-Lukasser et al. 2010).
Therapeutic needs and the epidemiological characteristics of the place also contribute to medicinal plant composition in home gardens (Furlan et al. 2016, Caballero-Serrano et al. 2019). A high frequency of digestive, respiratory, and circulatory health problems, and chronic non-transmittable diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension reported in Misiones (Bonneau 2014) have been reflected in the species cultivated and protected by migrants and their descendants in Misiones. The medicinal plant assemblages in home gardens seem to be also influenced by family healing traditions and individual needs and health seeking behaviors (Finerman and Sackett 2003, Corlett et al. 2003, Caballero-Serrano et al. 2019).
Other non-directly ecological and epidemiological features that shape plant compositions in home gardens in the migratory context are those related to the human agency in place-making, and creating place of belonging and sense of place (Morgan et al. 2005, Graham and Connell 2006, Gerodetti and Foster 2016, Mancini 2020).
Although we could trace several factors that shape migrant home gardens in Misiones, nowadays it is difficult to find any clear ethnic patterns in the composition (assemblages) of plants in home gardens in Misiones. The particularities are found in singular species but not in the assemblages. Finerman and Sackett (2003) wrote in the context of Ecuadorian Andean home gardens that one had just to have a look at the composition of medicinal plants found in a garden to find out what illnesses were being suffered by the members of the family to whom the garden belonged. In Misiones we observe a high consensus in medicinal uses of plants across ethnic groups; therefore by looking at the composition of medicinal plants, a local expert could broadly figure out what problems a given family was suffering from. But it is much more difficult to estimate the origin (ethnic identity) of the gardener based on the composition of medicinal species found in a given garden.
Plants that weave networks
The network analysis is an appropriate approach when we think of home gardens as spaces designed or intervened in by humans, but also as spaces conducive to the formation of various types of social networks between plants. Only recently have researchers begun to apply social network analysis to investigate the exchange of home garden products, especially seed exchange networks (Reyes-García et al. 2018) and related knowledge. It has been suggested that social network analysis is an appropriate and useful tool for tracing the uneven flow of medicinal planting material and knowledge (Calvet-Mir et al. 2012, Díaz-Reviriego et al. 2016).
In this work we described the links that the plants generate between the home gardens and in specific home gardens, an approach in which plants are active agents in the garden-becoming processes. These plants both shape and are shaped by distinct convergences of ecology, livelihoods, and, in our case, memory and nostalgia (Kull and Rangan 2008). Plants and their relationships make up and are part of the lived emplacement and life histories of the inhabitants; they are part of the cultural, including medicinal, systems of the place (Hitchings 2003, Doody et al. 2014, Archambault 2016, Seamon 2017, Dabezies 2018).
It is not only through human selection but also through plant agency that certain plants become important nodes in plant assemblages. Plants enact their agency through chemical constituents, some of which are revealed in scent and taste, which are deciphered by people and usually codified in the language (Johns 1990, Etkin 1994). But the plant agency also involves people’s active role in their propagation in home gardens by protection, cultivation, and transplanting from other environments. In this context, exotic herbs, such as rue, rosemary, wormwood, mint, chamomile, lemongrass, and citrus trees, demonstrated their agency as they were brought by a handful of Jesuit missionaries and some European settlers and then actively used and propagated by both mestizo people and European migrants (Montenegro 2007 , Scarpa and Anconatani 2019, Kujawska and Schmeda-Hirschmann 2022). Nevertheless, some of the native species were successful too, as they managed to gain great popularity not only among the local Paraguayan population but also among European migrants and their descendants, who had abandoned some of their herbal remedies known from the country of origin and substituted them with the Atlantic Forest native plants. Such is the case of epazote (Dysphania ambrosioides) known in the region by the Guaraní name, ka’arê, which replaced European remedies for internal parasites, namely garlic and pumpkin seeds, because it proved to be more efficient.
Home gardens, medicinal plants, and bio-cultural heritage
The bio-cultural heritage of home gardens is both tangible and intangible, because the materiality of the plants cannot be denied (DeSilvey 2020). According to Walsh (1992), heritagization of the space is always linked to the imposed beautification, and in consequence with a superficial image, which may be a threat to existing local practices. In a similar vein, Dabezies states that “the argumentation of scenic beauty and its association to nostalgia have been key arguments involved in nature heritagization throughout the history of conservationism” (Dabezies 2018:835). New critical approaches in heritage studies have recognized that heritagization involves transformative changes not necessarily focused on the past and conservation, but on the future and in this process “the past is brought into the present to shape novel environments and practices” (DeSilvey 2020:291). Heritage has then an emergent, relational property and potential to create new connections between people, the past, present, and the future (DeSilvey 2020).
In Misiones the authorized heritage discourse has focused on the ruins of Jesuit missions and Iguazu Falls (Hilgert et al. 2022). Local migrant associations maintain their memory, as well as symbolic identity and connection with the countries of origin based on festivity, the display and consumption of their traditional food, and typical dishes (Gallero 2008, Porada 2018). Similar practices have been observed in the Atlantic Forest region in the south of Brazil (Grim and Thum 2015, Ludwinsky et al. 2021). For people in Misiones the cultivation of medicinal plants in home gardens is part of day-to-day practice, is an expression of their locality and belonging to this place. Medicinal plants form part of the intimate home realm. Particular medicinal plants are part of the nostalgia and memory discourse, but migrants and their descendants do not construct their identity in relation to medicinal plants. A conscious grassroots effort for the heritagization of medicinal plants and associated practices has not been identified in this study, and we are not aware of any other studies from the region that would witness this process. Perhaps this endeavor of converting home gardens and medicinal plants into heritage is not perceived as necessary by the local actors to preserve their vital role in maintaining the well-being of people of Misiones.
Although heritagization processes may be focused on the present and future (DeSilvey 2020), nostalgia seem to freeze the past (Nazarea 2005). In this sense, some medicinal home garden plants and remedies prepared from them may help migrants to perform a nostalgic journey back into their childhood or to the country of origin (Corlett et al. 2003, Stokker 2007, Vandebroek and Balick 2014). Tsing (2015:182) argues that “future sustainability is best modeled with the help of nostalgia,” but Hornborg (2017:64) responds that “nostalgia alone clearly does not shape our landscapes, or the global South would be a very different place.” From our study we see that home gardens are places of the memory and places for the memory (McHugh 2009); therefore species brought from places of origin by Paraguayan and European migrants, as was shown, shape home gardens to some extent.
We observed a high similarity in plant richness, composition, and medicinal uses in the studied home gardens. The composition of plants does not show any clear ethnic pattern that could be attributed to these assemblages. The knowledge and use of plants have been mixed between different groups of migrants in Misiones and the plant assemblages reflect these processes. Both groups cultivate and protect native species in their gardens, which reveals the continuation of the indigenous Guaraní and mestizo knowledge of Paraguayans and also speaks for the agency of plants, their ecology, chemical constituents, and properties. On the other hand, some of exotic species are of paramount importance in home medicine for European and Paraguayan migrants, a phenomenon that can be ascribed to plant agency, but also to the legacy of colonization that took place in this region. Moreover, these plants were companion species of migrating Europeans that helped them to settle in the new place and nowadays they offer health services but they are also the catalysts of nostalgia, and bonds uniting past and current generations. In this complex reality, home gardens in Misiones acquire multilayer semiotic meanings and tangible material functions.
With 169 species of medicinal plants reported in this study, home gardens in Misiones are places where practices related to care, health, and well-being are developed. They are vital spaces, where knowledge is transmitted from generation to generation, places traversed by biological and cultural diversity, where Paraguayan and European immigrants and their descendants express roots through medicinal practices and where their knowledge is expressed in diverse assemblages of plants. Although no active policy has been conducted to convert migrant home gardens into bio-cultural heritage sites nor certain medicinal species into heritage objects in Misiones, migrant home gardens may be considered bio-cultural heritage in a wide sense (Birol et al. 2005, Galuzzi et al. 2010).
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Our thanks to Bernard Kujawski for the development and analysis of networks, to Daniel Arias-Mutis for his comments and inspiring ideas, and Julián Mignino for drawing up the map. We are grateful to Miguel Alexiades for linguistic correction of the manuscript and to Fernando Zamudio for his useful comments on the paper. The research was funded by the National Science Centre in Poland, research grant no. 2018/31/B/HS3/03019 and 2013/09/N/HS3/02226. The second author thanks IDACOR, Museum of Anthropology, National University of Cordoba and the National Council for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICET).
The data are available upon request from the first author because of privacy and ethical restrictions. The data come from two projects financed by the Polish Research Centre and there was no requirement from this agency neither from the University of Lodz to place the data in an open repository or make them available to a wider audience. The datasets contain sensitive data, part of the intellectual property rights of the European and Paraguayan migrants in the subtropics (Misiones province) in Argentina.
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Table 1. Distribution of the study participants in the study area, Misiones, Argentina.
|Locality||Urban||Semi-rural||Rural||Origin of the study participants|
|Wanda (with Puerto Wanda)||11||7||6||Paraguayan|
|Piray Km 18 (within Puerto Piray Municipality)||-||5||16||Paraguayan|
|Puerto Leoni (and adjacent colonies, such as Colonia Flora)||6||2||7||Paraguayan|
|Colonia Gobernador J.J. Lanusse||-||-||10||Polish, including Polish-Brazilians (2)|
|Wanda (with Puerto Wanda)||20||11||1||Polish, including Polish-Brazilians (7)|
|Ruíz de Montoya||1||3||-||Swiss|
|Puerto Leoni||2||2||2||German including German-Brazilian (4)|
Table 2. Characteristics of the clusters according to the mean number of plants per label (group of gardens) and the origin of the gardeners in Misiones, Argentina.
|Labels||No. of gardens in the label||Mean plant no. per label||Origin of the gardener (no. of medicinal species in the garden)|
|Orange||82||7.6||Paraguayan (46)||European (36)|
|Green||25||14.1||Paraguayan (5)||European (20)|
|Purple||13||23||Paraguayan (9)||European (4)|