Heiss, A. G., FilipoviĆ, D., Nedelcheva, A., Ruß-Popa, G., Wanninger, K., Schramayr, G., … Jacomet, S. (2014): A Fistful of Bladdernuts: The Shifting Uses of Staphylea pinnata L. as Documented by Archaeology, History, and Ethnology. Folk Life, 52(2), 95–136. http://doi.org/10.1179/0430877814Z.00000000031


An interdisciplinary approach combining archaeological, historical, and ethnological data is used in the attempt to draw a general image of the role of bladdernut (Staphylea pinnata) in past societies. The purposes encountered in this literature study extend from nutritional and medicinal uses to particular ritual/religious aspects, incorporating apotropaic and sympathetic magic, the use in grave goods, and the role of bladdernut in rosaries. In the two latter purposes, the ‘cut nose’ aspect of the seeds is suggested to be an important symbolic factor.

Research into the past cultural dimensions of plants is often restricted to plants with important uses, cultivated for millennia and ever sought after, and of fundamental meaning to human subsistence and economy. This is definitely true for the main cultivated crops of the Old World, and for plants regarded essential for other (e.g. medical) reasons. Bladdernut is definitely not one of these ‘great’ useful plants. Still, this shrub has had a curious past which seemed to us worth investigating, for the beliefs and meanings that still cling to it. As we will see, new beliefs are still developing.

Largely building upon the previous detailed work by the first author, the current study pursues the goal of drawing a picture as complete as possible of the cultural relevance of bladdernut in past societies. This has been done by critically evaluating the extant literature on material evidence, written historical sources, and ethnographic studies on Staphylea pinnata across Europe, and trying to suggest new interpretations for this plant. Originally given as a conference paper by the first author listed, the following article has been considerably reworked and now includes substantially more research than previously.