Getting to know the local varieties of Lemnos

Lathyrus of Lemnos: Afkos & Lafyri

Lemnos boasts a wide range of local varieties of cultivated plants (landraces), whose history is lost in time. Although several varieties have become extinct over the years due to the abandonment of their cultivation and the introduction of new, “improved” varieties, some of them survive to this day and are considered important plant genetic resources, the protection of which is crucial.

n the framework of the project “LEMRACE - Conservation of the crop genetic wealth of Lemnos”, MedINA’s team is taking the necessary steps to protect Lemnian varieties and inscribe them in the National Register of Crop Varieties, which is the only institutional way of protecting and saving plant genetic resources in Greece!

Among the species that are being studied and are the subject of LEMRACE are the varieties of lathyrus (lathouri), the plant species from which we make our favorite fava beans!

Cleaning the seeds of afkos (Lathyrus ochrus), one of the two species of lathyrus from which fava beans are made in Lemnos. © D. Sfakianou / MedINA.

According to Bebeli & Thanopoulos (2020), the word fava does not refer to a specific species but to the way of cooking crushed legume seeds, and in many parts of Greece several different species are the basic material: in Mani, fava is made from broad beans (Vicia faba), in parts of the Cyclades from peas (Pisum sativum), while in Skyros, Euboea and Karpathos from the Spanish vetchling (Lathyrus clymenum).

Fava from Lemnian lathyrus. © P. Bebeli / MedINA.

The most famous lathyrus of Lemnos is afkos (Lathyrus ochrus (L.) D.C.), which is sown during the months of November - December.

At the same time, however, fava beans in Lemnos are also made from two varieties of lathyrus (Lathyrus sativus L.), which are less well-known and more sensitive to frosts, being sown in February - March.

Seeds of Lathyrus sativus, the traditional variety of Lemnos, which is characterised by a rich color palette, just before sowing in the field! © P. Pravlis / MedINA.

The cultivation of lathyrus in Lemnos is reported from the 16th century and more recently, in the 1940s, when it was systematically cultivated in several villages, such as Varos, Roussopouli, Romanou, Karpasi, Plaka, Panagia, etc.

The successful inscription of landraces in the National Register is preceded by a series of actions: from the collection of information on the historical presence of each variety, obtained through interviews with elderly residents of the area, to the thorough examination of bibliographical sources and local historical newspapers.

At the same time, information on their traditional way of cultivation and their morphological characteristics is also essential. The latter in particular requires a large number of morphological measurements during all stages of the plant's development, from the appearance of the cotyledons - the first “leaves” of the plant - to the growth of the fruit and the completion of its biological cycle.

Then, in consultation with the competent authorities, a comprehensive file is submitted for the recognition of the local variety and its inscription in the National Register of Crop Varieties of the Ministry of Rural Development & Food.

Lathyrus during flowering in a cultivation in Lemnos. After pollination, the fruit will be produced from the flowers and then harvested for consumption. D. Sfakianou / MedINA.

This not only helps to officially recognise a landrace at institutional level, but also contributes to its popularisation to the general public, creating the conditions for its wider utilisation by farmers to produce quality products with added value, linked to the history and gastronomic tradition of Lemnos.

The project ”LEMRACE – Conservation of the crop genetic wealth of Lemnos: local varieties for sustainable development of the Lemnian food system”, with a budget of €49,750.00, is implemented by the Mediterranean Institute for Nature and Anthropos and the Greek Gene Bank / Institute of Plant Breeding and Genetic Resources of ELGO-DIMITRA, in the framework of the funding programme ”NATURAL ENVIRONMENT & INNOVATIVE ACTIONS 2023”, Priority Axis 4: ”INNOVATIVE ACTIONS WITH CITIZENS”. The project belongs to the thematic field “A.4. Protection and Conservation of Biodiversity” and is funded by the Green Fund.

Bebeli, P.J. and Thanopoulos, R. (editors) 2020. The plant wealth of Lemnos - A source of prosperity for the local community. MedINA, Athens, Greece.