Bosnia’s intangible cultural heritage: Picking of iva grass on Mt. Ozren

Ljiljana Krejic | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Cultural heritage is not only about monuments, buildings and objects but also traditions, rituals and festivities inherited from our ancestors that we need to pass on to our descendants. One of those traditional ceremonies that brings the local community together and involves distinctive rituals is harvesting of iva grass on Mt. Ozren in Bosnia & Herzegovina. Each year, on the day of the beheading of St. John the Baptist (September 11), people from the villages around Mt. Ozren gather to pick iva herb, well-known for its healing properties. Besides Zmijanje embroidery and Konjic woodcarving, picking of iva grass on Mt. Ozren is the third element from Bosnia & Herzegovina inscribed on UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Heritage of Humanity. If you wonder why is this ritual important for Bosnia’s intangible cultural heritage, keep reading.      

About Mt. Ozren

Picture © credits to Wikipedia/Martin Brož

A lower mountain in northern Bosnia & Herzegovina, Mt. Ozren sits between the two towns – Doboj & Zavidovići. This mountain range is situated between three watercourses – Bosna River (west), Spreča River (north) and Krivaja River (south), but also Mt. Konjuh and Modrac Lake (south-east). Mt. Ozren boosts in lush meadows, thermal wells, alpine creeks with drinkable water, as well as many mineral sources. Perhaps its highest peak is Kraljica (918 m), but the most popular one is Gostilj (773 m), especially in September when a traditional tea day is taking place. On that day, the focus is on the medicinal herb Teucrium montanum, known as iva grass. People come in groups to harvest this herb and enjoy the prepared tea.

What is iva grass

Picture © credits to Wikimedia Commons/Ghislain118

Iva grass or iva herb (lat. Teucrium montanum) is a plant that grows exclusively in mountainous regions. Harvesting of this herb has to be done by hand, which is very time-consuming. Actually, the flowers and leaves are collected to be used in different ways – from tea to brandy and honey products. For centuries it has been known for its healing properties and used as a medicinal herb to treat respiratory and digestive problems. It is believed that iva grass can speed up a recovery after some severe diseases. Moreover, a wide-spread belief is that iva grass can cure any disease, hence the local saying “Iva grass – brings the dead back to life”

Picking of Iva grass 

The inhabitants of Mt. Ozren keep many traditions they inherited from their ancestors. The most significant and by far the most famous of them is iva grass harvesting that takes place every year on September 11. Villagers of all age are hiking up the hills to arrive at Gostilj peak, where they harvest iva herb. Identifying this plant among many others, plus hand-picking last a couple of hours. After the picking is done, a priest comes to bless the collected plants. The ceremony continues with some folklore performances, where many participants wear folk clothes and sing traditional songs. This cohesive element plays an important role in safeguarding the identity of Bosnia’s intangible cultural heritage, and it was the main argument for inscribing the picking of iva grass on the UNESCO list.  

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