Take a bite on the wild side
Finnish forests offer an endless feast of superfoods – if you know what to look for.
Wild greens can push their way through solid rock – that’s how strong they are, says biologist and environmental educator Anna Nyman as she picks a dandelion blooming between flagstones in her garden. She’s one of the co-founders of the Helsinki Wildfoods wellbeing brand, which boosts awareness of wild herbs and other products, activities, and tourism based around Finnish nature.
“Collecting wild foods as a hobby brings tasty new flavours to home cooking. It also nurtures your body naturally through exercise and peace of mind – what we call wildfulness,” Nyman says.
In Finland, nature is never more than a short bus or cycle ride away, as are treats such as mushrooms, berries, wild greens, or fish. The northern climate, the white nights of summer, and the chilly dark period of winter known as kaamos or polar night offer unique growing conditions for nature’s goodies and makes them particularly nutritious.
Wild greens hit the sweet spot of today’s food trends and concerns: they are locally-grown, climate-friendly superfoods, and they also support job creation and exports.
“Besides their nutrition levels, the competitive edge of Finnish wild plants is their amazing flavour. If you’ve got frozen spinach in your freezer, why not also nettles? We buy grocery store herbs that are originally wild plants from the Mediterranean region – so hopefully our own wild greens will become an integral part of that herb selection,” says Nyman.
Right to roam
Thanks to the Finnish legal concept of everyman’s right, you can hike and pick wild plants in the forests, regardless of who owns the land. The right does not however allow any disturbance or collecting near anyone’s home. And certain activities, such as collecting tree shoots, lichen, or sap, require permission from the landowner.
“Some plants are protected or poisonous, so you really have to be sure about what you’re picking,” she says.
Early autumn is the time to harvest berries and mushrooms in Finland’s forests. Autumn is also wild game season, although hunting requires a permit. Forest berries are easy to recognise, but mushrooms are trickier. The country boasts more than 2,000 species, but only about 500 of them are edible. The same rule applies to mushrooms and wild herbs: you must be 100 per cent certain of the species to avoid poisoning. There are also specific rules on how mushrooms must be prepared.
“Responsibly gathered wild food is the best that we can eat – for both nature and our own health,” says Nyman.
Text Tiina Rantanen
Photos Jani Laukkanen