Foraging is trendier than ever, and the forests, meadows and coastline of Kvarken offers an abundance of tasty wild berries, mushrooms, herbs and edible plants free for anyone to pick and enjoy.
Both the Swedish and Finnish law secures the right to public access to nature. This means everyone has the right to roam freely around nature, including using it as your own pantry in a respectable and sustainable way.
Harvesting from nature is a huge part of the Nordic lifestyle, and it has a natural place in its food culture. The enrichment of Nordic cuisine expresses regional flavors and seasonality, and reflects food traditions deeply rooted in the use of wild-growing resources.
Because of its northerly climate with tons of daylight offering warmth and a suitable amount of moisture in the summer, wild berries growing in the Nordic countries are known to contain a higher level of vitamins, antioxidants and other healthy ingredients than berries growing in the wild in other places. That’s why wild berries from this part of the world are often referred to as “superfoods”, and are thought to be nutritionally dense and good for one’s health.
Approximately 20 varieties of wild berries growing in the Kvarken area are suitable for picking and consumption. The most common ones, and the ones you will most often meet in Nordic cuisine, are lingonberries, crowberries, blueberries (also called Arctic bilberries), cloudberries, raspberries, cranberries and sea buckthorn.
Studies have shown that spending time in forests, hiking in mountains, or just being outside in nature can lead to significant health benefits. It can improve blood pressure, help short term memory, actively destress you, and boost mental health on top of the recreational effects. So, picking wild berries around the beautiful varied landscape of Kvarken, where the land uplifting is visible across its terrain, comes with more than just one edible health benefit.
Homemade jam from lingonberries, raspberries, and blueberries are often found in desserts, served as garnishes, and as toppings on pancakes. However, the full and raw taste of the berries can be truly enjoyed when they are served fresh, just as they are.
The selection of wild mushrooms is also vast in Kvarken, and the season can start as early as May or June. Even with all the health benefits of being outdoors, the one thing that is very important with wild mushroom picking is that you need to be sure of the types of mushrooms you pick. Some poisonous species found in this area can easily be confused with other edible species found in other parts of the world, so joining an organized mushroom picking excursion is a good way to start.
Even if you don’t go out foraging, you will most certainly get a taste of things growing in the wild when traveling around Kvarken. A lot of local restaurants, artisans and smaller producers pick their own berries, plants, mushrooms and herbs in season, and include them on the menu and in the dishes they offer.
Jam made from wild lingonberries is often served as a side garnish with a lot of the traditional Swedish and Finnish dishes, such as the Swedish meatballs, Finnish reindeer stew, or wild game meat. Add some freshly picked chanterelle mushrooms to it, and you have a varied taste from the wild Nordic nature on your plate.
It is not only the artisans and local restaurants that use the wild-growing resources in Kvarken. The local food industry buys a huge amount of the wild berries and herbs picked by locals, and processes it for consumption.
The berries and herbs are being frozen, dried, turned into purees and jam or powdered to be used in many different ways. They are also being used as a flavour in soft drinks, liqueurs and spirit, and are added into smoothies and juices. There’s even wine being made from wild berries, so the selection is wide and it’s almost impossible not to consume a product containing wild berries or herbs while in Kvarken.
Getting health benefits from nature does not mean you always have to eat or drink it though.
To participate in a traditional Finnish Sauna session is also a healthy way of enjoying the benefits from nature. During a sauna session, where the temperature in the room reaches between 55 – 70 degrees Celsius, water is added to the stones to create steam. The special thing about the Finnish sauna is the gentle whipping of your body using branches of sulked, fresh birch and juniper. This increases the blood circulation, opens up the pores and helps the body to relax and detox faster.
Whether you eat juniper berries or whip yourself with juniper branches, one thing is for sure – experiencing nature in Kvarken is a holistic experience.