Berry nice - the wild berries of Scandinavia and their uses
The forests and meadows of Sweden have a bountiful abundance of delicious berries, which thanks to the ancient right of “Allemansrätten” (freedom to roam) are available for foraging. In old times it was important to have a source of vitamins and minerals for the long winter, but today, we rely heavily on imported non native tropical fruits and vegetables from all over the world. This produce, while convenient, is subject to unnatural ripening in warehouses, as well as market pressure on growers, who often use unsafe and unethical production practices, can produce excess carbon emissions due to long distance transport and simply don’t taste as nature intended.
There is a growing resurgence in eating locally produced, native species, which give us a deeper connection to our environment, and are better for the planet and our fellow humans. With this in mind, we’ve looked at some of the berries and fruits which can be found wild throughout northern Europe, and their health benefits and uses.
If unsure, please do your own research and consult a professional forager or plant expert before picking, using and ingesting any wild berries - this is not intended to be a consultative guide to consuming wild berries, which can be illegal or more importantly, poisonous.
Blåbär - Blueberry (EN), Blaubeeren (DE)
Where: Grows in forest areas all over the country.
Health effects: Research shows that extracts from blueberries help aging rats to be more alert and have a better memory - probably because the berries are rich in protective substances, especially the blue-violet dyes anthocyanins.
Nutrition: Fiber, potassium, iron and manganese.
Blåbär, i.e. Swedish blueberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) are closely related to American blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) and look the same on the outside, just a little smaller. Both species have a similar taste, but Swedish blueberries have a little more tart and character since they contain a little less sugar. Usually the berries appear to be light blue, covered with a thin waxy film, but when this is lacking, the color is actually dark blue, almost black. An important difference is that the inside of an American blueberry is white, whereas the inside of a Swedish blueberry is burgundy red, and the juice is purple. Thus Swedish blueberries will tint your fingers blue / purple, as well as your lips, your tongue and your clothes – be careful! The color is easily washed off from your skin but not so from your garments
Blueberry bushes have light green leaves and are usually 20 – 50 cm high. It’s abundant all over Sweden. The tiny purple flowers open in May or June, and ripe berries can be found from late July to October, and are easy to pick in large quantities.
Swedish blueberries are sweet and savory, soft and very juicy. It’s a very versatile fruit that can be used to make pie, jam, jelly, marmalade, wine, soup, and tea, or eaten as they are, maybe with sugar and cream. By the way, blueberry jam is delicious with Swedish pancakes and whipped cream!
Blueberries and blueberry brushwood are an important food source for bears, moose, deer, capercaille (the large black European grouse) and several other species of birds. They are very rich in nutrients, vitamins, and antioxidants, and are often sold dried as power food or functional food.
Humongous quantities of warm blueberry soup are consumed in one day when served along the track as an energy drink to the participants in Vasaloppet, which is the world’s longest cross country ski race (90 km ~ 56 miles). The race usually attracts about 16,000 contestants every year. Many skiers, especially the not-so-good skiers who often stop for a drink, reach the finish line with a purple chest. (That’s the reason why a beginner is called “ett blåbär” in Swedish.)
Havtorn - Sea buckthorn (EN), Sanddorn (DE)
Where: Grows quite generally in Sweden's coastal areas. But the berries are difficult to pick, because the bush has sharp thorns. In nurseries there are more easily harvested varieties.
Health effects: Sea buckthorn has long been used in folk medicine in China and Russia, including for skin and mucous membrane problems. In the health food store, you can buy capsules with sea buckthorn extract that are said to help with dry mucous membranes in the abdomen, dry mouth and dry eyes.
Nutrition: Vitamins C and E, the precursor of vitamin A to beta-carotene and various flavonoids