Now is the best time to learn how to identify and collect edible wild plants as the nature’s pantry will be full of superfoods available for anyone who has the information and skills to utilize them.
Collecting and utilizing edible wild plants – as well as mushrooms and berries – as part of a daily diet is an old tradition that has stayed alive for thousands of years. In Finland we have traditionally lived in close relation to nature but urban life in modern society has distanced many from the traditional and sustainable sources of food.
However, the past couple of decades have witnessed a growing trend in usage and popularity of edible wild plants and herbs. It is safe to say that we are living the new golden era of edible wild plants that have also become part of modern, conscious lifestyle. The past tradition is brought back alive, new trendy recipes are made, and even young city dwellers are keen to learn the secrets of wild herbs.
”The world of edible wild plants is so rich, really an inexhaustible treasury. Many of the plants, which were found to be weeds, are delicious and rich in nutrition. We can really talk of superfoods. The nature has amazing flavors and experiences to offer”, says Sanna Autere who is a certified wild herb, berry and mushroom adviser.
Thanks to every man’s rights, everyone living in Finland has the opportunity to forage for edible wild plants. The best time to harvest is at hand, but many of the edible wild plants can be found throughout the growing season.
At our request, Sanna listed a few of her own favorites!
COMMON NETTLE (Urtica dioica, in Finnish nokkonen) Multipurpose nettle is a true Finnish superfood. Nettle is full of vitamins and minerals. Drying or cooking the leaves helps to eliminate their sting. Nettle seeds are also edible. Quickly boiled, nettle leaves can be used much like spinach – in soups, stews or quiches. Or try making a delicious nettle pesto! Dried nettle can be crushed into a healthy green powder that can be added to all sorts of foods. It also makes a perfect ingredient for a tasty nettle and seeds crispbread.
GOUTWEED (Aegopodium podagraria, in Finnish vuohenputki) Goutweed is known as gardeners’ nightmare due to its rapid spreading, but it is also a delicious wild green. Sanna particularly likes the mild flavor that slightly reminds parsley. Goutweed is best when shoots are young and tender. When the plant grows older, the leaves get harder and more bitter. Fresh raw shoots are tasty in salads or in green smoothies, but cooked or baked goutweed is also excellent. Try savory goutweed muffins, for example!
WILLOWHERB or FIREWEED (Chamaenerion angustifolium, in Finnish maitohorsma) In Finland the willowherb is known as the “rose of a yob” (“rentun ruusu” in Finnish). It is a common wild plant growing all around the country. During spring the young willowherb shoots can be steamed like asparagus or fried on a pan. Young leaves are also good in salads, but the older the plant gets, the more bitter and chewy it becomes. You can also dry the leaves to make tea or grind them into a multipurpose green powder. Willowherb’s pink flowers make nice decoration to cakes and salads. You can also use them to make juice, syrup and jam.
GARLIC MUSTARD (Alliaria petiolata, in Finnish litulaukka) Garlic mustard’s leaves smell like garlic when crushed. You can also taste a bit of mustard and pepper in the strong bite the leaves have. Hence you will only need a handful of garlic mustard to spice up different dishes like e.g. risotto. Sanna especially likes to mix garlic mustard to cream cheese, what a flavor! You can also use chopped, fresh leaves as a condiment in salads and sauces but when garlic mustard is dried, it loses its flavor. Garlic mustard is one of the oldest spices used in Europe and it’s mainly met in Southern Finland.
ROWAN (Sorbus aucuparia, in Finnish pihlaja) Rowan leaf buds have a charming taste similar to bitter almond and hence Sanna calls it the “nature’s own Amaretto Liqueur”. You can eat the buds as such or infuse them in alcohol to make schnapps, for example. You can also make a lovely fresh drink by infusing rowan leaves in water with citric acid; just remember that you need the landowner’s permit to collect rowan leaves, as picking leaves from trees is not part of every man’s rights like picking rowan berries is. Rowan berries are rich in vitamin C and minerals. Sanna reminds that it is advisable to pick the berries after the first night frost as the taste softens and becomes less tangy. Use rowan berries in jams with e.g. apple, make jelly or liqueur. Dried rowan berry powder enjoyed with your morning oats will definitely get you going.
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Banner photo of Garlic Mustard by Wikicommons.