Picking wild berries can be a pleasant and rewarding experience.
In the Nordic countries of Europe, many families enjoy venturing into forests to pick wild berries. In Finland, for example, forest lovers are favored with the right of public access, which allows everyone to walk freely in nature - even when the land is privately owned - as long as they do not cause any damage or get too close to a home. The right of public access is not written in the law but is an old Scandinavian tradition. It permits one to pick wildflowers, mushrooms, and berries virtually everywhere they grow.
Finland is host to some 50 different species of forest berries, most of which are edible. The three most common are bilberries, cloudberries, and lingonberries.
Berries of various colors and flavors add variety to food and are very healthful. "Nordic berries that grow in the long daylight hours (of summer) are rich in color, aroma, minerals, and vitamins," says the book Luonnonmarjaopas (A Guide to Wild Berries). In addition, berries contain fiber, which can help to stabilize blood sugar levels and to lower cholesterol levels. Berries also contain flavonoids, phenolic compounds that are believed to promote good health.
Berries taste best and have the highest nutritional value when they are fresh and newly picked. But fresh berries do not stay fresh long. For berries to be enjoyed during the winter, they must be preserved. In times past, people used to store berries in cellar, but now they are generally kept in the freezer. Many berries are turned into jams and juices.
Berries are used in a variety of ways. At breakfast they go well with yogurt, granola, or porridge. Refreshing forest berries are used to make delicious desserts and pastries. And a puree or jelly made of berries is a colorful accompaniment to a variety of dishes.
Many people buy berries from the local store. But imagine yourself in the forest on a clear day, breathing fresh air and enjoying peace and serenity while looking for brightly colored, sweet berries. Not a bad way to acquire free delicacies for the table.
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)
This popular sweet berry is also called whortleberry. Bilberries are often turned into sauce, pudding, jam, or juice. They are also used in various pastries, such as bilberry pie. Fresh bilberries are especially delicious with milk. But do not try to eat bilberry delicacies in secret, as the bilberry tends to dye one's mouth and lips blue. It is also called the gossip berry.
Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus)
This berry thrives in remote places such as swamps. In Finland it is more common in the north. The cloudberry, brimming with vitamins A and C, is juicy and nutritious. It has between three and four times more vitamin C than an orange. Cloudberries are highly esteemed - sometimes called the gold of swamps. These sweet berries add subtlety to various desserts, and they also yield a fine liqueur.
Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea)
This berry, a close relative of the cranberry, is extremely popular in Finland and Sweden. Lingonberry puree or jelly makes a refreshing accompaniment on the dinner table. The bright-red berry is also used to make sauce, pudding, juice, and pastries. Lingonberries keep well, as they contain natural acids that act as preservatives. The high acidity gives the berry a tangy flavor, which may take a little getting used to.