This is our FORAGING guide to Lapland. We’ve also made an adventure guide. But if it’s foraging you’re looking for, read on.
What is foraging?
Foraging is one of the most instinctive behaviours of animals and humans in response to their environment and its food resources for survival.
Dating long before WWI, during the famine in the 1860s, foraging, hunting and fishing were a part of life’s daily routine for survival, practiced out of desperation in Finland, when there was nothing left to eat, which stigmatized foraging for a long time. This has changed during the 2000s, where younger generations have become intrigued with foraging mainly thanks to the superfood boom. When the commercial benefits of wild foods were realized, gourmet chefs began incorporating natural ingredients in their fine dining experiences. Sami Tallberg is a world reknown chef and expert in foraging and wild food in Finland.
Finding food in the wild (and some urban places too, although not recommended if the food is closer than 50 – 100 meters form busy highways and industrial facilities due to possible contamination of heavy metals) will fulfil any adventure-seeking-spirit! Free from pesticides, fertilizers, mites and air pollution paired with clean soil, gathering fruits, nuts, herbs, plants, fish, mushrooms and various other natural delicacies to cook, and eat healthily has become a major popular activity.
The hunter-gatherers stopped foraging approximately 10 thousand years ago when humans became more civilised, cultivating plants and domesticating animals, now commonly known as farming. Although foraging may seem like an aimless use of time wandering around nature, not only will you get to eat the delicacies of nature at the end of your harvest there are many health benefits too!
My first memory of foraging was during strawberry season in Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa, with my Gran and Gramps during school holidays. Although more of a planned forage expedition to a strawberry farm, the pure and honest act of receiving this fruit from nature was bliss. Little did mini-me know that I was partaking in the most authentic act of survival.
Without a doubt, foraging allows me to experience that pure child-like feeling of unfiltered, nurturing playfulness.
What can you forage for?
The most illustrious places to forage are Finnish Lapland and Swedish Lapland, but of course there are places in the Norwegein and Russian Lappish regions. The Finland Promotional Board explains that on average 500 million kg of berries and a massive two billion kilograms of mushrooms grow in Finland’s forests every year, despite urbanization.
Lapland comprises mostly forests where the extreme climate fosters various food selections throughout the year, nature’s very own balanced diet that any dietician would surely approve of!
It is free to forage in Lapland, however make sure you familiarise yourself with Everyman’s Right to Roam before your trip. Taking your harvest to the local markets or restaurants to sell (even as a tourist) is a great financial benefit to reaping what you harvest and could buy you extra time in Lapland!
Read more about this in our Right to Roam – A Complete Guide.
Use this downloadable visual guide to help you identify the correct berries, herbs and mushrooms that are safe for eating. As a standard rule, ONLY pick berries, herbs, mushrooms that you can identify and that are ripe.
Here’s what you can forage for during each season in the Lappish regions:
Berry varieties: end-March to end-October
(Vaccinium vitis-idaea, bearberry, redberry, partridgeberry, foxberry, cowberry, and Alaskan lowbush cranberry, mountain cranberry or cowberry)
Harvest time: Late August – early October, the most reliable berry for a large harvest
- Woody and hairy stems with waxy-tapering leaves that are dark green on the top and light green underneath
- Small, round, red and juicy fruit are produced after the flower bloom in June-July
- Tastes similar to a cranberry, however not as tart
- Height: 5-30cm
- Grows on a small creeping shrub that can be easily harvested through raking in the forest undergrowth, rocky outcrops or edges of fields
- Used traditionally to make jelly for desserts and meat recipes or juice, however there are many other recipes for Lingonberries such as Lingonberry Bars, Norweigen Lingonberry Mousse, Lingonberries and Cream Hand Pies…
(Rubus idaeus, mesimarja)
Harvest time: Beginning of August – Beginning September
- Green-white flowers bloom during June-July before producing its fruit
- Red berries with small hairs in between each small grouping of juice sack
- Grows in bunches on woody stems with spade-shaped leaves toothed along the edges. The underside of the leaves should be hairy and light green-silver colour
- A balanced sweet-tarte taste
- Height: 10-25cm
- Typically found in the region south of Oulu near lakes, rivers and logging areas
- Wild raspberries are seldom found in shops as these are significantly smaller and more tasty than cultivated raspberries
- Due to it’s intense fragrance and taste, it can be used as a flavor enhancer for preserves
- Teas, jams, juice and various desserts
- Can be frozen, but does not keep well if stored fresh
(Rubus chamaemorus, yellowberry, salmonberry or bakeapple) or in Finnish “”lakka” , “hilla”, “valokki” or “suomuurain”.
Harvest time: Mid-July-early August, highly profitable for a good picker
- Kidney-shaped, wrinkled leaves that can be easily removed from its base when ripe
- Five white petals make up the flower during its blooming season in June
- Whilst the fruit grows it changes colour from green-yellow to red-orange and amber once ripened
- Height: 10-25cm
- Wetlands in Northern Finland and natural bogs
- Known as the gold of berries with the taste of summer, one single berry contains more Vitamin C than an orange!
- Soups, jams, juices, desserts or used as a garnish
- Extraction of the cloudberry seed oil that is rich in Vitamin E is used to produce cosmetics too!
- Gourmet chefs have turned cloudberries into liquors and used as a beer flavour-enhancer
Dark blue blueberry
or known in the Lappish regions as a bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)
Harvest time: End July – the beginning of September
- A shrub with green branches that feature tapered oval leaves and toothed edges
- Globe-shaped fruit with a waxy surface, dark blue inside and out, however if the waxy layer is missing then the blueberries will be black and shiny
- Due to high levels of the pigment anthocyanin, this blueberry stains easily and are much smaller in size, 3 – 4 times richer in tangy flavour and grow individually on the branches compared to cultivated blueberries that are characterised by white flesh and non-staining
- Found throughout areas of Lapland, thriving in herb-rich and slopped forest environments and ponds in more shady areas that are out of direct sunlight.
- Think of it and it’s possible! Multiple recipes can be made from this delicious berry from soups, to milkshakes, to grain and dairy products. The list is endless.
- Natural dyes in textile production and food colouring due to the high content of anthocyanin compounds
(Vaccinium uliginosum) or bog bilberry, “odon” in Swedish
Harvest time: August
- Bigger and bluer than blueberries with little to no taste
- Featuring a brown-woodish stem with berries that are grey-blue in colour
- Height: 15-50cm
- Typically found in wet environments like bogs, but can be found in cooler areas of forests and mountains
- Can be eaten on its own or in various recipes but it’s preferable to pair this berry with other berries since it has a mild flavour
- Locals seldom pick these deliberately due to their mild flavour, however locals use a few of these as an ingredient in jams
(Empetrum nigrum), common crowberry. The second type of crowberry in Finland, is the mountain crowberry (E. nigrum ssp. Hermaphroditum)
Harvest time: end-July up until the first snow (beginning January)
- Glossy and black globe-shaped berry with a slight acidic-bitter taste,, making it unpleasant to eat when raw due to its tannins.
- Mountain crowberry: plumb berries with needle-like, hollow dark green leaves with a light coloured line indented underneath. These berries grow in big quantities
- Common crowberry: sharing similar qualities of the mountain crowberry, the common crowberry has a light coloured line that is not indented underneath it’s leaves. The berries grow in modest quantities
- Well lit areas in bogs and sparse forests in Northern Finland.
- Used mainly for cooking as it is bitter when fresh
- Folk Medicine for treating epilepsy and nervous disorders
- Cosmetic products, check out Artic Naturals Crowberry Night Cream
- The plant can be used as a natural scrubber and broom due to its hardness
- Natural dyes in textile production and food colouring due to the high content of anthocyanin compounds
Mushroom varieties: July to October
- Lapland is known to have at least 50 poisonous species of mushrooms with at least 5 of them deadly, do not pick white mushrooms or any mushrooms growing from tree stumps
- When picking mushrooms whole, twist and pull them carefully off the ground
- Pick young specimens in as good a condition as possible so that they will keep well and taste their best
- It is better to place your mushrooms in an airy basket or container, instead of a plastic bag or bucket followed by thorough cleaning immediately before consuming
- Some mushrooms require at least 5 – 10 minutes of boiling before consumption to rid the toxins. Be sure to correctly identify and harvest only mushrooms you are certain are not poisonous
or Cep, Pine-Bolete, Summer Polete (Boletus edulis, B. pinophilus, B. reticulatus)
Harvest: June to end-September
- A large and sturdy white-fleshed mushroom with varying shades of brown that has tightly packed spore tubes underneath its rounded cap instead of gills
- A rigid-straight and roundish stem when fresh
- A mild and nutty flavoured mushroom that is extremely versatile to cook with and shares a pleasant aroma
- Cep: coniferous forests near spruce trees
- Bine Bolete: pine trees and arid ground
- Summer Bolete: oak roots and herb-rich forests
- Ceps are exported in large amounts to Italy and Central and Southern European countries for their versatility and favourable flavours
Harvest time: late-June to end-September
- Bright yellow mushroom and stem with a pale-white flesh
- Funnel-shaped caps and gill-like ridges on the underside that are not tightly packed
- It has a fruity scent that is further enhanced when prepared or cooked with a hint of mild pepper
- Southern and central parts of Finland near lakeshores, birch forests and moist, mossy undergrowth
- Chanterelles can be frozen but if dried they are rubbery
- A versatile mushroom that can be used for multiple recipes including soups, pastas, and even paired with an ice-cold ale or a variety of wine types depending on how it is cooked
Horn of plenty
(Craterellus cornucopioides) or sometimes known as the “trumpet of death”
- A blue-black coloured mushroom with black-grey colored flesh
- An odd trumpet-shaped mushroom that with a rich taste kind resembling a dark version of a chanterelle
- A luxury mushroom as it only grows in the wild, this mushroom is very expensive if found in supermarkets, but is seldom if ever harvested commercially
- Found in southern and central Finland’s herb-rich forests, growing in dense clusters but are less abundant than other mushroom species
- A suitable mushroom to add rich flavours to soups, stews, pizza, chicken or creamy sauces
(Craterellus tubaeformis) or trumpet chanterelle, autumn chanterelle
Harvest: September to November
- A small mushroom with a brown cap and yellow/grey ridging on the underside of the cap.
- Wet and moist environments, usually covered in deep moss.
- Another versatile mushroom that is perfect for pizzas, pastas and any recipe that needs some mushroom influence
- Suitable for home freezing and drying, although the taste may be watered down
(Lactarius torminosus) or commonly known as the woolly milkcap
- A large gilled mushroom with a grey-brown cap and slimy surface
- The gills are white and covered in a latex-like film when picked or damaged. When cooked, this latex-like film becomes blotchy with violet hues
- If the latex-like film changes to a clear colour and liquorice-type odor then you have found a Fenugreek Milkcap which is poisonous and not to be eaten
- Droplets of milky liquid are identified on the caps when damaged or picked
- A sharp taste and bitterly pungent smell, this mushroom is not to be eaten fresh as it is toxic.
- Commonly found in mossy, herb-rich birch, spruce or pine forests in Lapland, this is one of Finland’s most commercially favourite wild mushroom species
- Only once boiled for at least 5 minutes to remove the toxins, these mushrooms become edible. The water that was used to boil the mushrooms should be discarded due to its toxicity
- They are fantastic with a range of cooked meals such as salads, soups, pastries
Wild plant varieties: April to November
Some of the most common wild herbs to forage for are listed below and are easily found in forests and meadows or even on the side of the road throughout Lapland. It is recommended that gloves are used when harvesting some plant varieties as they can have spikey bits sticking out. Be sure to correctly identify the herbs you harvest before consuming. Avoid harvesting plants in areas that may contain a high level of nitrate in the soil such as composting areas, roadsides and farms with livestock.
- The leaves and sprouts are edible before the plant flowers. Do not harvest nettle in compost or near livestock shelters as the accumulation of nitrate in the soil is harmful.
- Used as spinach for roast vegetables, herbal drinks, pancakes, bread and much more!
- A tall green fern harvested for its roots. Only the root is edible.
- This liquorice-like tasting root can be cooked or eaten raw. Add a sweet taste to your smoothies, soups, pies and teas.
- Note, too much polypody can have a laxative effect!
- The young leaves and pink/purple inflorescence (cluster of flowers on each stem) are edible with a mild-honey taste
- Flower: Used as a herbal drink and can be added to soups and stews too
- Leaves: Ideal for stews, pancakes, bread
- The entire plant is edible. Note, some people may be allergic to this plant
- Flower: Sweet and crunchy, add these to your salads or even prepare homemade dandelion syrup or wine!
- Leaves: The younger the leaf, the more palatable it is. The leaves have a strong peppery smell. Remove the bitter leaf stalk from the centre of the leaf before consuming
- Roots: The roots of the dandelion plant can be used for stews, soups, coffee substitute or even spice for beer!
- The dark blue cone-shaped berry and the leaf shoots are edible. Pregnant women and people with kidney problems must avoid consuming this plant as its resinous substances will strain the kidneys. Avoid eating more than 4-8 raw berries during the day as they are known to be potent.
- Berries: Perfect for risotto, bread, herbal drinks, substitute for pepper, ideal additive to alcoholic drinks like beer and gin. The berries must be dark blue when harvested and can be kept for up to 3 years when dried.
- Leaves/shoots: Needle-like shoots are used as smoking spices for meat and fish.
In preparation for your foraging trip, it is advisable to have a berry picker tool since the berries are produced individually instead of clusters. These can be found in local supermarkets during picking season or here.
Tips and tricks
Essential items checklist:
- Waterproof boots
- Warm clothes
- Food, snakes, drinking water
- Mosquito repellent
- Pocket guide (such as this one)
- Fully charged mobile phone
The emergency number in Finland is 112.
Never approach any wildlife.
Always share your route information and time of return with your accommodation host.
Cooking Your Harvest: Forest Recipes
There’s nothing like a good hearty meal prepared right in the middle of the forest with nothing but your foraged finds and some basic bring-along ingredients. Sweden hosts The Edible Country, an initiative that assists in do-it-yourself fine-dining experience in the forest! Have a look at some of their recipes below, with summer, spring and raw menus designed by gourmet chefs.