The Finns treat the outdoors like a wild supermarket. You should, too.
Garlic mustard is an invasive species that you can forage for and eat. (Photo: DJ Taylor/Shutterstock)
In Finland, they have what's known as everyman's right, also called the right to roam. People are permitted to camp, swim, bathe, fish and forage in almost all free spaces, even if those spaces are privately owned. That right, along with a history of foraging dating back to World War II, makes Finland's city parks akin to wild grocery stores.
Over the past three years foraging has picked up in Finland. Foraging tours that used to have just a few participants are now packed with people, including those celebrating birthdays and bachelorette parties. Mushrooms, berries, herbs and seasonal greens abound in Finland.
The education that comes from foraging tours helps both those who forage to supplement their groceries and those who have trouble affording groceries get a variety of nutrition.
If you want to forage like the Finns, you can find a foraging tour near you, read a book on foraging or research what edibles can be found in the green spaces near you. Here are a few plants that are safe to eat and easy to identify.
Dandelions are one of the easiest edibles to spot. (Photo: Sven Hastedt/Shutterstock)
By now, most people know dandelions are edible. They are incredibly easy to spot, and all parts can be eaten, including the roots. The roots can be ground and made into a coffee-like hot beverage. The greens can be used in salads, sautéed, made into pesto, blended in a smoothie or made into Cream of Dandelion Soup. The flowers also can be used in salads, infused in a simple syrup, dried and brewed for tea, or fermented into Dandelion Wine.
The leaves of wild ramps are a sought-after delicacy. (Photo: Lulu/Shutterstock)
Found mainly in the Northeast, ramps are in the onion family. You'll know them by their leaves and their oniony, garlicy smell. The leaves look a bit like poisonous Lily of the Valley leaves, but one sniff will tell you the difference. The stems of ramps are usually deep purple to bright red.
Harvest just the leaves of the ramps. If you harvest the entire bulb, you'll take away the chance for the ramp to grow again the next year. The leaves can be grilled or sautéed, used in pesto, pickled or put on pizza.
Wild blackberries are ripe when they are dark purple or black. (Photo: FlorinRO/Shutterstock)
To find wild blackberries, or any of their edible lookalikes (olallieberry, marionberry, boysenberry, loganberry and dewberry), look on the outskirts of wooded areas or farms. They grow on bushes with thorns, and the leaves have edges that resemble a fine tooth saw blade (but aren't sharp). The berries are ripe when they are dark purple or black.
Wild blackberries can be used any way that store-bought blackberries can be used: in jams, pies, smoothies or just popped right into your mouth.
Wild watercress can be used in more than just salads. (Photo: Ryoko Fujuwara/Shutterstock)
Wild watercress can be identified by its four-petaled leaves, hollow stem and smell of horseradish when you rip or crush it. It grows by water, usually streams, and will be very densely packed. It will taste peppery. Make sure to wash wild watercress really well as it could pick up anything that's in the stream it grows by.
Wild watercress can be used in the same ways farmed watercress can be used, like in an Orange and Nectarine Salad, or watercress soup, pesto, smoothies or sauces.
Please forage responsibly
Before you pick any edibles, like elderflower, make sure you have the right to do so. (Photo: Carmina McConnell/Shutterstock)
With Finland's everyman's right comes responsibility. People may not pick protected species. They may not disturb others, damage property, light fires without permission, let their pets off leash or leave litter, among other things, according to Finland's National Parks website. They have a right to roam, but they have a duty to do it responsibly, which is another way we should forage like the Finns.
Here are some tips for foraging safely and responsibly:
- For you own safety, know how to correctly identify edibles. Many plants can be poisonous — not just mushrooms.
- If you're in an area that has been sprayed with pesticides, like a public park, the edge of a commercial farm, or someone's back yard, those wild edibles could be tainted with chemicals.
- Leave behind what grows underground so the plant can repopulate over and over.
- Always leave some behind. Take only what you'll use, and if there is only a small amount, leave at least half, even if you could use more.
- Be careful of your surroundings when you're foraging. If you're in a dense, wooded area, don't trample other plants to get to your desired food.
- Make sure you have permission to forage on the land. If you are on private property or publicly owned property such as a park or nature preserve, foraging may not be permitted.
- If a plant has damaged leaves, mold, dark spots or other signs of being unhealthy, do not eat from it.
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