Harvesting without gardening: Food from the Swedish forest

If eating local food is a strong trend in Sweden, eating wild food is kind of  a logical continuation. If you grow your own food in Sweden, May is quite a tough month, since most of the crops have barely popped their heads out of the soil yet. But if you raise your gaze over the garden plot, there are things to be eaten that you never even have to water or take care of.


Dish of the day: Pasta with nettles. Photo: Sara Jeswani.

Lately the interest for edible forest plants has grown. Friends of mine start learning what can be brought home from a walk, new books come out and magazines have specials on wild edibles. Some years ago Roland Rittman started picking wild plants and selling them. Now he has his own company Jordnära, and sells stinging nettles, ground-elder and other forest delicacies to top restaurants in Copenhagen, Finland and Stockholm.

Last week I escaped out to a friend’s summer house outside Västerås [map] for a few days. Walking along lake Mälaren was beautiful, and even better was returning home with my pockets full of tender stinging nettle shoots (although I must admit my hands were a bit sore… wearing some sort of gloves is a good idea). Dinner that night was tortellini with nettle stew. Very tasty, and extremely wholesome: nettles contain a lot of vitamine C, iron, calcium, phosphorous and other good stuff.

Other delicacies to look for if you pass through a Swedish forest (and in many other parts of the world too, I think) are elm-tree seeds (elm trees are, as you might have noticed, very much in season now) and ground-elder. Easy to recognize and tasty.


Nettles can sting, but once they are cooked they become totally harmless. Photo: Sara Jeswani.


Elm seeds are good in a salad. Photo: Sara Jeswani

Ground-ElderGround-elder is considered as a stubborn weed, but makes it as a delicious spinach-like ingredient in soups, pies, stews or bread. Photo: Hermann Falkner ( CC BY-NC-SA)

  • Pol – Croatia

    Few months ago i attended the presentationa about edible natural plants also and at the end joinly bougt a small book about some most common edible plants. It appears they can mostly serve as adds to main meal, while i was aiming more at food selfsuistanaibility solution. However, they can provide many precious elements, indeed. Of course, the challenge now is how get to know all this plants, where they grow and when they are good to eat (it appears some can be even poissonous if harvested too early or too late). …

    We were also introduced in this issue during urban gardening preparation, where wild natural plants were mostly placed in zone 5, while our balcony or frontdoor was zone 1, small garden near home zone 2, etc. There is much to be learned. So, i think now, some time will be needed before it become everyday practice. Maybe that is the reason why they say it should become a way of life. However, some critical moment has to reached, before the ordinary life doesn’t interfere too much, so it becomes selfsuistainable way of living.

    However, judging by my experience with composting i feel a bit guilty because i temporarily make much more waste (for instance of plastic bags) then imediate gain for the nature. And there are some who already say i don’t complicate my life with it, and just to put it in the ordinary container. :-)

  • Monica-USA

    Wow  wonderful to  know about  these new items   that are  edible I never new stinging Nettles were edible?

  • Anonymous

     Thanks, Monica! It’s funny that many of the plants we normally regard as weed can be very useful. But I do recommend gloves for picking them, yesterday I tried it the “macho” way since it took me too long to pick them with my sleeve pulled down over my hand… no good idea, my fingers are still a bit sore. But now I’ll make a nice nettle soup.

  • Anonymous

     Interesting to hear about your experiences of edible plants. Yes, it’s not like you can stop buying food and live from these leaves, at best they are a complement to other food.

    But what happens with your compost, why is it generating plastic waste..?

  • Monica-USA

    Yes  I will  remember that to  make sure I have gloves  on. Hi hi…

  • Pol – Croatia

    It is because i still don’t have a composter and the food that awaits in the plastic bags is generating quite a lot of liquid at the bottom. Today i saw some composters in the hypermarkets, but they are pretty big and cost 80-100 Euro, which is too much for bunch of plastic, i think. Morover i don’t have my own garden so sooner or later it would disapear and easily become very poor investment.

    I also found that i miss many tools and i don’t have much material to improvise with. For the beginning i plan to make simple composting (without the composter) near the entrance of closeby forest, in semi-shade of trees. However, i would like to make it properly functional and at least relatively good looking to avoid any negative comments and most defenitly bad smelling. :-)

  • Anonymous

    I understand, storing compost material in plastic bags sounds… complicated! I’m still not very familiar with the techniques, but I know there are several ways to make kitchen-composts work in a flat, for example something called Bokashi, working with the help of active micro organisms. I will write about it more here on the blog shortly. Maybe it’s worth checking out?

  • Bruce Palling

    You might be interested in a recent article I wrote about Miles Irving, Britain’s leading forager.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Bruce, very interesting article! Crown jewels that dropped in the street, that’s a good picture.

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    Thanks Sara Jeswani, this is really good article about food recipe. It is easy to recognize and tasty. I agree with you.