Every summer tens of thousands of Finns head to nearby forests and swamps to gather wild berries in bulk. This is not surprising in itself, as many people all over the world go berry picking, myself included. What is astonishing is just how many berries there are hidden in Finland’s extensive forests. The first time I saw a sizable berry patch here was several years ago while I was hiking in Lapland for the first time. The entire forest floor was covered with 6-12-inch lingonberry (vaccinium vitis-idaea) bushes. Everywhere you stepped, your foot would crush dozens of little red berries. I thought this must be quite unusual only to discover the berry patch extended for several miles along the trail. Sounds too good to be true? Well this time it actually is true and 2016 looks like it is going to be a killer berry year. This makes me very happy because I like berries and I like them even more when I can pick them myself free of charge.
So here is a rundown on berry picking in Finland. First of all, there is a concept here called “every man’s rights” which warrants a post all to itself, but in nutshell it is a right that allows you to use other people’s land for things such as wild berry picking, hiking, biking, etc.
There are of course many limitations, but for the most part as long as you stay far away from any buildings and observe privacy signs you are okay (I know shocking, right? Like I said a post for another time). Consequently, I can go into almost any forest and pick wild berries and it only costs me time and effort. Starting with the berries that are ripe first, Finland has strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, lingonberries, and cranberries amongst others that are readily available throughout the whole country. So far this year I have been picking strawberries and blueberries. Blueberries in particular are doing well this year.
Because it is easy to access forest areas, and because there is normally a lot of berries, picking is still an important source of food for many Finns. Of course they could just go to the supermarket and buy them, but many people, like myself, prefer to pick them on their own. The picking is made easier by a handy little berry picker which helps scoop up handfuls at a time. See the picture below. It takes a little practice to not damage the plant when using it, but if you are careful and learn quickly this scooper greatly increases the speed of picking and does not damage the plants. I am still working on the technique.
The first time I went blueberry picking this year I was able to fill a large 10-liter pail in just a few hours and by only walking about 150 yards (150 meters). The best part is that Finnish blueberries are super sweet. They are smaller than what you would buy in a store, but they taste
much better. The only downside is that they can stain your clothing with their juice. So be aware of that.
As summer progresses and blueberries and strawberries go out of season, you can switch to picking raspberries and lingonberries. Lingonberries, just like blueberries, are everywhere. They can cover many square miles of forest at times. They are also very easy to pick and see. The only thing to be aware of is that there is another berry that is ready at the same time, and it looks
similar but is poisonous. However, the plant is very different in appearance and is easy to avoid. See picture to the right.
Lastly, in the fall and if you are lucky, you can find swamps with wild cranberries. These are rather hard to collect and must be picked by hand because they grow in or right on top of moss and grass in the swamps. However, if you find a good spot it can be rewarding. Last year we picked some for our Thanksgiving dinner.
All in all, berry picking is a fun activity and is one of the things that I really like about Finland. It might be hard to grow many common crops in Finland, but berries are growing on the ground everywhere you turn. An added plus is that it is also something the whole family can do together.