Every year Finns roam to forests to forage for blueberries. And we know why. Blueberries taste delicious, Finnish everyman’s rights allow you to pick them for free in our country’s vast forests, and the berries are packed with essential nutrients that are good for you. Who wouldn’t love freshly baked blueberry pie or mixing fresh berries to a tasty smoothie?
First, a disclaimer: What we gather from the forests and commonly call blueberries in Finland are actually bilberries, (metsä)mustikka in Finnish. It translates as forest blueberry. Garden blueberries are called pensasmustikka in Finnish, bush blueberries. They are similar, but different berries.
There are approximately 50 different berries growing in Finland, 37 of which are edible. Blueberry (bilberry!) is one of the most common and most loved berries. A stunning amount of 150-200 millions of kilos of blueberries are picked on a yearly basis within the country.
Benefits of blueberries
Blueberries are known for their health benefits. They are superfood because they contain high amounts of antioxidants, flavonoids, polyphenols, vitamins, minerals such as potassium, zinc, copper, and magnesium, and fibers. Blueberries therefore have beneficial effects for our immune system and our metabolism. Researches have linked blueberries with the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, and they could even have a positive impact on memory thus preventing age-related diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Keep eating blueberries and you will never forget where the best blueberry forests are!
I love picking mushrooms and berries because it is the best form of relaxation. When wondering around in the clean Finnish forest, getting lots of fresh air, and focusing on finding the berries, I can charge my batteries and forget everything else. Foraging berries and freezing them for the winter is somehow very satisfying. Going back to our roots of collecting or hunting our own food instead of buying it from the grocery store.
When and where to pick
Berry-picking season normally begins in mid-July, earlier in the south than in the north of the country, and lasts until September. Blueberry crops vary from one year to another, depending on the weather conditions. The flowers are preformed in previous summer and extremely dry summer would mean scarce crops on the following year. Pollination is also important. When berries are starting to grow, the weather plays less role. Dry weather usually means smaller but sweeter berries. In 2019 the blueberry crops were only a fraction of normal years due to hot and dry summer in the previous year. This year already seems to be much better.
Everyman’s right gives to everyone the permission to pick up berries in any forest regardless of who owns the land. It is free and you don’t need to apply for the permission – it is always valid. Blueberry grows in coniferous forests and it is very common throughout the country. Find a forest and you will find the berries! Pro tip: Head to Sipoonkorpi National Park from Helsinki region if you want to pick some blueberries.
Clean berries from the clean forests
Something I didn’t even know existed in wild berries is tape worms. When I was living Germany, I used to buy all the berries from the market and they were always garden berries. The blueberries were bush blueberries, bigger and sweeter than the forest blueberries I knew from Finland. I missed the taste of the forest berries, but I then learned that garden berries were safer to eat in Germany. Apparently echinococcosis can spread to humans from wild berries in Central Europe. Echinococcus multilocularis has not spread to Finland yet. Finnish Food Authority is monitoring wild foxes and raccoon dogs and testing them on a yearly basis to find out if they carry echinococcosis. But at the moment all berries in Finland are the cleanest in the world and safe to be eaten fresh from the forest.
Which one of these is your favorite berry?