On our Diamonds of the Arctic Tour 2014 we had discovered new way of making gin. Much of our knowledge on how to make the best out of what is nearest is being forgotten. It is so easy to go into the store a buy a banana these days. Ms. Eva Gunnare of Essence of Lapland had radiantly shown us how to make wonderful juice and tea. Made of a beautiful purple plant you see every day along any road you travel in the north.
She sang the praise of Arctic nature. Born and bred in Stockholm, she moved to Swedish Lapland more than two decades ago. Fell in love with the fells, the tranquility, and her new hometown, Jokkmokk. Her enthusiasm is infectious.
As we walked in the backyard forest looking for raisins, she spotted something I would call weed. She called it skvattram (Rhododendron tomentosum). In English one of its names is wild rosemary. The plant is not very tall and looks like a branch of a pine tree with a little bit of green sticks. In the spring, it has a big beautiful white flower, look like snow balls in the forest.
You should be careful about this one, she said, it is poisonous. I use it as spice, but in very, very small quantities. It has a powerful scent. She secretly whispers, it is an aphrodisiac and will make you happier. Is it the Viagra of the Arctic forest?
It can be used in two other ways. If you rub the both flower and / or needle pin leaves in your hand and moist your face, arms and other exposed body parts, it serves as a mosquito deterrent. You need to rub in another dose every second hour as the effectiveness wears off. The mosquitos really hate it, you will love it.
Is it the Viagra of the Arctic forest?
The second way is to amass some of it in the spring, dry it, and put it into small permeable stuff bags. People can use these in closets and drawers. It keeps unwanted bugs away from your clothes.
Another 50 meters and we come to another area of the forest. Here is everything, says Eva. Skvattram, blueberry, cranberries and what we in Sweden call odon (Vaccinium uliginosum). The berry that looks like blueberry is called bog bilberry in English. There are many ways of determining the difference of the two. One by how the top of the berry looks like: The bog bilberry has a little star whereas the blueberry has a little circle.
The taste is not anywhere near blueberry, it is rather dull. However, when you dry it, there is flavor, it becomes chewy and raisin-like. It is a sugar free, unpolluted, healthy, and tasty snack to chew on. It is perfect for kids. I use them in yoghurt and chocolate cake. It is a very good combination with chocolate cake. As with other berries, the odon has antioxidants and vital vitamins. It is in the shadow of blueberry, but Eva calls it the raisins of the forest.
In our short time together with Eva we learned a lot. There is more to the forest than just the trees. There are herbs, spices, food and many interesting things.
Do you have any examples on how to use wild plants as food?