Scandinavian Herbs

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Scandinavian herbs

Fall is an exciting time for Scandinavian herbs. Herbs are the essence of the soil, and the tradition of any given culinary tradition. Foraging has been a long-loved Nordic activity, especially in September, when everything is brimming for harvest and the long dark winter fast approaches.

The Nordic kitchen is very much influenced by Russian cooking and its use of horseradish and dill. Many Scandinavians tramp into the forest every year to find a bounty. The other herbs that infuse our dishes are used all over the world, although the subtle flavors of chervil, tarragon and parsley, wild thyme and wood sorrel are used in mild Nordic ways, particular to our habits of eating delicately flavored food, with ingredients as the key note.

Scandinavian herbs
There are no clear distinction between herbs and edible leaves except that herbs are more pungent, not being a considerable part of the dish, but a leafy flavoring nonetheless. Photo: Annie Spratt

Related: Scandinavian Poor Man’s Asparagus

Foraging
Foraging practice in Scandinavia is that you should never take more than a small percentage of what you forage, so that the plants have an opportunity to regrow. Herbs have been gathered from the wild since the Stone Age, and more than now. The necessary common knowledge of herbs has more or less vanished, although cooks and foodies are regaining knowhow and adding new-old local herbs to the table once more.

Related: A Cabbage Called Swede

Scandinavian herbs
the subtle flavors of chervil, tarragon and parsley, wild thyme and wood sorrel are used in mild Nordic ways. Photo: Katherine Kanton

New and old herbs
Ramsons, nettles, woodruff, angelica and mugwort are new to us, but can be found in all the Nordic cookbooks. However, the Nordic people had their own unique relationship with mugwort. Some entomologists are of the opinion that the common name for the plant is in fact derived from the old Norse word muggi­- meaning marsh and Germanic wuertz meaning root. Mugwort was a staple for the völur, the Norse prophecy women who inhabited the pre-Christian era.

Related: A Cabbage Called Swede

Scandinavian herbs
The necessary common knowledge of herbs has more or less vanished, although cooks and foodies are regaining knowhow and adding new-old local herbs to the table once more.. Photo: Angele Kanp

Herbs and edible leaves
There are no clear distinction between herbs and edible leaves except that herbs are more pungent, not being a considerable part of the dish, but a leafy flavoring nonetheless. During the next months I will describe some of the most important herbs in Scandinavia, like dill, parsley, tarragon, chervil, lovage, horseradish, ramsons, nettles, elderflower and more. I will also present familiar as well as not so familiar recipes.

I hope this will give you a well-deserved excuse to pop into nature in the coming seasons.

Scandinavian herbs, written by Tor Kjolberg

All images © Unsplash

Feature image (on top): Photo by Markus Spiske / Unsplash

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