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Swedish Culture

From Elderflowers to Wild Greens — Favorite Early Summer Foraging

June 22, 2022 By Lizzy Rode

Just like many northern parts of the world, early spring and summer in Sweden brings an explosion of blooms, leaves and bulbs after a long dark winter. Foraging for these wild flavors is a way to connect with nature as well as nourish our bodies, which crave the vitamins and minerals found in these early season plants. Swedes can take advantage of the allmansrätten law, or every person’s right to the outdoors to forage, hike, camp and hunt in wild places. Here in the US, always forage from property you have permission to pick on and that is not treated with chemicals, follow local laws, never pick anything you cannot identify without doubt, and pick lightly from individual plants. Luckily, there are easy to find substitutions or accessible sources for many of the following favorite flavors from early summer. 

For more recipes and inspiration for these flavorful foraged ingredients, register today for our virtual Nordic Table Demo: Early Summer Foraged Flavors on June 23. To learn more about foraging in urban areas, join Maria Wesserle for one of her upcoming Foraging in the City classes.  

Ramson – Wild Onions 

While they look very similar, Swedish wild onions or ramps are not quite as funky and more garlic forward than American ramps. The best substitute in the US is green garlic, which has a closer flavor profile but with a slightly tougher texture. Green garlic is the immature garlic bulb pulled in the spring as farmers or gardeners thin their garlic beds; while a completely different texture, you can also look for garlic scapes, the budding shoot of the garlic plant that will also show up at farmers markets in early summer. 

 Fläder – Elderflower 

Elderflower is one of the tastes of summer in Sweden, and it is almost always served as a beverage although it also shows up as a flavoring in baked goods, sweets and even some savory dishes. Making elderflower cordial is a simple, cheap and time honored tradition, but it really depends on having access to elderflower bushes you have permission to pick from. Dried elderflowers are available and can make a pretty garnish, but won’t get the same floral flavor that you’re looking for, so if homemade elderflower cordial is not in your summer plans, seek out a store bought option, widely available online or at IKEA. 

Grann – Spruce 

Spruce tips should be plucked in mid-spring when they are tightly closed, lime green, and soft. They taste citrusy and piney at the same time — you are tasting the vitamin C that our bodies crave at the end of a long dark winter. Spruce tips keep well in the fridge for many weeks if well wrapped.  

Nässlor – Nettles 

Nettles are of course notorious for their sting, which comes from a chemical reaction with our skin, not an actual physical thorn or needle. Luckily this chemical is completely nullified by heat or friction, and nettles are one of the best sources of iron and super high in other vitamins. Plus they have a rich, delicious taste which other greens can’t quite match. However, any dish that calls for cooked nettles could also use another spring veggie like fresh spinach. If you are making a recipe with spinach, a little dried nettle adds some of those great vitamins and a hint of the astringent, rich taste that fresh nettles would bring. Local co-ops such as the Wedge carry dried nettle leaf and also are a source for fresh nettles in season and some farmers markets will offer nettles in season too. Or check your backyard! If you have a motherload of nettles, they can be blanched and frozen. Always wear gloves or use tongs to handle. Nettle goes brilliantly with fatty fish like salmon or trout and eggs. 

Nettle Pesto | Makes about 1 cup 

Adapted from recipes by Renee Erickson and Caroline Hofberg. Spread on pizza, swirl into scrambled eggs or a frittata, toss with pasta or serve with pan fried trout. Mustard greens or kale are good substitutes in this recipe. 

  • 4 cups nettles 
  • ½ cup toasted, unsalted sunflower seeds 
  • 2 cloves garlic or 1 Tbsp chopped green garlic 
  • Lemon juice to taste 
  • ½ cup Pecorino Romano or other sharp well aged cheese such as västerbotten 
  • ¾ cup cold pressed canola, sunflower, or olive oil 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; blanch the nettles — once wilted and bright green, immediately remove and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Squeeze well in a clean towel to remove excess moisture. 

In a food processor or well powered blender, process the nettles, sunflower seeds, garlic and cheese until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. Allow the machine to continue running and add the oil in a fine stream. Stop as soon as the oil is in; do not over process as this makes the oil bitter. Taste and add additional salt, if needed. Keep in the fridge, covered completely with oil for up to a week, or freeze for up to 3 months.