In Sweden nature has a very high importance. It is both provider of food and a source of wellbeing. Roughly 57% of Sweden is covered in forrest, as suppose to 13% in the UK, so is it any wonder it features so heavily in their lives.
"Har ni sett Herr Kantarell"
Have you seen Mr. Chanterelle
"Blåsippor ute i backarna står"
There are wood anemone (forest flower) in the hills.
"Sove du lilla videung"
Sleep you little willow young
These are just a few of many popular children's song (and illustrations)
featuring flowers, mushrooms and berries. There is even an old and beloved Swedish Birthday song that starts with a tulip (one of Swedens most adored flower):
"Med en enkel tulipan uppå bemärkelseda'n, jag har den äran, jag har den äran, att gratulera."
With a simple tulip on this meaningful day, I have the honour, I have the honour to congratulate you.
As a child in Sweden I grew up with songs and stories about flowers and nature and of course I spent a lot of time outdoors; picking flowers, mushrooms, fruits, berries and even planting vegetables.
Foraging (meaning searching for food or provisions) is currently a big a buzz word in Gastronomy here in the UK and all over Europe. In Sweden foraging has always been a way of life.
We mustn't forget that in a nordic country like Sweden the seasons are much more pronounced, the winter darker and colder; the summer bright, warm and plentiful. You can imagine how delightful the springing of bright flowers is after a long hard winter. Midsummer is an event celebrating the longest day and since the meadows are full of flowers the strawberries are ripe, these form part of the traditions. Apples and other fruit are harvested late summer, the much anticipated mushroom season is in autumn. Life is shaped and built around nature.
At this point I would like to introduce my FARFAR Ulf (FARFAR means 'dad's dad' and Ulf means wolfs... for real, cool eh!?) who I spent a lot of time with during my childhood in Sweden.
Of course my FARMOR (dad's mother) was also always with us and she is another great influence but Ulf is just the original Swede in our family.
Ulf has an endless interest and knowledge of nature. He recognises most animals, plants and mushrooms and the few ones he doesn't, he can look up in one of his many many books.
Before google, people in the village would bring their foraged mushrooms to Ulf for him to identify them and tell them if they were safe to eat.
Another remarkable story he has told me was from his time doing mandatory military service in the Swedish army. As it mostly takes part in the wast forests of Sweden, they would send Ulf to literally 'find food' when supplies were low.
For me as a child, walks together in the forest were always exciting, we would bring a flask of coffee (or in my case hot chocolate) and enjoy singing songs, picking flowers and berries. Ulf would always carry a bag in case we would spot some eatable mushrooms or even stumble across a really good SVAMP STÄLLE (mushroom spot) with lots of mushrooms, so we could take them home and eat them, fried in butter and served on a macka (open sandwich) - SMASK (yum)!
I was also lucky enough to grow up with access to my grandparents garden, where they spend many many hours planting, growing, pruning and maintaining berry bushes, fruit trees, flowers beds and a vegetable plot.
This allowed me to experience the coming and going of seasons for myself, very much learning by eating! When I was 8 years old I already knew, there is nothing better than berries straight from the bush or new potatoes cooked and served only hours from being pulled out of the ground.
I can't speak for all Swedes of course but I believe that this closeness to nature contributes a lot to mental wellbeing. When I occasionally manage to get out in the forest for a walk I often marvel at the calming effect it has on me and my children. I breathe in the oxygen filled air and take in the familiar smell of the forest and I find myself still automatically scanning the ground for flowers, berries or mushrooms.