Forest Farms in Southern Sweden

Exploring the potential of edible forest gardens: experiences from a participatory action research project in Sweden   Agroforest Syst

Johanna Björklund . Karin Eksvärd . Christina Schaffer

This research project explores the feasibility of growing a diversity of crops in a planned, forested area. The goals are lofty:

“The desired functions from the systems were agreed to be the provision of nutritious and tasty food products, nitrogen fixation, nutrient accumulation, the provision of quality food for pollinators, carbon sequestration, contribution to a benign microclimate and the provision of timber. The design and species composition were planned to optimize these functions”

This research reminds me of the permaculture gardens that have risen in popularity across the U.S. Whenever you have a multi-use approach to agriculture, there are a lot of tradeoffs especially in maximizing yield. Having layers of berry bushes growing beneath a nut tree, for instance, reduces light and could adversely impact yield and pollinator activity because the area becomes too shady. There is a desire for timber, but cut trees down and the entire moisture, light, etc. regimes of this ecosystem are changed. One of the plants included in this study was lambs quarter, Chenopodium album, an annual that would most definitely die out after a while because of shading and competition from trees as well as lack of disturbance of the soils. It certainly is a fun exercise and yields of any one crop will suffer, but in my back yard? Why not?

2018. Borklund


Fruit Teas in Poland

Ingredients of popular fruit teas in Poland

Artur Adamczak, Anna Forycka, Tomasz M. Karpiński

Department of Botany, Breeding and Agricultural Technology of Medicinal Plants, Institute of Natural Fibres and Medicinal Plants, Kolejowa 2, 62-064 Plewiska, Poland(Adamczak and Forycka)) and Department of Genetics and Pharmaceutical Microbiology, Poznań University of Medical Sciences, Święcickiego 4, 60-781 Poznań, Poland (Karpiński)

The attached article from Poland shows the incredible diversity of fruit teas in Polish markets. Leaves, fruit, flowers, stems, petals, peels, roots, and juice concentrates  are used in a variety of teas that are popular because of their flavor, aroma and health benefits especially antioxidant content. The most popular fruit teas were raspberry, cranberry and rose hip, but the final tea sometimes contained more than 20 ingredients. Especially common in fruit teas were hibiscus flowers and apple. Apple and rose hip are often the top ingredients because they are cheap and easy to obtain from commercial sources. Even teas labeled raspberry could have hibiscus as the main ingredient. It certainly pays to do your homework and purchase from reputable sources because quality variation is huge. The list of ingredients is diverse and interesting!


Plant Cells as Food

Occasionally I read a journal article and my first response is “Really?” “Why in the world would somebody do that?” This is one such article. These researchers took cloudberry, lingonberry and stone berry (a type of raspberry) tissues and put them into test tubes. This process called tissue or cell culture takes living tissues, puts them into a test tube, adds a cocktail of nutrients and hormones so that the cells divide, and the result is a mass of actively dividing cells that will grow into large blobs of cells. As long as the nutrients and hormone levels are maintained, the cells will divide and divide.

Many years ago, when I was a grad student in Minnesota, other students were working on these cell cultures to see if the mass of cells in the test tubes could be used to harvest large quantities of useful chemicals, pharmaceuticals, bio pesticides and more. Rather than growing the whole plant such as the chrysanthemum-type flower that is the source of the pesticide pyrethrum, you could farm the cells and harvest the pyrethrum from the masses of cells.

Well this study takes cell farming to a new level. You are making masses of cells in a test tube so you can eat them! Rather than enjoying the trek into the woods, filling your bucket full of luscious berries, taking them home, filling your kitchen with the incredible aroma of lingonberry syrup, and then enjoying the fruits of your labor on a pile of pancakes, you will scoop out a mass of pinkish cells from a test tube, and eat them –– not sure how you prepare them. The fresh cells have a “sandy, grainy” texture. Yum!

The research was completed because of the claim that we will be running out of food on this planet because of increased population growth. Using current technology of farming, we will not have enough to feed the world. The solution is cell farming!

My opinion? I’d rather eat sawdust!

Plant cells as food – A concept taking shape (Berry cultures)

Emilia Nordlund, Martina Lille, Pia Silventoinen, Heli Nygren, Tuulikki Seppänen-Laakso, Atte Mikkelson, Anna-Marja Aura, Raija-Liisa Heiniö, Liisa Nohynek, Riitta Puupponen-Pimiä, Heiko Rischer, Food Research International Volume 107, May 2018, Pages 297–305


Plant cell cultures from cloudberry, lingonberry and stoneberry were studied in terms of their nutritional properties as food. Carbohydrate, lipid and protein composition, in vitro protein digestibility and sensory properties were investigated. Dietary fibre content varied between 21.2 and 36.7%, starch content between 0.3 and 1.3% and free sugar content between 17.6 and 33.6%. Glucose and fructose were the most abundant sugars. High protein contents between 13.7 and 18.9% were recorded and all samples had a balanced amino acid profile. In vitro protein digestion assay showed hydrolysis by digestive enzymes in fresh cells but only limited hydrolysis in freeze-dried samples. The lipid analysis indicated that the berry cells were rich sources of essential, polyunsaturated fatty acids. In sensory evaluation, all fresh berry cells showed fresh odour and flavour. Fresh cell cultures displayed a rather sandy, coarse mouthfeel, whereas freeze-dried cells melted quickly in the mouth. All in all the potential of plant cells as food was confirmed.

Bears Like Devil’s Club Berries

For anyone living along southeast Alaska’s coast, the fact that bears like devil’s club berries is a no brainer. Laurie Hart and Taal Levi from Oregon State University demonstrated for the first time that bears not only eat the berries, but they are the main reason devil’s club grows where it does. They are the major seed dispersers of devil’s club in coastal Alaska (their plots were near Haines). This article is a fun read because the authors not only sampled bear manure piles but set up motion detection cameras and swabbed the remains of berry clusters to search for DNA trails from brown and black bears (and even distinguished between male and female bears!)

Brown bears eat the berries first in the season (starting in mid July), then the black bears come in (early to mid August). Birds amounted to about 20% of the feeding and included robins as well as Swainson’s, hermit and varied thrush. When bears chomp on a cluster of devil’s club berries, they devout more than 70% of the fruit. Female bears devour more fruit than males of both species. Both species ate about 30 berries per second or about 100,000 berries per hour! Factoring in the density of bears, they estimated bears disperse over 200,000 seeds per hour per square kilometer! Wow! After the bears have their lunch, additional dispersal occurs from small mammals and squirrels. The next time you have to hack you way through a devil’s club thicket with a machete, blame the bears!

Devil’s club and bears

Ethnobotany of the Naukan speakers, Chukotka District, Russian Far East and Western Alaska


The attached link is an article written by Kevin Jernigan, Olga S. BelichenkoValeria B. Kolosova and Darlene J. Orr that compares uses of plants including berries from the past through elder recollections compared to present uses.  They also compared usage with communities in Nome and Kotzebue. Edible plant use has dropped overall from previous years (13%) but the awareness of medicinal uses has skyrocketed (+225%) no doubt because of the interest in antioxidants and other bioactive components. I completed a similar project in the mid 1990s in Ft. Yukon, Alaska and found about a 20% drop in native plant uses, but my project was before all the interest in antioxidants. 

Some of the plants whose use had actually increased include: wild chives (Allium schoenoprasum), tilsey sage (Artemisia tilesii), crowberry (Empetrum nigrum), blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum), lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), river beauty (Epilobium (Camerion) latifolium, mountain sorrel (Oxyria digyna), sour dock, (Rumex arcticus), and cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus). The plant locally called stinkweed or tilsey sage is interesting because I found it mentioned in nearly every ethnobotanical reference written in Alaska. It has extensive medicinal uses throughout the state and now the Russian Far East. All the berries mentioned are also the most popular berries harvested in northern Alaska. The berry with the greatest increase in uses from the past is mesutaq better known as masru, lingonberry or low bush cranberry. No surprise there!


Healthy Northern Berries Improve Glucose Utilization

This study from Norway centered around glucose control in the liver. The researchers studied the pathways of glucose uptake and described the enzymes used in the final steps of carbohydrate digestion as alpha-amylase and alpha glucosidase. Any chemical that inhibits these enzymes will slow glucose uptake in the liver and be a benefit to anyone dealing with type 2 diabetes. They studies a lot of berries (bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), blackberry (Rubus fruticosus), black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), black currants (Ribes nigrum),  bog whortleberry (Vaccinium uliginosum), cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus), Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum), Elderberry (Sambucus nigra), Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitas-idaea), raspberry (Rubus idaeus), red currant (Ribes rubric), rowan berries (mountain ash, Sorbus aucuparia), and sea buckthorn (Hippophae (Elaeagnus) rhamnoides). The phenolic compounds in all the berries inhibited response the enzymes that promote glucose uptake. Some berries had other chemicals that actually promoted glucose uptake: mountain ash and bilberry being the highest. The berries with the most powerful inhibitors were crowberry, cloudberry, bog whortleberry (bog blueberry), and lingonberry with crowberry being ranked number 1!


Taste testing Finnish Honey

This is an interesting research paper from the University of Turku, Finland, the Finnish Beekeepers Association and the Tallin University, Estonia. The researchers conducted sensory taste testing and completed chemical profiles of several Finnish honeys (buckwheat, cloudberry, lingonberry, white sweet clover, willow herb (fireweed) and mixed flower honeys (composed of flowering mustards, clover and raspberry, and a member of the genus, Vaccinium). They found a total of 73 compounds that contribute to the aroma of the honeys. They also tested flavor, smell, color and texture with a panel of 62 people. Buckwheat honey was described as malty with a cheese- and fecal-like and cow- and barn-like aroma. Some called it “earthy”! They found that cloudberry honey had the highest level of aromatic compounds of those tested. It was described as pungent, solvent-like, herbal and citrus-like. Lingonberry honey was described as pleasant and sweet with notes of vanilla and caramel. The others were rated well because they were most familiar to the panelists and their pleasant aromas. The honey samples that rated poorly because of strong, unfamiliar odor, flavor and aftertaste as well as dark color were buckwheat and cloudberry! Both were strongly negative in consumer appeal.

I have eaten buckwheat honey, and it is as strong and “earthy” as described, more like a molasses rather than honey, but still good especially for baking. To lump cloudberry in the category is amazing! I have never seen a beekeeper sell cloudberry honey – not enough flowers in one location, I suspect, but it doesn’t sound like anything I would invest in! Lingonberries and fireweed – yes!

Kortesniemi, M., Rosenvald, S., Laaksonen, O., Vanag, A., Ollikka, T., Vene, K., Yang, B., Sensory and chemical profiles of Finnish honeys of different botanical origins and consumer preferences, Food Chemistry (2017), doi: Honey article