The use of Finnish wild plants as food

Interest in the utilisation of wild plants as food has increased rapidly in Finland in the recent years. In addition to the familiar wild berries and mushrooms, also other plants, such as wild herbs, are being used to an increasing extent. They are most commonly used as ingredients for herbal tea (e.g. birch leaves or flowering tops of goldenrods), or as spices (e.g. juniper berries and shoots, or garden angelica roots), or as dish decorations (e.g. clover flowers or Iceland moss). Some plants, such as nettles and dandelions, are also used as wild vegetables.

The edible wild plants should be identified

In addition to plants that are suitable for use as food, we have also several poisonous wild plants in Finland. The appearance of a plant does not give any clues as to its safety as food. A good knowledge of species and correct identification of wild plants are factors of utmost importance in terms of food safety.

Wild plants may be freely collected for own use, within the restrictions of the so-called everyman's rights. However, commercial operation, e.g. when plants are collected for sales, falls within the scope of food legislation. Consumers must always be able to trust in the safety of all purchased foods and ingredients used in them. Food regulations for their part also ensure the safety of wild plants.

Finnish Food Authority listed the edible wild plants

The Table “The use of wild plants as food”presents the Finnish wild plants and plant parts considered to be the most significant in terms of food use, as well as their novel food status in the EU and information on small-scale use as food prior to 1997.

The information on small-scale use is based on traditional knowledge and information provided by operators on the history of use. Unlike the interpretations in the Commission's list of novel foods, these interpretations regarding small-scale use are only valid in Finland, and practices may vary in different Member States.

Finnish Food Authority has not analysed the safety of the plants as food. The responsibility for the safety of the product and its compliance with requirements rests with the food sector operator concerned. Apart from general food regulations, the Novel Foods Regulation (EU) 2015/2283 as well as the Nutrition and Health Claim Regulation (EC) No. 1924/2006, in particular, must be taken into account as far as wild plants are concerned. The markings in the Remarks column do not represent Finnish Food Authority's views, interpretations or recommendations, but information collected from the indicated sources.

This Table of information on the history of use as food of Finnish wild plants can be supplemented on the basis of documentation provided by operators.

Wild plants can be novel food

If the plant or plant part has been used as food to a significant degree prior to 1997 within the EU, it is not a novel food and it may be used freely in all food products. According to a common interpretation of the Member States, however, small-scale use as herbal tea, spice, dish decoration and similar cannot be taken into account when assessing the significant history of use of a foodstuff.; not on a general level and not in terms of the same food group, e.g. herbal tea. Food supplements are the only exception. If the plant or plant part has a substantiated history as a food supplement prior to 1997, it is still authorised for use in food supplements. However, novel food authorisation is required, if the use of the plant or plant part is to be expanded to other food groups. An interpretation comparable to this interpretation of food supplements is not in the EU applied to any other food groups used on a small scale.

Taking into account the requirements for flexibility of legislation voiced by operators in the food industry, Finnish Food Authority has been of the view that as concerns wild plants used on a small scale, the Regulation can be interpreted in a flexible manner without compromising food safety. Finnish Food Authority has taken history of use as herbal tea, spice or dish decoration into account in the assessment of the novel food status of an ingredient in the same food group, although it is not enough to substantiate a significant history of use in general.

Page last updated 1/3/2019