Crowberry, Empetrum nigrum
Two subspecies of crowberry are found in Finland: Empetrum nigrum hermaphroditum or black crowberry (also called mossberry), and Empetrum nigrum nigrum, which has larger berries and grows in more northerly areas. The largest crop of crowberries are produced from the twiggy plants that grow in Northern Finland, Ostrobothnia and North Karelia.
All parts of the crowberry plant can be used. The twigs and roots can be used to make small brooms or brushes, and the berries make good jams and jellies. The whole plant, or just the purple juice of the berries, can be used for dyeing fabrics and leather.
Something to try
To make crowberry juice, you’ll need about 3 litres of crowberries, 2 litres of water, 25 grams of citric acid or tartaric acid, and 1-2 kilos of sugar according to taste. Wash the berries and mash them. Add the water and the citric or tartaric acid. Allow to stand in a cool place for 1-2 days. Pour the juice through a sieve, and add the desired amount of sugar to the strained juice. Pour the juice into well-cleaned bottles.
Gathering the plants
The berry season of the crowberry plant is exceptionally long. The berries can be harvested from the end of July until the first snows come. However, the best picking time is in early August. The wintry berries can also be collected in the spring. The twigs of the crowberry plant can be gathered throughout the growing season. Freedom to roam – that is, unrestricted access to private lands in Finland for gathering berries, mushrooms and the like – does not apply to the crowberry plant. (Freedom to roam is called jokamiehen oikeus, “everyman’s right,” in Finnish). In other words, the landowners must be asked for permission to take any part of the plant.
Other interesting facts
In Finland, crowberries are called “the blueberries of the fells.” The berries contain plenty of flavonoids, vitamins and fibre. Down the ages, long before the chemical properties of crowberries were identified and studied, they were commonly used in Lapland as an important source of vitamin C. Crowberries contain even more vitamin C than blueberries, which are widely valued for their vitamin C content.