Seeds and roots of wild plants as an extension of flour

This article was created to be part of a cookbook many years ago. This dream is now about to come true. I got a few stipends, and during winter and spring 2011 I am writing my book about Viking and Medieval food in Finland. Got to know a publisher? Please let me know...

No part of this text is allowed to be cited or published without my permission. Please note that methods of research get better all the time, and new interpretations may appear.

Though people in Iron-Age Finland were tall, which means that they ate well, long and cold winters and uncertainty of the coming years forced them to pick everything edible from the nature. Iron-age Finland was not very filled with people, unlike the other North and England. If you could not find enough food and land to feed your family, you just moved a bit further inlands.

Famine years were plenty in our history. There were also years with ‘less good harvest’. Famine could come the following year, you never knew, so people sure felt better if they had grain also for the next year. It makes sense that people collected seeds and other food staff from the nature to make sure they had enough food for the next winter. Wild seeds also gave variety to the taste of grain.

Ann Hagen investigated the famine years in England. At that time people and cattle died of hunger. For example in the 10th century 900, 954 (4-year famine started), 962, 969, 975, 976, 986, 988 and 989 were years of famine. (Processing & Consumption, p.152) Looks like famine was a common visitor on those days. Leechdoms mentions ten references to barley meal, one to fine barley meal, six to wheat, one to fine wheat meal, one to fine wheat flour, three to rye, one to oat meal, one to bean meal, acorn flour/powder, sieved hazel and alder flour. (Hagen, p. 14-15) The use of wild seeds - prehistory in Sweden

Isse Israelsson has written about prehistoric and Viking-Age archeological finds of seed, pots full of wild seeds. This shows that wild plants were used and collected actively for food. Maybe people also raised plants which we don’t know are edible at all, just ’wild’ and ’ beautiful’. It is easy at least rivet more room to the plants you want to favor, if you are not eager to sew them into the field you have made with a lot of work.

Israelsson has forgotten to use Latin names of the plants, which may cause confusion and uncertainty when translated. That is why I added Swedish names on the following list. In Jylland the archeologists found seeds of Fat Hen (svinmålla) close by pot pieces. In Denmark is found Smartweed seeds (pilört) and seeds of linen and dådra. Pots has been found with both wild seeds and grain mixed in, for ex. Bindweed (åkerfinda). Also Dock (syra) is mixed with flour. Water Arum root (miss ne) has been ground.

Water Arum root mixed with flour leavens the bread itself (Aaltonen, p. 17). Also root of Common Horsetail (åkerfräker) has been ground and added to bread flour. (Israelsson, p. 26-31).

English seed finds

In England a man has been found. He died on about the year 0. He was well preserved and his last meals could be analyzed with the latest technique. From his stomach were found a variety of wild seeds, spelt wheat, emmer wheat and barley. The Archeologists could assist that the grain was eaten in a form of a bread. Wild seeds were from his latest meals. They were from the plants: Dock, (possible Rumex conglomeratus), Pale Persicaria (Polygonum lapathifolium), Fat Hen (Chenopodium album), Meldes (Atriplex sp) and Cow Parsley- family (Umbelliferae). Also there were a couple of leaves of Scots Heather (Calluna vulgaris), but they are assumed to be stayed in the bottom of the bread and came from the baking on fire. (Lindow man, p. 108)

Wild seeds in Finland

From a late Iron-Age living place in Paimio 448 seeds were found, mostly grain. One third were grain, most rye and barley, very little wheat and oat. According to Seppä-Heikka this kind of mix of barley and rye is typical for that time. From a ditch connected with a building from the time of the Finnish crusades (12th-13th. centuries) carbonized seeds of grass- and grain plants were found : Peas, Sedge, Vicia hirsuta, Stellaria graminea and Wild Basil. Close by a lot of seeds by various plants were found, that was used as human nutrition. (Seppä-Heikka).

People of the North and their wild flour

Toivo Rautavaara has written several books about the use of the wild plants in nutrition. The one in my bibliography is based on North, mainly Finnish, folk tradition. Knowledge passing from father to son cannot be reliable further than into half of 19th century, but the use of wild plants is a lot older. I have chosen only those plants into the following list, which according to Hämet-Ahti grew in the &innish continent about 1000 years ago. Into bread and porridge people has used the following plants in the North:

Allseed, seeds (Polygonum aviculare)
Alpine Bistort, roots and seeds (Polygonum viviparum)
Arrowhead, roots (Sagittaria sagittifolia)
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)
Bog bean, roots (Menyanthes trifoliata)
Broad-leaf Sorrel, seeds (Rumex acetosa)
Butomus umbellatus, roots
Caraway, seeds and roots as a spice (Carum carvi)
Cattail, roots and flower stamen (Typha latifolia)
Common Cattail, roots and flower stamen (T. angustifolia)
Clover, flowers (Trifolium)
Common Horsetail, Shave grass, roots (Equisetum arvense)
Common Polypody, roots (Polypodium vulgare)
Common Reed, Carrizo, roots (Phragmites communis)
Couch Grass, Twitch, roots (Agropyron, Elyttrigia repens)
Cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea)
Cramp, Guelder rose, berries (Viburnum opulus)
Drop wort, corms (Filipendula hexapetala)
Fat Hen and Orach, seeds (Chenopodium album, Atriplex)
Fiddlehead Fern, roots (Pteridium aquilinum)
Fireweed, Rosebay, roots (Chamaenerium angustifolium)
Goat’s Beard, roots (Tragopogon pratensis)
Great Bulrush, Tule, roots (Scirpus lacuster)
Hawthorn, berries (Crataegus) Grows only in Aland and in the mainland cost
Iceland moss (Cetraria islandica)
Manna Grass, seeds (Glyceria fluitans)
Marsh Woundwort, corms (Stachys palustris)
Nympha, Pond Lily, roots (Nymphaea alba)
Scots Heather, flowers (Calluna vulgaris)
Silverweed, roots (Potentilla anserina)
Water Arum, roots (Calla palustris)
Wild Parsley, Cow-weed, roots (Anthriscus silvestris)
White Dead Nettle, dried leaves and young plants (Lamium album)
Yellow Water-Lily, roots (Nuphar lutea)

How to make flour from Island Moss

Island moss (Cetraria islandica) is said to be tasty by Rautavaara. Because it includes many mucus forming substances and carbohydrates, the bread raises well. Of course it can be added into porridge as well. Anneli Schöneck makes her bread this way: Island moss can be collected from June to September, but only in the sunny weather. When picking Island moss up, remember it grows back very slowly, in 5-10 years. It is to let dry. Cleaning is best to do after soaking. Before soaking for 12 hours to get a part of its bitter taste disappears. If you like bitter taste, do not soak that longer. Do not put Island moss to soda though some information tells to do so; it destroys the best of its taste. Before dough making in the morning, add the Island moss. Crash and mill it. To taste a bread is two hand fulls of Island moss enough. (Schöneck, p.)

How to make flour from roots of Nympha (Nymphaea sp.)

People have used this method in Norway, and it really is good and tasty, Toivo Rautavaara recommends. Wash, peel, cut up, fine, dry and mill the roots. The flour has bitter taste. To remove it wash the flour in cold water: put the flour and water into a baking tub. After some time, when flour has gone down to the bottom and water is clear, pour water carefully away and bake the flour. Do not use the Nympha flour into leavened bread, because when the leaven ferments, this flour fades away more than flour usually does. Use this flour to thin unleavened bread mixed with rye- or barley flour and flavour with caraway seeds instead. (Rautavaara, p. 82)

Other flour made from wild plants

Rautavaara recommends to mix 15-25% of dried leaves of White Dead nettle (Lamium album) with grain. Bread made of that mixture raises well and stays fresh longer (p.123). Dried, crushed Nettle is mixed to bread flour even today. You get bread that is friendly for your stomach if you add 10% linen seeds into the flour (HS.17.11.94). Linen seeds got a mild taste, like nuts. Aalto bakes crackers from Birch stamen catkins and makes sweet cakes from the pollen of Common Cattail (Typha latifolia).

Flavours from the nature

Slightly toasted nuts give a special taste to bread and porridge. Flowers of Clover got a taste that reminds of nuts or almonds. Anneli Schöneck recommends to flavour leavened rye bread with dried, soaked Rowan-berries or nuts. Aalto recommends the use of dried wild Strawberries instead of raisins. Roasted seeds of nettle give a good taste to bread (Israelsson). Smartweed seeds have a mild bitter taste: they are a tasty adding into porridge. In the Iron-Age peas (pisum) were baked into bread.

Bark flour

During famines people had to mix bread flour with some ingredients that we would imagine to be less-tasty, such as Moss, straw and the bark of Pine (Uusivirta). According to Aaltonen (p.183) bark of Juniper, Beech, Willow, Birch, Aspen, Alnus and Maple could be used as well. They are even easier to use than Pine: Pine bark gum is the only one that has a bitter taste. That has to ne taken away by heating. Barks of the other trees can be dried and crushed into flour without heating. Aaltonen writes, that before people started to farm grains in Finland, bark was eaten as a main food. Tribes from Siberia and American indians used tree bark i their nutrition. (p.183).

Even during the years of good harvest the amount of grain flour was increased by adding bark into it. Sometimes famine years came so often that bread made of bark was the everyday bread.

I have seen writings about bread made of bark is considered very healthy today (HS 11.2.97 and Itä-Helsingin uutiset) and even found to be tasty. Bark includes very big amount of C-vitamin and it averts UV- radiance. It also includes plenty of iron and mangnesium.

The right time to take the bark off from the trees is a couple of weeks before midsummer. A pine is felled and the bark is cut in square sheets, which are to take away. Brown and green bark is thrown away, only the white part is saved. When heating or cooking most of the bitter tasting parts disappear. After heating the pine bark it is to be dried, and then the bark is crashed. A good bark flour is brownish red by color and has no taste of gum. A small pine can produce one kilogram of flour (Itä-Helsingin uutiset).


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Picture of the layout Hannele Maahinen, other pictures Satu Hovi unless otherwise mentioned
Texts are written by Satu Hovi
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