Estonians have a strong belief in traditional medicine, and there is a saying that if you know nature well enough, you do not really need a pharmacy. The sentiment is so strong in the national psyche that all modern pharmacies in Estonia sell medicinal herb teas, and mostly everyone knows how to use them. For example, bearberry or cranberry leaves for urinary tract infections, birch leaves for flatulence, common nettle for iron deficiency, field horsetail for immune-system, and numerous mixtures for the common cold, cough, and gastroenterological issues, to name a few. Every child knows that a common waybread is the best solution for a scratch if no band-aids are around. And the list goes on! Most of the medicinal herbs are also used for seasoning food.
Spring is the most active time for wild herb picking. Late April and early May bring us vitamin-rich green shoots that have been a true rescuer after the dungeon-like winter. The most common things to be picked, whether eaten on the spot, preserved, nowadays also frozen, are dandelions, cowslips, goutweed, wood sorrel, nettle, bishop´s weed and spruce shoots. And then there are many herbs most of us would pass by indifferently. Still, more knowledgeable „nature scouts" pick up gracefully and gratefully and send them to haute-cuisine restaurants where the weeds are included in salads, soups and ice-creams.
As a reminder. Estonia is among the Nordic countries where the Viking-rooted allemansrätt or every-man´s-law still implies. Everyone is welcome to pick berries, mushrooms and herbs wherever they find suitable in any public forest or meadow. Perhaps make your own nettle ice-cream or wild garlic pesto?