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Toxic or tasty? Check this list to see if you know your berries

 Yle listed 15 berries found in Finland, some of which are poisonous, while others are edible.

Bilberry or European blueberry
The bilberry or European blueberry is one of the easiest-to-recognise berries to be found in Finnish forests. Image: Julia Sieppi / Yle

Finland’s berry-picking season may be nearing its end, but it’s never too late to head out to the forests to try your luck. Finland’s natural resources institute Luke has noted however that it has been slim pickings for the annual berry crop, especially in terms of highly popular bilberries and cloudberries.

"There’s been a reasonable amount of lingonberries south of the Oulu-Kajaani line, but north of that even the lingonberry haul has been poor," noted Luke researcher Rainer Peltola.

This summer has been worse than the previous year’s for berries due to its aridity, the institute said. At the same time, more people that ever in Finland have switched on to plucking the miniature fruit from bushes. According to Luke up to 50 percent of Finnish residents take to the great outdoors in search of berries nowadays.

Berries are considered a super-food chock full of all kinds of good things like vitamins, antioxidants and dietary fibre. On top of that many people are turning to berry-picking as a means of earning income.

While berries are an undeniably excellent addition to anyone’s diet, the deadly variety can also be found in Finland. Novices heading into the wild to range about for nature’s super-food should therefore be able to distinguish the toxic from the tasty.

Children at risk

According to the online health services portal Päivystystalo, cases of berry poisoning mostly involve children inadvertently tasting berries known to be toxic. Cases involving adults are largely due to instances when the plants have been ingested as wild herbs, when poisoning symptoms are much more obvious and harmful.

If poisoning symptoms occur after ingesting berries, it is important to determine the kind of berry eaten, especially if large amounts are involved. If poisoning is suspected the patient should spit out any remaining berries and rinse the mouth. Activated charcoal should be administered, and it can be mixed with water. Activated charcoal prevents the toxic substance from being absorbed into the stomach lining. If need be, a call should be placed to the 24-hour Poison Information Centre for more guidance at 09 471 977.

Deaths resulting from the consumption of poisonous berries are nevertheless rare in Finland. Mari Kaista, an anesthesiologist and intensive care doctor at the poison centre said that no deaths or even severe internal organ damage from poison berries have been recorded in 50 years in Finland. She added that Finnish residents appear to have a good working knowledge of local berries.

In case you’re new to the Finnish berry scene, check this list of poisonous and edible berries to be found in Finland. The information provided here has been verified by university natural sciences and environmental experts. Other sources include the national parks website, the NatureGate website, the gardening chain Kekkilä (in Finnish) and the horticulture site Suomalainen Taimi.fi (in Finnish).

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Solomon’s seal
Solomon’s seal Image: Jouko Lehmuskallio / Luontoportti.fi.

Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum) generally grows only in southern Finland. The plant is protected in northern Ostrobothnia, Kainuu and Lapland. Berries are initially green but turn dark blue and develop a waxy surface when they ripen. It is poisonous but rarely causes symptoms when eaten in small quantities.

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Red elderberry
Red elderberry Image: Jouko Lehmuskallio / Luontoportti.fi

Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) is a poisonous berry that is common in southern Finland but can be found as far north as Oulu. It has overrun gardens and taken root in parks, roadsides and forests. The red berries ripen in late summer and are mildly toxic. Ingestion of small quantities rarely results in poisoning symptoms.

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Bilberry or European blueberry
Bilberry or European blueberry Image: Julia Sieppi / Yle

The bilberry or European blueberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is one of Finland’s most commonplace forest plants and can be found in local coniferous forests across the country. It is a heather plant related to the lingonberry family and produces edible berries that are a deep blue shade with a waxy surface. It can be confused with the edible bog bilberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) or the poisonous herb-paris or true lover’s knot (Paris quadrifolia) or Solomon’s seal. The most prevalent and sought-after berries grow in Finland’s heath forests.

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Red baneberry
Red baneberry Image: Jouko Lehmuskallio / Luontoportti.fi

Red baneberry (Actaea erythrocarpa) is a poisonous berry of the eastern taiga species that grows in woodlands in Lapland and northeastern Finland. The fruit is green when young and turns red when it ripens. It is very toxic.

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Lily of the valley
Lily of the valley Image: Jouko Lehmuskallio / Luontoportti.fi.

Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) is poisonous. The plant usually grows in southern and central Finland but becomes less common further north. The berries start off green before turning yellow and ultimately ripening into an orangey yellow. All parts of this plant are toxic and consuming large quantities of the berries can be fatal to all mammals. Ingestion of smaller quantities may cause stomach irritation, diarrhea or vomiting. Activated charcoal should be administered if the patient has eaten large amounts and the affected person should be taken to a doctor if necessary.

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Fly honeysuckle
Fly honeysuckle Image: Jouko Lehmuskallio / Luontoportti.fi.

Fly honeysuckle (Lonicera xylosteum), poisonous. This plant generally grows in the Häme region as well as in the Åland Islands and is not very common elsewhere. The berries are red, bitter and toxic. They may cause convulsions, vomitting and diarrhea, however consuming small amounts may not necessarily cause any symptoms.

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Lingonberry
Lingonberry Image: Kalle Niskala / Yle

Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), an edible berry, can be found growing throughout Finland and bears in dry and dryish heath terrain. The ripe fruit is red and shiny and it is the most abundant and most-sought-after berry in Finland.

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Bitter nightshade
Bitter nightshade Image: Jouko Lehmuskallio / Luontoportti.fi

Bittersweet, bittersweet nightshade, bitter nightshade, climbing nightshade, poisonberry and poisonflower are among the aliases for this poisonous plant (Solanum dulcamara), a member of the nightshade family. It is widespread in southern Finland and coastal areas. The berry is green when immature, turning yellowish-red and finally shiny red and long when it is ripe. The entire plant is toxic. Consumed in small amounts it usually produces mild symptoms such as a bitter taste in the moth, stomach irritation and a headache. Activated charcoal should be administered if large amounts have been eaten.

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Alder buckthorn
Alder buckthorn Image: Jouko Lehmuskallio / Luontoportti.fi

Alder buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula) is poisonous and common in southern, central and eastern Finland but is rarely found in Lapland. The ripe berry is dark violet and shiny. All parts of the plant are mildly toxic and eating a small amount rarely causes any symptoms.

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February daphne, spurge laurel or spurge olive
February daphne, spurge laurel or spurge olive Image: Jouko Lehmuskallio / Luontoportti.fi

Commonly known as mezereum, mezereon, February daphne, spurge laurel or spurge olive (Daphne mezereum), this is another poisonous denizen of Finland’s heath forests and woodlands. All parts of the plant are highly toxic. Eating the stalk of the plant can cause a burning sensation in the mouth, tongue and throat. The berries are bitter to the taste and also cause burning of the mouth, tongue and throat. Other symptoms include nausea, stomachache and diarrhea.

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Redcurrant
Redcurrant Image: Ismo Pekkarinen / AOP

Redcurrant (Ribes rubrum) is an edible berry closely related to several species or subspecies that are all different, such as the gooseberry. Wild redcurrant grows throughout the country and thrives in woodlands, near streams and along shorelines. The fruit is red and shiny when ripe.

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Herb-paris or true lover’s knot
Herb-paris or true lover’s knot Image: Jouko Lehmuskallio / Luontoportti.fi

Herb-paris or true lover’s knot (Paris quadrifolia) is a poisonous berry that can be found throughout the country except in Lapland. It enjoys conditions in new forests and woodlands, as well as near estuaries, brooks and fountains. The fruit is deep blue with a waxy surface. It is toxic to humans and even just a few berries can result in poisoning symptoms. However its unpleasant taste is an effective deterrent to consumption.

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Actaea spicata
Actaea spicata Image: Jouko Lehmuskallio / Luontoportti.fi

A relative of the baneberry family, Actaea spicata is poisonous and grows across large swathes of the country. It appears green when young and is black when it ripens. All parts of the plant contain toxic compounds and people highly sensitive to the toxins may develop symptoms after just touching the stalk. However eating a small amount of the berries rarely causes poisoning symptoms.

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Maianthemum bifolium
Maianthemum bifolium Image: Jouko Lehmuskallio / Luontoportti.fi

Maianthemum bifolium or oravanmarja in Finnish is a poisonous berry that appears almost throughout the entire country but is rarely found north of Rovaniemi in Lapland. The berries ripen into a dark red in autumn and are mildly toxic to humans, as are other parts of the plant. The berries contain a compound that affects heart function and eating even a few grams can be harmful. Small amounts generally cause stomach irritation. Activated charcoal should be given to a patient who has eaten large quantities of the plant or the berries.

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Sorbaronia mitschurinii
Sorbaronia mitschurinii Image: Ismo Pekkarinen / AOP

Sorbaronia mitschurinii is an edible berry plant that is often used for border hedges in Finland as it is a hardy shrub that thrives in many different conditions. It is better suited to commercial use than other berries of the same family because the fruit is larger and juicier than others. A mature plant will yield seven to eight kilograms of fruit.

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