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Wild berries of the north are real superfood

The long summer days and cool temperature increase the aromaticity and pigments of wild berries. The unique aroma and the colours are produced by flavonoids and other polyphenols. The antioxidising efficiency of berries is greater than that of other plants.

Photo: Visit Finland/Asko Kuittinen

Over 40 edible berries grow in Finnish forests. Due to the arctic growing conditions, they contain exceptionally many bioactive compounds, i.e. vitamins and polyphenols.

Free oxygen radicals causing oxidation make holes in cell walls. Foodstuffs containing plenty of antioxidants prevent the involution of the organism.

The antioxidants are vitamins C and E, beta-carotene (vitamin A), selenium, zinc, carnosine and ubiquinone. In addition to these, there are many polyphenolic compounds with similar characteristics protective of the organism. There are a lot of them particularly in wild berries, which grow in the north.

IN 2012, the NDL (Nutrient Data Laboratory) laboratory, researching the nutritional data of the United States, removed the popular ORAC database, dealing with the antioxidant contents of foodstuffs, from its web pages.

The reason was that the health effect of polyphenols could not be accounted for in the data collected into the database.

Polyphenols are metabolic products and protective agents of plants whose effect is similar to that of antioxidants. Polyphenols protect plants from diseases and the sun’s rays. Wild berries growing in Finland have many protective compounds which also benefit humans.

– Finnish berries and the products manufactured from them have great opportunities as health products. Northern wild berries have been proven to be healthy, and they have been observed to have numerous health effects. A real superfood is a berry smoothie made of wild berries, sweetened with honey, for example, says research director, Dr. Carina Tikkanen-Kaukanen of Ruralia Institute of the University of Helsinki.

According to Dr. Tikkanen-Kaukanen, the real benefits of the Finnish wild berry are, in addition to its northern location, clean soil and clean air. The organic berries intended for export are obtained from Finnish certified organic forests.

Tikkanen-Kaukanen has long studied the health effects of wild berries. She is particularly interested in the anti-infective properties of berries.

The health effects of American cranberry have been known for a long time. It was scientifically proven in the 1990s that the proanthocyanidins of American cranberry can prevent the adhesion of coliform bacterium to the walls of urinary tracts.

– Now there is interest in Asia and particularly in China in the berries of northern Europe, such as bilberry.

Photo: Visit Finland/Kiki Kolembet

Berries prevent infections

According to Tikkanen-Kaukanen, particularly the clean wild berries of northern forests have properties which prevent bacterial infections. Researchers regard the resistance of bacteria to antibiotics as a phenomenon as serious as climate change, and according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it concerns every person all over the world.

– An additional problem is that not all have access to effective antibiotics. Annually over a million children die from untreated pneumonia and blood poisoning caused by the pneumococcus bacterium.

The phenolic compounds contained by berries can prevent the adhesion of several different bacteria to the organs.

They repel effectively, for example, the pneumococcus bacterium which causes the most common respiratory infections as well as preventing infection by the meningococcus bacterium which causes meningitis. The polyphenols of bilberry, blackcurrant, crowberry and lingonberry (anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins and flavonols) block the bacteria of the mouth and prevent the formation of caries and plaque in teeth.

– Now it is important to find new ways to fight infectious diseases. Ingesting berries as such or as products prepared from them, such as berry juice, is an effective way to prevent infections.

Tikkanen-Kaukanen’s research team tries to discover by means of clinical research whether the occurrence of nasal-pharyngeal infections can be reduced by means of berry juices.

The research team obtained the best results specifically with berry juices.

Photo: Visit Finland

Article by Visit Finland / Ari Turunen

Can you believe? This is how 15 minutes in a forest affects you!

There is such strong magic in Finnish forests that one may not even believe it. The forest is like open arms; ready to embrace you without judging, to give power and support. It caresses you with its beauty, sounds and smells, and it feels good on your skin, too.

Only 15 minutes in a forest make you a better person. It makes you feel alive.

Stepping into a forest is like walking through a gate. You leave all the fuss, busy life and smooth asphalted roads behind, to be greeted with peace and fragrant nature.

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Those who believe in research will have no option but to believe this. Among others, the Natural Resources Institute Finland has found out that even a short visit to a forest makes people feel better – it relieves stress and increases sense of vitality.

A trail persuades you to adventure deeper into the heart of the forest. Step by step, hurry and duties in everyday life are forgotten. Now, there is no need to perform, no need to always try and be perfect. You can be just the way you are – just be there.

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The body begins to rest. Breathing becomes easier and deeper at the same time. You start to feel better and stronger with every inhalation.

The harmony of scents is ineffable. It may even feel like you’re actually breathing for the first time in your life.

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The air in the forest smells good. It may smell like damp moss, rain, wet tree trunks, flowers, and needle-covered path.

It may smell like a tree stump that is already creating new life, or even snow, frost, and softwood.

According to a research, just five hours per month in a forest will greatly improve our mental health. What about, say, five hours per week, then?

However, not many of us need researches to believe just how good it is for us to spend time in the woods. We Finns are lucky – we can go and enjoy the forests almost any time and any place. We have learned and grown into thinking that the forest is good for us.

The light of the forest plays with shadows and colours between the trees. It may be warm or cold, gloomy or bright, yet seen with one’s heart at ease, it is always safe, familiar, and beautiful.

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When you explore the little wonders and details in the forest with devotion, you lose sense of time. The forest is a world where time doesn’t matter.

The forest takes care of us, and it also raises our children. It has a preventive effect on allergies, for it makes us stronger through spreading good bacteria. We only get them if we habitually go into nature, starting from an early age.

The effect of near nature on us can be huge at best. The forest may help develop an interest and love for all living things. It is worth introducing even the youngest child to nature and biodiversity, only to see, perhaps, how she will get endlessly excited about birds, butterflies, or bugs, for instance.

If we have a chance to grow surrounded by nature from an early age, it will leave an unerasable, good mark on us for the rest of our lives.

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It feels safe to be among tree trunks. The forest is a safe haven, a place to rest. Fewer thoughts come to your mind, and the hustle and bustle in your head quiet down. It is easy to enjoy even little things and distinguish between what is important and what is not.

The eyes can finally rest, too: the gaze is not tormented by bright lights, shiny surfaces, nor by man-made constructions. You can give your eyes rest by looking far into the woods or tree tops.

Nature is impeccably beautiful in all the chaos mastered by Mother Earth.

Plump tussocks of moss invite you to touch them, and so do tree trunks, rocks, and everything else you encounter along the trail. Sink your hand into the moss and feel the fresh, scented earth. Push your ear to the trunk of a dead pine tree, and you will hear greater wisdom than even the wisest human can ever offer you.

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The forest helps us remember who we are and where we come from.

It cures us through all our senses. Our eyes can rest and enjoy the beauty of nature; our ears can have a moment of silence and concentrate on the sweet sounds of nature; we can feel the nature with our hands, feet, or even with our cheekbones; in our noses, we feel the unbelievable scents of the earth, trees, water, and rocks, that so vividly change with the weather and seasons.

We may put sweet and tasty berries in the mouth, just like other animals, big and small alike.

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In the woods, you may head down to the waterfront. Listen to the ripple and feel what it smells like and what it tells you.

How beautiful is the sound of water! It may be a lively forest brook, a pond, maybe a lake, or a mighty river. It is a different world that lives right next to you and gives your mind a chance to rest and become stronger.

Wonder what lives and goes on beneath the surface of water? The gurgle and brisk stream create a feeling of wholeness – you could stare at the stream for ever.

The water smells fresh and lively. It is full of energy that you can easily absorb. That’s why spending time at a waterfront always feels so good.

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You are never alone in the forest. Never. There are many kinds of wanderers: big, small, winged, furry, fluttery, and crawling.

Near tree tops, there might be a flock of tits playing and chit chatting, or there might be a Siberian jay trying to talk to you.

It is said that a Siberian jay must always be greeted, for the bird might be your guide in the woods.

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Glance down, beneath mushrooms, into cavities between rocks, at tree roots.

Examine even smallest animals always with due respect, for we are all equal. Every beetle, snail and frog is a valuable and irreplaceable part of the forest.

The forest caresses and regenerates everyone who steps into its embrace – even those who do not care about it at all.

Yet those who do care and love it will gain more than anyone.