Sweden’s northernmost mountain botanical garden is found in Jokkmokk, just over 10 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. Come and familiarise yourself with alpine plants normally found on mountain peaks in Sarek, or species-rich moorland in Padjelanta. This is where mountain gardener Ingrid constructs her very own mountain, while food creator Eva from Essense of Lapland tastes her way through wild herbs.

The Mountain Botanical Garden in Jokkmokk is part of Ájtte, Swedish Mountain and Sámi Museum. During more than two decades a world of its own, a miniature mountain landscape, has emerged. It ranges from taiga forest and low-lying land to snow drifts and the little mountain peak Ingrid, where the bedrock has laboriously been uncovered by hand. Here you can climb up and look out over an entire little mountain world, with a unique diversity of species. One hectare pure happiness, says Ingrid Hellberg, gardener at the Mountain Botanical Garden in Jokkmokk.
– The plants are carefully gathered in the mountains with permission from the County Administrative Board. It’s important to ensure that the conditions where they arrive are the same as where they belong. The plants must be respected, says mountain gardener Hellberg.

Inspiration from the Jarre mountain

Constructing a mountain top in the lush forest near Jokkmokk has been a real challenge for the mountain garden team. But for a biodynamic gardener such as Ingrid, who got her passion for alpine plants in the rock garden section of Gothenburg’s botanical garden, it’s been worth all the effort.
– I’ve been inspired by the Jarre mountain; from there you have an amazing view of the mountains. It’s going to be a wonderful spot where you can see plants as they grow in nature, but without travelling into Sarek. Some plants have adapted quickly and others have been more difficult. Pincushion plant, Diapensia lapponica, has been a challenge. The discerning evergreen subshrub only grows on barren, windswept peaks.

Beneficial peace

The rushing water of the stream Kvarnbäcken roars and foams and pied flycatchers, bullfinchs and woodpeckers join in the symphony as a copper butterfly flutters by. The sun’s rays are refracted in the wings of a damselfly as it rests for a brief moment on a rock by the stream. Despite the hustle and bustle, it’s the stillness that captures visitors. This is a place for tranquility and peace of mind, an undemanding place.
– You can be yourself here, it’s a place to catch your breath, says Ingrid.

The small garden café tempts with locally-made cinnamon buns and a slide show featuring photographs taken by legendary ranger Edvin Nilsson. Most people settle down in the garden, take their time. During the summer months when the garden is open to visitors, and during July when it’s also open on the weekends, the views constantly change. Following a plant from budding flower to falling petals is a project in itself. Every afternoon the theme is mountain plants and wild utility plants. Ingrid has noticed an increased interest in wild herbs and medicinal plants. Every year all books on the subject are sold out.

Her own favourite is the nettle variety Urtica dioica L. ssp.sondenii, with stinging hairs that are less painful than those of the common nettle. She uses it often, in soups, smoothies and tea, or dried in bread. Roseroot, Rhodiola rosea, is another medicinal plant that fascinates.
– It thrives up in the mountains, near streams. Use it to make a tincture if you’re tired and in need some extra energy, Ingrid tells us.

A delight for eyes, ears and palate

Fridays during the summer 2016 Eva Gunnare invites visitors to join her tasteful world in the Mountain Botanical Garden. This palate-exciting taste performance in Swedish and English, filled with stories, pictures, songs and other tidbits, in addition to guided tours and herbal courses, has become her hallmark in North Bothnia as well as in the entire country. Eva is also one of many volunteers who meet visitors to the Mountain Botanical Garden during weekends, through her involvement with Friends of the Ájtte Museum.
– The Mountain Botanical Garden is a true gem, says Eva Gunnare enthusiastically. I come here a lot just to soak up the atmosphere.

Enjoying good things

Her own interest in herbs was reinforced when she worked at the mountain station in Kvikkjokk in her youth and was introduced to the humble plant Alpine Bistort, Bistorta vivipara among others. It is one of the fourteen most important Swedish plants to know in a survival situation and has traditionally been used by the Sámi, who have always been familiar with the nutritious plant.
– The roots contain 25 per cent carbohydrates, but the pointed leaves are also edible. When the buds underneath the small white flowers ripen they taste a little like hazelnut. They too contain a lot of carbohydrates. If you dry them they lose their nutty flavour and get a nice root-vegetable flavour. The seeds can be used instead of poppy seed on bread and for decorating sandwiches and salads. It makes it a bit crunchy and adds a lot of flavour, Eva tells us, and reveals why she calls herself food creator and not herbal expert:
– I’ve been interested in what different plants taste like, not how they can be used from a survival point of view. My motivation is to find what tastes good. At the same time as I gather traditional knowledge I experiment, and I run a small production of herbal products that I’m happy to share.

A rose root (Rhodiola rosea).

Refreshing summer drink for headaches

Another favourite plant is meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmari, that grows along the stream Kvarnbäcken, in the osier shrubs. In early summer the plant has red stems and later on heavily-scented, creamy-white flowers. Meadowsweet contains salicylic acid and can therefore replace a painkiller. If you’re allergic to salicylic acid you should be careful, however.
–I pick the leaves, they make a good herbal tea, and the flowers just before they are fully in bloom, then I make a really refreshing summer drink with a fresh and summery almond flavour. Add some sparkling water to make it extra festive. Sometimes Eva compares the fragrance of meadowsweet to an old-style glue, or a Jenka chewing gum.
–But only certain generations understand the simile, she laughs.

Wild salad with flowers and bread spiced with herbs

In early summer Eva picks wild plants straight into the salad bowl. The small, four-inch sprouts of young rosebay willowherb, small and tender dandelion leaves with their peppery taste, the tenderest leaves of lady’s mantle and tiny birch leaves that are somewhat bitter, but still fresh and tasty in a summer salad.
– You can also try yarrow leaves, when they look like miniature Christmas trees. They have a spicy, nice flavour. There are also plenty of weed varieties in the garden, such as lamb’s quarters and chickweed, that you can parboil and sauté in butter. And sorrel, of course, but it contains oxalic acid. If you eat a lot of it you should pair it with a dairy product, perhaps a yoghurt dressing.
Eva also likes to sprinkle wildflowers over the food. All wild violets in Sweden are edible, and so are the small yellow dandelion petals and sweet red-clover ones. She also uses herbs when baking.
– My favourite flavours are dried birch leaves and toasted angelica seeds, which you can use instead of fennel seeds. They have a strong, different and amazing flavour, and smell like chocolate. And also wild rosemary, which I use instead of rosemary when I make focaccia bread, Eva says, but advises caution with the wild rosemary. Although it’s a plant traditionally used to make tea, it’s toxic and can irritate mucous membranes and cause poisoning if you ingest too much of it.

Eva Gunnare, food creator.

Favourite Plant, all categories

Her favourite plant, all categories, is the stately angelica, Angelica archangelica. In the mountains it can grow to a height of two metres.
– It has such an amazing growing power inside. It takes a couple of years before it carries flowers and if you break the stem it smells of perfume. People either love it, or don’t rate it at all. Traditionally, angelica is used both as medicine and a vegetable. The stalk tastes best before flowering. Peeled it’s crispy, tender and tasty, says Eva enthusiastically. The plant has antibacterial and immune-enhancing properties and is said to be good for all kinds of stomach problems. Eva tells us that sometimes she candies the stalk and makes sweets – just like the French did in the Middle Ages.

Candied Angelica archangelica. Photo: Magnus Skoglöf

Learn more
The Mountain Botanical Garden is open during summers, you can find opening hours and activity programmes on ajtte.com.

Sustainable picking

Much of her knowledge comes from a year-long course with Greta Huuva, Sámi food ambassador, who runs Viddernas Hus café and restaurant in the centre of Jokkmokk – where pastries and dishes are spiced with the wild and tasty, of course.
– Greta Huuva is my teacher. She has extensive knowledge and a passion for wild plants. The most important thing she’s taught me is to respect nature as you go picking. The right of access includes berries and mushrooms, which grow up again every year, but if you pick roots and leaves you damage the plants. Often you also need the landowner’s permission, Eva points out. The Angelica has three stems and she always only picks the outermost stalk. You must be understanding and humble when you take from the plant.
– I never take the stalk that goes to the root, because I want the plant to grow back next year. For everyone’s sake you must be very careful when harvesting wild plants. You have to pick sustainably.

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