Helsinki Wildfoods: Holistic 'Wildfulness' Workshops and Natural Beauty Hacks from Finland

With their Nordic superfood mixes and holistic wellness workshops, the women behind Helsinki Wildfoods guide us towards a healthier way of life. Roosa Heinilä, COO of Helsinki Wildfoods, shares with us her wisdom about the exciting Nordic superfoods. Below are some of her best tips for helping us kickstart new habits that improve everyday wellbeing with wild and natural Nordic plants.

Words: Meri

Image: Helsinki Wildfoods / Aino Huotari

Image: Helsinki Wildfoods / Aino Huotari

Tell us about the very popular Helsinki Wildfoods foraging walks? 

There are enormous amounts of superfood growing right in the nearby forests of Helsinki’s capital region. With our foraging walks, we welcome customers to learn about natural Finnish wild herbs and vegetables. Our foraging walks usually take place in and around the Helsinki area. However, we also run courses in other areas around Finland, exploring the different varieties of wild foods. The idea of our foraging walks is to take customers essentially to their beautiful Nordic backyards, our nearby natural areas and public spaces, where we teach them to identify the most common and delicious wild foods. Our customers also learn how to use wild herbs in cooking, whereas we love to share our favourite tips and tricks on preservation, tea making and even DIY- cosmetics and natural skin care rituals.

What is the exact wisdom participants in the foraging adventure can expect to walk away with?

During the foraging walks, we share stories, folklores and history, as well as some mysteries related to our native plants, their traditional uses and their nutritional values. Often, the best part of these walks is hearing the unique stories from our customers: how they have used the plants in their daily lives, or how their family traditions have maybe involved native plants.

During a two or three hour foraging walk, we tend to cover approximately 15 edible wild plants. We like to finish off our foraging walks with a picnic where we usually provide some Nettle Pesto, Forest Salsa, and perhaps some Roseroot tea and hemp crackers to leave a delicious, natural and wild flavour in the mind and body. At the end of all of our foraging adventures, we provide the attendees with an e-book that contains information on the wild herbs and vegetables covered during the foraging walk. This is often a good start to a whole new exciting hobby and a way of living. 

You have other super interesting workshops, too! What kinds of other events do you organise?

DIY cosmetics, soaps and natural skin care rituals are just some of the themes we cover in our workshops. We organise workshops around preservation, tea making, and cooking. During the past year, as demand for our excursions and workshops has expanded, we have broadened our offering to delve deeper into the world of holistic wellbeing from wild and natural plants. We now also offer, for example, wild herb saunas, which have been very popular with our customers. These sauna workshops focus on natural skincare from wild plants, combined with Finnish sauna traditions. Our wild herb sauna events provide insight for customers about the benefits of different wild plants in skincare. We also share traditions and folklore about natural skincare rituals with wild plants, as well as provide an opportunity to try making some natural face masks and hand and foot baths to take home, or enjoy in the sauna after the workshop. 

Image: Helsinki Wildfoods / Aino Huotari

Image: Helsinki Wildfoods / Aino Huotari

We are lucky that in our team of entrepreneurs, we have a wide range of skills from different areas, from holistic wellbeing to life coaching to natural movement to forest bathing, or wildfulness, as we like to call it. These wildfulness workshops, for example, take customers through a series of chi-kung, mindfulness and meditation focused practices. We also hold wild spine or natural movement workshops, where customers are guided through a series of natural movement workouts, enabling better, more natural and fluid free movement. 

What do you teach in the natural cosmetics workshops that you organise?

Our natural cosmetics workshops tend to focus on how to use natural and wild plants as part of skincare routines. We often start by covering some of the most suitable native plants for skincare and the traditional ways they have been used. We cover folklore and the historical use of the plants, as well as their composition and properties that make them suitable for different skin types, or challenges with skin. After a short lecture, we like to let our customers get their hands dirty, or maybe clean is the right word in this context. We work together to create some natural cosmetics, usually face masks, soaps, lotions or gels, or hand and foot baths. The customers get to then take these home with them, or perhaps try them out if there is a sauna available. 

Share a good beauty hack from the workshop. 

Being rather lazy - or maybe lazy is the wrong word - but simple, when it comes to my own skincare routines, I love how wild herbs can be used pretty much straight from the forest to the face. They are versatile, yet simple to use.

My favourite facial mask, one that is quick and easy to prepare, yet effective (and super delicious) consists of yarrow, honey, crushed oats and birch sugar. The yarrow I like to use is fresh in the spring and summer, and during the winter months, dried. Both work perfectly. All I do is mix crushed yarrow with honey (when the yarrow is fresh, and when it’s dried, I soak it in a tiny bit of water first), crushed oats and some birch sugar. I only make the amount I need for my face and decollete. After washing my face of any make-up (on the rare occasion I have some), I spread the facial mask mixture onto my damp face, using a circular motion and gently exfoliating. The yarrow, oats and birch sugar give my face a gentle yet effective scrub, while the honey works to soften the skin and provide the hydration my skin tends to crave. Honey and birch sugar both contain natural antibacterial properties, and help to soothe itchy or dry skin as well as clear imperfections. Yarrow contains a small amount of salicylic acid which works as an anti-inflammatory and antiseptic ingredient. Oats and honey also help my sensitive and rather dry skin to gain elasticity, and a natural moisture balance. Leaving the mask on for about 10 minutes while enjoying the warmth of a sauna does magic for the mind and the body.

I have to admit, the most difficult part about this skincare ritual is not eating the face mask! It really tastes heavenly. After about 10 minutes, I’ll rinse the mask off with only water and find my skin feeling soft, refreshed and moisturised. Yarrow is definitely my favourite when it comes to skincare. If you really want a simple trick to try, using fresh yarrow flowers is the easiest way to take a step towards natural skincare. Simply dip the yarrow flower in some fresh water and pat onto your face while in the sauna.  

"Being rather lazy - or maybe lazy is the wrong word - but simple, when it comes to my own skincare routines, I love how wild herbs can be used pretty much straight from the forest to the face."

Image: Helsinki Wildfoods / Aino Huotari

Image: Helsinki Wildfoods / Aino Huotari

How do you describe and practice wildfulness?

Wildfulness, for me, is simply the practice of being present while in the wild, be it your backyard or a nearby natural park, or perhaps while sitting on your surfboard in the Baltic waves. Simply taking in the nature around you with all your senses. In essense, wildfulness could be described as a coming back to the sensory reality around us. Freeing ourselves from the busyness of our minds to take in the sounds, scents, colors, shapes and forms in the natural environment.

This often happens naturally, this sort of becoming aware and being present in the natural environment, but it may take days for it to occur. Perhaps you’ve experienced that on a camping trip, a long hike, or a day spent by the ocean? But to achieve this same kind of presence in just a few minutes, some simple exercises may help to bring the attention from the mind to the sensory reality.

As a nature addict, I tend to practice wildfulness every minute I have the chance to just sit still for a moment and enjoy the environment around me. It doesn’t mean I have to necessarily go anywhere. In fact, my daily wildfulness practice usually takes place just a few minutes from my home, or sometimes even from my balcony where I see the tree tops. But my favourite place to practice wildfulness is the nearby seashore, and better yet, while on my surf board amidst the beautiful Baltic Sea waves. That’s the major benefit of living in a city surrounded by the sea, it’s never far away and that view out onto the sea instantly provides a sense of belonging, space and serenity. I’m a big lover of the ocean and a keen surfer, so for me, being able to see this same ocean that I can see from any of my favourite surf spots around the world grounds me. It’s real and concrete and it’s always there.

Wildfulness is just the act of coming back to this reality, the real world, the natural world, the sensory world. A freedom from thought, for just a moment, to focus on what is right in front of you. For a simple and quick try, try bringing all of your attention to each of your senses one by one. To start, take a gazing point about 1 meter ahead of you on the ground. Focus all your attention on your visual senses. Then, let your vision begin to explore the area nearby at the pace of an ant. Moving slowly and letting yourself be surprised by what your vision captures as it moves. The shapes, colours, forms, details…..Next, continue the practice focusing on each of your sense one by one. 

Are there some specific plants or herbs that you yourselves are particularly big fans of? 

Ohhhh there are just too many amazing plants to choose just one! Good thing we don’t have to choose, we can enjoy the variety that the nature has provided us! But if one has to be put in the spotlight above all others, I think for all of us in our team, the story really begins and ends with the nettle. The nettle is simply the superfood of natural super foods. Personally, the best part about the nettle is the flavour: pure, clean and just incomparable. This is why I’m a Nettle Pesto addict. There’s just no going back to basil, it’s not the same. Used dry or fresh, it’s a beautiful, distinct and delicate flavour. The best part is, the flavour is always distinct when picked fresh depending on the area it’s picked from. Exciting! I guess it’s not just us, as the The Arctic Flavours Association of Finland chose nettle as the natural plant of the year for 2018.

What are some of the nutritional properties of nettle?

Nettle is rich in iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, silicon, beta-carotene, folic acid and vitamin C. Nettle is powerful, tasty, delicious, easy to use, abundant and an all-around super plant to have as a staple to holistic wellbeing. Nettle can be picked from spring to late autumn. Starting with the young baby nettles that don’t yet sting and can therefore be picked with bare hands and eaten fresh to the more mature nettle found in the summer that can be used again and again by simply foraging only for the top 7–10 cm of the plant. The top 7–10 cm is the freshest part of the nettle plant and it will regrow this shoot again and again. So you can enjoy the same nettle over and over again throughout the summer.

By the end of the summer and early autumn, the nettle seeds, which are the most nutrient rich part of the nettle, can be foraged and dried to be sprinkled onto yogurt, muesli or used in baking. Nettle soup is probably the most traditional and well known way of using the nettle, but there are endless recipes and ideas for how to use nettle in everyday cooking and skincare from pestos, smoothies, omelettes to baking and bread making. Nettle has been used for years on end to treat various skin disorders, such as psoriasis and eczema, as well as balding, to mention a few examples.

"Wildfulness is just the act of coming back to this reality, the real world, the natural world, the sensory world. A freedom from thought, for just a moment, to focus on what is right in front of you."

Image: Helsinki Wildfoods / Aino Huotari

Image: Helsinki Wildfoods / Aino Huotari

However, within our team of entrepreneurs we definitely tend to have our own seasonal favourites, or plants we somehow get particularly attached to. For me, at the moment the yarrow has captured my senses. I love yarrow tea with honey. The best part: eating the soaked yarrow from the bottom of the cup after finishing my tea. Yarrow is a rather strong wild herb in flavour and it terms of its properties. For this reason, it’s a great plant to use for my sometimes difficult to manage skin. It’s a good scrub, facial mask and as fresh, can easily be used to provide some extra cleansing power for example when hiking, camping or exploring the wilderness. I like to pick it fresh, squish it in between my fingers and rub it directly onto my face and neck. Yarrow contains a small amount of salicylic acid which makes it anti-inflammatory and antiseptic. With its strong flavour, its perfect to spice up salads and fish as well as vegetable dishes. It’s easy to use, easy to recognize and just darn tasty! Traditionally, it’s been used to treat symptoms of the common flu and cold. Whenever I feel like a cold might be coming on, I turn to yarrow tea and honey. 

You have been called one of the most promising start-ups from Finland. How do you find being an all-female crew in the world of start-ups? 

Regardless of gender, being able to work with talented, intelligent, motivated, and dedicated colleagues, like the ones we have in our team, is just the most fulfilling and brilliant opportunity I can imagine. Being able to shape and build our company to be exactly what we want it to be, to work truly according to our values and our lifestyles is a dream come true. Yes, sometimes it’s hard work and being a start-up means carrying a good amount of risk, being willing to fail many times, but we prepare to fail fast and learn from those lessons. Yet, having a team by your side, through all the ups and downs, that supports each other is what makes it all worth the while and actually, makes the journey exactly what it is. 

Can you tell us briefly about what you call the Finnish herb revolution?

A few years back, when we started offering our foraging walks, nettle products were hard to find as delicacy in grocery shops – only foreign frozen spinach and foreign fresh herbs, such as basil, oregano and rucola, and of course foreign herbs, spices and teas were easy to find. We thought it was such a shame that these Central European herbs were much preferred over our delicious Finnish and Nordic alternatives, which are not only local, but also environmentally-friendly. When hand-picked from the nearby forest or meadow, the environmental footprint of native plants can be zero! And they are tasty, too!

Some people had heard stories from their grandparents about these ‘weeds’ and how they had eaten them during times of food shortages and the depression after the wars. And no wonder they were popular during that time, as they were cheap, easy to find and full of nutrients and vitamins. Our native nettle contains over four times the iron that Central European spinach contains! We wonder why Popeye chose spinach and not nettle?

We decided that we must do something about this, and this is exactly set the basis of what we do it now. Our grandparents were getting old and we couldn’t let their irreplaceable wisdom disappear. We decided to name this call to action the Finnish Herb Revolution, meaning we’re doing all we can to lift up the Finnish food culture and spread stories about our wild and native plants in all the ways we can – publications, workshops, tasty and easy-to-use food products, and lectures and inspiration above all else.

Best part about this mission: everyone is welcome to join us! There is no better reward than seeing your customers’ eyes light up when they realise all these wonderful superfoods have been growing wild and free right under our feet, and until now we’ve maybe just trampled over them, but no longer. That same sensation occurred in all of us, the founding team, at one point in time, and we are pretty sure it will happen to you, too, if it hasn’t already.

Every country in the world has their own local wild plants to get excited about. And if we take good care of our surrounding environment, they are pure and fresh to eat straight from your nearby bush. We hope we can encourage people to dive into their own nearby forests and meadows after they see what we have created from our nature’s delicacies. We are lucky in Finland, since our nature has been ranked the cleanest in the whole world, and we also get to enjoy everyman’s rights, meaning we can forage almost anywhere we wish. But these are things that we mustn’t take for granted or hold as self-evident. We need to work to take care of our nature also in the future and especially now, when climate change and consumerism with its detrimental effects are shaking it. One way to get people excited about nature conservation is to show them what kinds of benefits the nature can offer to your everyday wellbeing, cooking, skin care and mindfulness.