Environmental health flaws

If visitors to Sweden last week had read the papers they may well have left thinking that a complaint about some dodgy chicken could lead to their being shot with an illegal weapon and dumped in the shallow waters of a polluted beach.

Well, perhaps not, but there were health hazards galore in this week’s press and Metro clucked the loudest about the discovery of fifteen tonnes of foul fowl winging its way to the nation’s eateries. At least 129 restaurants took delivery of the salmonella-infected chicken, which had been imported from Germany.

“Yet another example of how careful you have to be when you buy chicken from abroad,” said Karin Granath of Stockholm Council’s environmental health department, doing her bit for Sweden’s poultry farmers.

Of the restaurants affected, 52 were in central Stockholm while the rest were spread over the country, and about a fifth of the infected chicken has been tracked down and returned to food inspectors. As for the rest of it – let’s just say that fish has never been more appealing.

Which brings us to the beaches, and Monday’s DN declared – in typically gloomy fashion – that 18 Swedish beaches failed to meet EU standards for water cleanliness, an increase of 14 from the previous year. The alternative take on the story was that the quality of bathing water is considered to be improving in Sweden overall.

The story was prompted by the annual report on Europe’s beaches from EU Environment Commissioner, Margot Wallström. The results are based on samples taken last summer and 664 out of 786 Swedish beaches received the highest mark of ‘good water quality’ – a significant increase on the previous year.

Wallström emphasised that the health risks involved with bathing at a ‘failed’ beach were not huge, although caution was warranted if a beach had been failed several years in a row. Trelleborg’s beaches fall into this category, with three successive failures. Bathers can be exposed to an increased risk of an upset stomach.

That left Svenska Dagbladet to dip its toe into an altogether more alarming story: unauthorised weapons which are left behind when people die are becoming increasingly commonplace in Sweden.

When a registered gun-owner passes away, his or her weapon should be confiscated by the police, unless it has specifically been left to another person with a licence. But at the end of last year, 2,247 such weapons were still to be collected two years after the owners’ deaths.

As the paper pointed out, when the owner dies “these weapons become illegal. They can end up on the black market, can be used in crimes or even against the police themselves.”

Claes Johansson, a weapons expert at the National Police Board (NPB), wasn’t impressed.

“In some places the police haven’t understood that this is no joke,” he told SvD. “If they don’t deal with this it’s going to be a problem.”

The paper also revealed that when the NPB looked into the state of affairs in Värmland, they found that it wasn’t just dead people’s guns that weren’t being reclaimed – it was also those belonging to people whose licence had been revoked because they had committed violent crimes.

The law says that the police can confiscate a weapon as soon as it looks likely that a licence will be revoked because the owner has committed a violent crime. But some gun owners in Värmland who had lost their licences still had their weapons three months later.

“This is an exception,” said Claes Johansson.

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The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.