Foraging in Iceland: What You Can Eat Straight From The Earth!

Foraging in Iceland: What You Can Eat Straight From The Earth!

Angie Diamantopoulou Author

Text by: Angie Diamantopoulou

Are you a curious adventurer, ready to explore and try the strangest culinary things? Then Iceland is the perfect place for you! This guide will focus on all the delicious ingredients you can forage in the Icelandic nature!

Iceland's nature is one of the purest in the world. Untouched by chemicals and people, it has provided sustenance to the Icelandic population for centuries.

If you are from a big city, like me, you might be surprised to hear that there are many things you can eat straight from the earth! I certainly did not believe it at first, but it's true!

You don't need to be a foraging pro or even a foraging enthusiast. This blog will just show you some delicacies you can find in the Icelandic nature, like most locals do!

Before we jump into our list, let's first take a look at what you can find in this blog:

  • information on foraging in Iceland
  • is foraging popular in Iceland?
  • what can you forage in the Icelandic nature?
  • are there any plants you should avoid?
  • tips from a local!

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foraging in iceland like a local

foraging in iceland

Iceland is the perfect place to find edible ingredients ​outside of the supermarkets. The nature here is untouched, and you don't have to worry about your bounty being contaminated with chemicals, as farmers in Iceland don't use them.

The country has a long history of foraging. ​As a formerly poor nation, locals had to rely on the land for centuries. Berries, greens and mushrooms have been picked and eaten by Icelanders ever since their settlement.

Naturally, as Iceland became wealthier, the locals strayed from foraging practices. With the import of products becoming possible, as well as with the creation of greenhouses, Icelandic people stopped relying on foraging a good while ago.

However, by no means does that mean that they forgot about all the delicious things they can get from the earth! To this day, even young Icelanders know what plants are edible, and picking some berries or even some greens while on a road trip is very common!​

Besides, the soaring popularity of sustainable practices, as well as the trend of returning to one's roots, have brought foraging in Iceland back into the mainstream. In fact, Ragnar Eiríksson, head chef of Dill (the first Icelandic restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star)​, is a big proponent of foraging and working with fresh, local ingredients.


is foraging popular in iceland?

foraging in iceland

Foraging in Iceland is fairly popular. Locals living outside of Reykjavik and the Capital Region often enjoy picking berries, greens and mushrooms from the wild. While foraging is not as popular in the middle of Reykjavik, there are people who find ​some delicious berries even by the side of the roads in the capital!

However, what does seem to be very popular among locals is picking delicacies from the wild while on trips. Every sightseeing trip I have taken with a local around the country has involved trying some sort of plant!

Young and old Icelanders ​alike like to pick up berries and greens while walking around nature. It's a habit passed on to every generation, as locals pick wild plants ever since they are kids! There is just something very attractive about finding delicious treats in the middle of nowhere!


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foraging in iceland: everything you can eat!

​There are several wild plants that you can pick on your trips in the Icelandic countryside! Whether you are driving around or you join one of our awesome tours (I highly recommend the Golden Circle tour, the South Shore tour, and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula tour), you can find these plants in most fields or even by the side of the road!

So, without further ado, let's see what you will be foraging in Iceland!​

1. CROWBERRIES

Foraging in Iceland for crowberries

Crowberries are perhaps the most popular type of wild berry in Iceland. ​They are not as sweet as blueberries, but they are delicious nonetheless!

Crowberries are tiny, dark blue to black berries that hide in the moss. You can find them during late summer and autumn on almost any path, field or hillside! ​They grow on tiny, stumpy plants, and even though they are very small, they are also easy to find!

Locals use them a lot in baking and they also make some of the tastiest jam you can find! In addition, they are used as the main ingredient in kvöldsól (night-sun), Iceland's only local wine. I highly recommend trying it, for its distinct, sweet flavor!​

2. BOG BILBERRIES

Foraging in Iceland for bog bilberries

While these berries look very similar to the typical blueberry, they are not quite the same. Apart from their slightly different looks, they also differ in taste

Bog bilberries have a mild, but very balanced sweet and sour flavor. They are excellent if you mix them with some skyr, but you can also eat them on their own or use them in baking!

You can also find these berries from late summer to autumn, in many fields and hillsides. However, they are not as common as crowberries, and you might have to look a little harder for them. Thankfully, they are bright blue and bigger than crowberries, so hunting for them should not be too hard!

3. STRAWBERRIES

Foraging in Iceland for strawberries

Strawberries are the rarest kind of berry in Iceland. If you find some, consider yourself lucky, as they are very hard to find even during the peak berry season (late summer to autumn). 

Icelandic wild strawberries are even smaller than other wild strawberries, but don't be fooled by their small size! They pack a delicious punch! 

If you happen to stumble upon some, let me know where!

4. REDCURRANTS

Foraging in Iceland for redcurrants

Redcurrants can be found in many places in Iceland, even in the middle of Reykjavik! In fact, downtown Reykjavik is Ragnar Eiríksson's favorite place to pick some!

The redcurrants, also growing from late summer to autumn, are bright red clusters of berries. You can easily spot them against the greenery.

Their sweet and tart flavor is perfect for baking, as well as for mixing with skyr. If you can't wait long enough to get home, I won't judge you for just popping them in your mouth and eating them right on the spot!​ After all, who can resist their delicious taste?

5. WILD THYME

Foraging in Iceland for wild thyme

Wild thyme grows all over Iceland. It particularly favors gravel soils and dry heath lands, so that is your best bet for finding some. It's gorgeous pink-purple color will easily give it away!

The herb is great for making a herbal tea with a mild flavor. However, I wouldn't recommend to start chomping on it! You probably won't like the taste or the texture!

Locals claim the tea can help with insomnia, so it's a very popular sleep-time tea! Try it the next time you can't stop rolling around your bed.​

6. RED SORREL

Foraging in Iceland for red sorrel

Picture by Kristin Hallsdottir/kristinhallsd on Flickr

​Understandably, red sorrel was the one thing I was hesitant to try. A leaf? From the ground? Is that safe?

Not only is it safe, but many believe it also has medicinal properties!

Red sorrel has a tangy, tart taste, reminiscent of lemongrass or rhubarb. ​Try it on its own, but also put it in a salad or try it in a dish for an extra tangy punch. 

Older leaves can be quite high in oxalic acid (nothing to worry about, it's just what gives it its tart flavor), so it would be better to cook them before eating them. Oxalic acid can be toxic in very high quantities (so either cook the leaves or don't eat a truckload of them!), and it can hinder the absorption of nutrients. However, if you are reasonably healthy and don't overdo it, red sorrel is perfectly safe for consumption. 


Hey there! Do you want to go on some more culinary adventures? Check out this article on the best places to eat puffin, whale and foal in Reykjavik!


what plants you should avoid when foraging in iceland

Foraging in Iceland poison mushrooms to avoid

We took a look at what you can eat. Now let's take a look at what you can't eat.​

Iceland is home to a number of different wild plants. Most of them are perfectly safe and edible! It is actually very hard to find a plant while foraging in Iceland that you can't eat.

However, as in every part of the world, there are some wild plants you should look out for. According to locals, nothing in Iceland can kill you, so you don't have to worry about dire consequences. Even if they just give you a bit of a stomachache, though, it's always better to avoid them!​

Most poisonous plants have a bitter enough taste to make you spit them out as soon as you taste them. That is because, like every other animal, humans have evolved to protect ourselves from poison. Therefore, you will most likely know not to eat something!

White clover and marsh arrowgrass are both poisonous plants, though it is unlikely you will stumble upon them.

White clover

White clover

marsh arrowgrass

Marsh arrowgrass

gentian

Gentian

Furthermore, another poisonous plant is Gentian, even though it is traditionally used as an herbal remedy in Iceland. I would recommend that you just stay away from it, just to be safe!

Herb paris and scotch false asphodel are poisonous, as well.​ Once again, though, it is very unlikely that you will come across these plants, as they are very rare.

herb paris

Herb paris

scotch false asphodel

Scotch false asphodel

One thing you should watch out for, though, is wild mushrooms. While many varieties are edible, there are wild mushrooms in Iceland that are poisonous. ​Many of the poisonous mushrooms also look very similar to edible mushrooms, so if you don't know whether a mushroom is edible or not, it is better to avoid it.


tips from a local

foraging in iceland

Foraging in Iceland can be a very fun and rewarding experience. It is very satisfying to be able to find sustenance through nature, without having to go to a supermarket. Also, it's very handy if you are camping!

I'm going to give you some tips to make your foraging experience even better!

  • Bring a container with a lid or a plastic bag. You don't want to have to carry your bounty in your hands!
  • When in doubt, don't eat it (especially when it comes to the mushrooms! If you don't know about mushrooms, don't pick them). Alternatively, when in doubt, ask the locals!
  • Bog bilberries are better before the first frost, while crowberries are better after the first frost.
  • Go to public areas with little foot traffic or look around a hiking path to find berries.
  • You can forage in any public space, but don't go into private lands!
  • Dress for the weather! Even in the summer, it is always better to have a jacket with you if you are going to be outside for a long time.
  • Accompany your delicacies with some fresh, ice cold Icelandic water! You can drink from any river or waterfall with clear water (but I personally wouldn't try the most populated ones!)

some final words

Did you enjoy this guide on foraging in Iceland? Let me know in the comments if you found any delicious berries or greens, and if you have any tips for the best "harvest"!

As always, don't forget to share with fellow foraging travelers!​

Are you a curious adventurer, ready to explore and try the strangest culinary things? Then Iceland is the perfect place for you! This guide will focus on all the delicious ingredients you can forage in the Icelandic nature!

 

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