Finland: Country profile

Bertalan Galambosi

Geographical data

Finland is the northernmost country on the European continent . All of Finland is north of 60°- 70° degrees north latitude and one-third of the latitudinal extent of the country lie north of the Arctic Circle.
Its total area is 337,030 km2. Finland is the eighth largest country in Europe after Russia, Turkey, France, Ukraine, Spain, Sweden, and Germany. Of this area 10% is water, 69% forest, 8% cultivated land and 13% other.  Finland is called  ''the land of a thousand lakes'' , but at last count there were 187,888 of them- within its borders.

Climatic conditions

The Nordic countries are close to the North Pole. Compared to the situation in Greenland and Alaska, it is difficult to believe that one can actually grow vegetables, strawberries and several herbs even in the northern part of Finland. This is only possible because of the Gulf Stream, which brings temperate seawater from the Mexican gulf to the coast of North Scandinavia and Finland. As to Finland, the agricultural activity starts at the Nordic latitude 60-61° N, where in Sweden the real agricultural activity ends.  
The annual middle temperature is relatively high in the southwestern part of the country (5.0 to 7.5 °C  with quite mild winters and warm summers, and low in the northeastern part of  Lapland (0 to −4 °C ). The highest ever recorded temperature is 37.2 °C  in East Finland, Liperi, (29 July 2010). The lowest, −51.5 °C  in Lapland, Kittilä,( 28 January 1999).

The main climatic features of Finland can be described as follows:

  • Shorter growing seasons (in South Finland 165-185 days, in North Finland: 125-145 days)
  • Lower effective temperature sums (in South Finland:1300-1400 °C,  in North Finland 800-1000° C)
  • Hard winter temperatures (-0 C° at the coast and -35 -40 C° in the inland)
  • Long and deep snow cover with great local variation ( 4-7 months)
  • Long days during summers, with midnight sun in the northern part
  • Intensive light and solar radiation
  • High moisture conditions in the long coastal areas
  • Great topographical variability
  • Abiotic and biotic stresses for plants: snow, ice, wind, radiation, fungi’s under snow

The shorter vegetation periods, the low temperature sum in summer, the long and cold winter, as well as the mechanical injuries of snow and ice, all limit the range of cultivated species, and limit their biomass production. Growers may start sowing and planting in the open late April-early May  in the southern part, but up in north the same start could be in late May or even in June. Then we could have the first autumn frost in September/October.

General agriculture

The number of farms in 2012 59 000 and the arable land was 2.268.000 ha.. The average size of the farms was 38.9 ha. The main production lines of the farms are plant production (69 %), animal production (27 %). The production forest in the farms are 3 million ha.  
During 2012 the main acreage of grains was, 1 154 000 ha, forage plants 660 000 ha,  oil plants 69 000 ha, potato 23 000 ha. The total area of the outdoor horticultural crops  was 15800 ha, of which vegetables were 8500ha (peas 3000 ha, carrot 1700 ha, onions 1100 ha). The total area of berries was 6100 ha (strawberry 3000 ha, read and black courrant 1400 ha, raspberries 350 ha, other berries 500 ha , fruits 700 ha. In greenhouse vegetables are cultivated in 211 ha (tomato ,cumumber) and decorative plants in 124 ha

Socio-economic data

The population of Finland at the turn of the years 2015 was 5,471,753 and it is the most sparsely populated country in the European Union, 18/km2. The majority of the population lives in the  southern regions. The gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in 2014 was $ 40,455.
The Nordic sociogeography seems to be an important hindrance in evaluation of agricultural production, including herbs. The dispersed locations of the small farm units limit the concentrated cultivation in the northern parts of the region. Due to the sparse population, the long distances lead to expensive transport and logistics. The high cost of living in Finland results in high production costs generally in agriculture. Since herb production is relatively new, the herb consumption is quite low, the above mentioned factors together with the lack of herb production infrastructure (education, research, advising, market, special machinery, etc.) result in mainly small scale and generally uneconomic herb production in the Nordic countries at present including Finland.

Herb production in general

Due to the Nordic climatic conditions, Finland has never been a significant herb producing country. The consumption of herbs, spices and medicinal plants was based on imports, in total  4-6000 to/year. At the same time, a rapid change could be observed during the last 30 years, both in the production and consumption. This change is due to various reasons.

Surpluses in traditional agricultural cultivation forced a search for new alternative crops. Due to intensive tourism from the 1980s, Finnish society became more open to new tastes, new herbs, new types of foods, and the consumption of herbs started to increase. Due to the green movement, alternative production systems (ecological cultivation) and alternative medical treatments became better known and more popular. Realising the necessity of change, the state and different institutes have organised numerous courses, research and development projects for education on alternative crops including herbs. After some years, a few enterprises have started to organise market-oriented production of herbs and special crops.

As a consequence of the different factors, the production of some herbs has activated. The cultivation area during 1984-2014 has increased from 100 ha to 16 000-20 000 ha. The most rapid changes occurred in the production of spice seeds (caraway) which is easily mechanised. Although the traditional indoor herb cultivation was quite well balanced, the production of fresh-cut herbs has increased quickly due to their popularity and all year round availability (from 95,000 pots in l987, 20 million pots in 2014). Herb production is situated mainly in the south and in the south-west parts of Finland, due to the more favourable climatic conditions and the higher population density (consumption). Due to the high labour costs, the collection of wildflower medicinal plants has been of no significant importance until now.

Current forms of production

1.  Wildcrafting

The number of wildflower medicinal plants of any commercial importance is about 50 in Finland (Hälvä 1988). Accurate data on the quantity of wildflower medicinal plants collected is quite difficult to obtain. Many of these plants are collected for personal consumption by thousands of families. Numerous small local herb farms produce dry tea mixtures or other products. The quantity of dry wildflower medicinal plants is estimated to be about 4000-5000 kg/year.  

The annual collected quantities from the following species are: Urtica , Betula leaves 1-5 t/year,
Calluna vulgaris and  Achillea millefolium flowers, Juniperus berries 500 to 1000 kg/year.
Solidago, Filipendula, Taraxacum, Epilobium and Vaccinium myrtillus leaves between 100-500 kg
In addition to this amount, there is a special product, collected by the Oulu District of the Finnish 4H Association. During the last 15 years, 500-2000 kg of fresh sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) was collected from peatlands and marketed mainly for Switzerland and partly domestically.

 2. Cultivation

The most important herb is the biannual caraway, since its mechanization is easy. When state support for green manure crop cultivation started in 1991, the growers began to grow spice seeds . The area reached a peak during 2007 (17.700 ha). At present some alternation  can be observed due to several factors , but the good export possibilities for caraway keep the area between 10-17000 ha (Figure 1).  Presently about 25-30 % 0f the world caraway consumption is produced in Finland (Jancsik, 2013).

Table 1. Cultivation of caraway (Carum carvi ) in Finland




















Finland is imported cc. 1500 to/y  mustard seed and ready products, therefore its cultivation was studied. At its peak in l991 the growing area was about 400 ha, but due to price and climatic quality problems its cultivation has now nearly stopped.

The third most important herb is the popular leaf dill. In 2013 it was cultivated on 106 ha outdoors and 8. ha indoors. Nearly all dill is used in fresh form for direct sales or in the food industry. Only a few tons are dried in Finland. Parsley is the fourth most important herb. It is cultivated outdoors (6 ha) and indoors 8 ha), mainly for fresh consumption. During the last 4-5 years, the cultivation of garlic has increased to 16 ha. Production is widely distributed and on a small scale.  About 10 different herbs, including some medicinal plants (e.g. coriander, angelica, oregano, peppermint, cornflower, nettle, tarragon, roseroot , etc), are cultivated with an area between 1 and 5 ha each. These plants are produced for further processing, for the health food industry or for the growers’ own products. The harvested raw materials are dried, frozen or extracted. About 20 different herb and medicinal plant species (St.John’s wort, hyssop, chamomile, anise hyssop, pot marigold, valerian, etc) are cultivated with less than 0.5 ha/species.

The special part of the indoor herb cultivation is the production of fresh-cut herbs by hydroponic techniques (Table 1). During the last 10 years a rapid increase in the production of lettuce for fresh-cut use was observed. At present 70 million fresh-cut lettuces are produced annually. The market seems to be saturated. At the same time, the production and consumption of fresh-cut herbs are increasing continuously, reaching nearly 20 million pots during 2013. About 25-30 growers engage in fresh-cut herb production all year round ( . The most popular fresh-cut herbs are the traditional dill, parsley and as a new favorite, different basils.

Table 2.  Production of fresh cut herbs in Finland duirng 2007-2013

Fres-cut herbs









4 669

5 016

5 356

4 941

4 900

5 243

6 781


2 928

2 934

3 090

2 929

2 767

2 711

3 183

Other herbs

7 697

4 990

3 687

6 847

7 919

7 195

7 917



2 846

2 633

3 761

3 744

2 798

3 471

Others + basil


7 836

6 320

10 608

11 363

9 993

11 388

All together

15 294

15 786

14 766

18 478

19 030

17 947

20 352


3. Types of herb farms. According to the statistical data, about 1400 farms engaged in herb production in some extent. Depending on many factors, the herb farms can be grouped as follows:

Small herb farms for local consumption. The area of herbs is less than 0.5 ha/farm. They grow 10-20 different species for fresh and dry consumption. Marketing is on the local market, to local institutional kitchens, where they produce their own tea and spice mixtures.
Small contract growers produce leaf herbs for health food stores or the food industry. The share of contract cultivation is quite low. The contract growers produce mainly dill, parsley or some medicinal plants (Echinacea, Rhodiola).
Spice seed growers generally grow caraway with 5-20 ha/farm. They make contracts with marketing firms for the domestic market and for exports. The whole cultivation chain is mechanized using grain production machinery.
Fresh-cut herb producers grow herb pots for fresh-cut consumption all year round in a hydroponic growing system. Nearly the whole production process is automated. Due to the high capital investment required for this growing method, production is very concentrated.
There are about several specialized herb farms in Finland, which cover all aspects of herb production: they educate growers and consumers, process a wide range of herb products, producing their own raw materials and making contracts for buying raw materials, supplying seeds, seedlings and advising on production, eg.  Frantsilan herb farm ( or  Heikkilä herb farm (

Farm size and yield level: The general features of Finnish herb farms are the dispersed location all around the country and the small size. The average size of the caraway farms  is ranging between  2-20 ha (in average in 1999 :4.8 ha/farm). The yield level ranges between 500 and 1500 kg/ha.  The average outdoor and indoor dill cultivation area is about 0.5 and 0.2 ha/farm and the parsley area is about 0.2 and 0.1 ha/farm, respectively. The fresh leaf dill and parsley yield indoors is 4-5 and 3-7 t/ha, respectively.
Due to the small quantities, the income of the farmers from herb production generally is not determined, it remains only on the additional income level. No accurate cost analyses and economic calculations are available due to the small sizes and quantities except of caraway (Karhula , 2013).

Degree of mechanisation: Generally, the level of mechanization of herb production is quite low. Only the spice seed production is fully mechanized, since the growers use grain machinery. Separation of caraway seed is performed by skilled farmers with sophisticated cleaning machinery.
There is a lack of small, affordably priced leaf herb harvesters and root diggers. The traditional dryers are suitable for herb drying, but there are big differences in the energy consumption of the different types of dryers. With no special machinery for the post-harvest processing the level of manual labour is quite high in the small herb producers and the cost is high as well. The growers use machinery developed and constructed by themselves.  At present there are some small projects in machinery development.

Organic production: Organic production is being expanded continuously in Finland.  In 2000 the total organic area under control by the authorities was 126,000 ha. Since the health drug stores require organically grown raw materials, all medicinal plants are grown organically. Finnish consumers prefer herbicide-free products.  Since weed control is not easy to mechanize in organic production, the production units and quantities produced remain small. Organic herb production is very small, it is about 200 ha, mainly caraway.

Organization of production

Herb production is distributed quite unequally over the country. The most important outdoor growing areas are situated in the south and south-west parts of the country due to the favorable climatic conditions.
Indoor cultivation is concentrated in areas where the population density is highest, suitable for the marketing and consumption of fresh herbs. West coast areas have significant dill and parsley greenhouse cultivation. In the northern parts of the country the growing areas are naturally smaller, with the focus on the collection and utilization of natural medicinal plants.
At present there is only some organization for herb collectors and growers in Finland.  

The Arctic Flavours Association is a nation-wide natural products industry association specializing on wild berries, mushrooms, herbs and special natural products. The aims of the Association are to promote the gathering, processing and use of natural products as well as to improve their quality.  (
The Nordic filials of Finnish 4H Organization organize the collection of the wildgrown sundew (Drosera rotundifolia ), amounted 500-1000 kg/year ) (

The caraway production has its own market-oriented organizations. Three commercial companies  Arctic Taste Ltd ( ) Trans Farm Oy ( Caraway Finland Oy ( make contracts and supply seeds and technology for the growers
The growers of other herb species find marketing possibilities for themselves by direct contacts in the food and health food industry. Some medicinal plant extracts are exported  by the producer companies like Hankintatukku Ltd ( who has own contract growers.   (Galambosi1997c).

Research institutions

This is the largest field of research activities concerning herbs and medicinal plants in Finland. The universities are taking part in both local and national research and development projects. The plants in the research programmes are generally subjects of dissertations. The profiles of the different departments determine the type of research: agronomy, analytics, etc. At present some universities are taking part in major long-term development projects.

University of Helsinki: The University of Helsinki has played an important role in starting herb research in Finland. They initiated two large projects: the Academic Herb Research Project 1983-1985 (Mäkinenet al, 1996) and a development project, Puumala Herb Project 1984-1988 (Galambosi et  al. 1991). Presently occasionally herb subject research carried out in the Department of Agricultural Sciences ( and in the Faculty of Farmacy (
University of Turku: ( )Some academic dissertations on Angelica, Anetum graveolens and birch sap have given a scientific basis for high-techology processing of herbs. (Ojala 1986, Kerrola 1994). Recently on the basis of this work, a special factory started the commercial production of aroma compounds ( Aromtech Ltd ( ).
University of Oulu:   ( The University of Oulu has concentrated on research and development concerning medicinal plants and berries adapted to the climatic conditions of the far north, like Rhodiola rosea .
University of East-Finland, Joensuu: Research projects have been carried out on the chemical properties of fermented herbal teas, originated in the Finnish nature, and a large research project was carried out on the biochemical evaluation of Salix myrcinifolia (Julkunen-Tiitto and Meier 1992).

Research Institutes

Extensive  and long-term agronomical research activity was carried out in  the Agricultural Research Centre of Finland, presently The Natural Resources Institute Finland (

Several research projects were carried out during 1989-2015  mainly led by the Ecological Production, Mikkeli. The projects have covered different aspects of herb production: cultivation techniques of herbs suitable for the Finnish climate (Galambosi 1993a), introduction and acclimatization of new medicinal plants ( Galambolsi 1993b,  Galambosi et al. 1993c), elaboration of growing techniques for Drosera species ( Galambosi 1998, Galambosi et al. 1999, Galambosi et al. 2000), domestication of Rhodiola rosea ( Galambosi,2014  ). Cultivation experiments were carried out even in Lapland, up to the Polar Circle, during 1988-1990 in co-operation with the Agricultural School of Kittilä.

Large projects were carried out at the North Ostrobothnia Research Station on cultivation and distillation techniques for mint and caraway in cooperation with the University of Oulu ( Aflatuni et al. 1999). The Institute of Horticulture, situated in the southernmost part of the country, has taken part in latitudinal herb research, mainly with basil and tarragon (Pessala et al. 1996,  Hupila and Pessala 1999).
Presently the research have been focused on different questions of caraway cultivation in a project: Superior Caraway Chain.(plant protection, economy).

The MTT Mikkeli has carried out long term research collaboration with the St-Petersburg Institute of Pharmacy, Russia, focusing  on biochemical and agronomical aspects of  Rhodiola, Bergenia, Epilobium, Gnaphalium species (Chernetsova et al 2014, Kosman et al 2013, Salminen et al 2014), Shikov et al. 2012.

Education on MAPs

Due to the minor economical importance of herbs and medicinal plant, the education of herb cultivation  is a part of other horticultural education. The Arctic Flavours Association ( ) organizing and developing educational opportunities relating to the field (regular training courses, education materials, researches, campaigns, etc).

The University of Helsinki has regular lectures on herb cultivation at academic level and irregular  courses are organized by other universities. According to the Finnish National Board of Education in the vocational training schools  herb cultivation and processing cover  several week education periods.  The first herb cultivation manual published in during 1995 presently is under revision and enlarging (Galambosi, 1994).

The company TransFarm Ltd organizes for his contract caraway growers training courses every spring, where the most actual research results and technological intentions are presented.
Due to the interest of the people, tremendous herb courses are organized for the public by local cultural and municipal organizations all over the country.


Despite the positive changes, the international competitiveness of the Finnish herb farms is not very good. This is mainly due to the production being widely dispersed over a large country. The herb farms are small, and there is a contract organisation only for caraway cultivation and for some medicinal plants for herbal extracts. The production is not sufficiently mechanised except for spice seeds. The herb-production culture is still young. There are many beginners among the farmers and their yield and quality is variable. The herb production is expensive and marketed mainly domestically. Only caraway, sundew (collected in swamps) and some herb extracts are exported. There is no active central organisation for the herb growers. Industry and the growers make contracts directly. Herb research financed by the state and EU makes continuous efforts to develop this special new production culture in Finland. At present, herb production can only provide additional income for the growers.



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