Pine, tar, and tinder: flavours from the north
Before there was chewing gum, there was pine resin. Before there were lighters, there were tinderboxes. And all along, Swedes in the far north have been living as one with nature, taking only what is offered. The Local Brands speaks with one such Swede.
Tomas Danielsson. Photo: Wilma Naturprodukter
Tomas Danielsson spends his days wandering through the forests of northern Sweden with his wife, fishing, gathering plants, and chewing bits of pine sap.
In other words, he runs a thriving business with roots in ancient Scandinavian tradition.
“It’s just whatever the forest can give us,” Danielsson tells The Local Brands contentedly. “That’s the foundation of the company.”
Danielsson, hand-in-hand with his wife Ingela and their three kids, run Wilma’s Nature Products, a leading producer of in-demand pine and tar products.
“It was actually my mum and dad who built the company,” Danielsson explains.
Arne Danielsson, a mathematics teacher, quit his job in 1978 in order to spend more time in nature.
“He was always a woodsman,” his son recalls. “He loved to be out in nature, hunting, taking pictures, and such.”
Arne and Tomas Danielsson. Photo: Wilma Naturprodukter
What started as a hobby turned into something much more lucrative when Danielsson began selling pine resin for chewing.
“It’s called forest gum. Resin has been used for hundreds of years as chewing gum to keep the teeth in good shape.”
The traditional substance was growing again in popularity, and in 1980 the former teacher registered his company. Tomas Danielsson joined his father in the business in the early 1990s.
“That pine resin was the first product,” he recalls. “We would go out in the woods and just pluck resin. And then we started gathering mushrooms, and pine stumps, and making tar, and one thing just lead to another.”
When his father passed away in 2010, Danielsson took over, and today the business is still going strong – although small.
“We wouldn’t have it any other way,” Danielsson says. “We like it small. Our work goes hand in hand with our free time, and that means a lot to us. It’s lagom.”
Still, sales are taking off. Shiploads of products have been sent to Great Britain and Danielsson has received interest from across the globe.
“Business is going very, very well,” he remarks. “It seems to me like a clear sign that this type of product, earthy products without all those mysterious additives, are worth more and more.”
One of the company’s best-selling products, Danielsson says, is pine tar ointment, which has been used medicinally for thousands of years.
The family gathers old pine stubs and places them in an underground ‘kiln’ of sorts, an old-fashioned method used by very few today. But the result is exceptional.
“It’s good for treating eczema, small cuts, and other problems,” Danielsson explains. “Pine tar was used as far back as the Roman times, but it has very close ties to the north. It’s from the Norrland pines in this area.”
There’s also an ointment for keeping mosquitoes away – “Very Nordic,” Danielsson laughs.
The family still lives in Lappland, spending much of their time outdoors – and Wilma’s products reflect the strong Scandinavian ties.
“These are very old, traditional Scandinavian products,” Danielsson says. “There weren’t a lot of people here, and people could only use what nature offered.”
Photo: Wilma Naturprodukter
And in typical Scandinavian style, the company even created a modern update: pine sticks to add flavour to your drink.
“It’s the only thing which isn’t really historical or medicinal,” Danielsson admits. “They’re just for fun. They’re made from the roots of the pine trees, and if you add it to your drink it creates a smokey, pine-like flavour.”
But that’s just typical Swedish innovation – something old and something new makes something which enlivens a Friday night, all while respecting nature and wasting nothing.
Photo: Wilma Naturprodukter
“We just have to take what we are offered,” Danielsson says. “There are so many wonderful things in nature we can appreciate and use. You just have to open your eyes.”