Posted On August 29, 2011

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There is a famous saying in Finland that goes along the lines of ‘if booze, sauna, or tar doesn’t cure you, you’re screwed.” Many people outside of Finland don’t know exactly what is meant by tar, but it’s a substance that comes out of pine trees, called “terva” in Finnish. There is tar from birch as well, which is “koivuterva”. You can find all kinds of products with terva in it here, including ice cream, liquor, shampoo, soap, and mixtures to put in the water bucket of the sauna. Not everyone enjoys the taste or smell of it (it smells like smoke), but those who do, really love it.

There is a long history of terva, going back to Väinämöinen. Terva was considered to be the sweat of Väinämöinen, as is told in Tervan synty. The healing powers in the sauna steam were completed with the tar from trees. As Väinämöinen is said to be the world’s first healer, this connection can be made clear. The connection is also made in that he is known to be a master boat carver, since in the olden days, boats were covered with tar for protection from the elements. Terva took a very important role in the Finnish folk tradition, because of the healing powers of it. It was used in creams for the treatment of skin diseases, various infections and wounds, and in the ridding of lice. With all of these healing benefits, you could see it as Väinämöinen’s gift to humans. So the next time you use terva, give a small thanks to him.

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3 Responses to “Terva”

  1. Kauko

    I’d wondered about ‘tar’ in that saying for a while now, but I never got around to researching it.

  2. SLK

    Is terva from a specific type of pine in Finland, or can I collect some from the Black Hills Spruce in my back yard?

    • Christine

      I’ve never actually tried collecting it myself, but I think you can get it from any pine tree, or birch.

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