View Full Version : Fireweed

05-13-2016, 08:27 AM
Chamerion angustifolium, sometimes housed scientifically under genus Epilobium is an abundant wildflower in the northwest quarter or so of North America, and probably elsewhere. I bring it up here because it is, to many people, a plant with excellent qualities, including edible ones. As I post, I am fixing a Korean-style noodle soup including the new spring sprouts of fireweed, which grows in fantastic quantities in my south Alaska area. These sprouts appear in May, are cabernet-red spikes, and excellent edibles at about 3-4 cm in height. Alas, that stage only lasts a couple of weeks or so. But these things are great cooked (they turn green when cooked) or raw in salads, where they have a mild lemony/asparagusy flavor.

Once they get taller, they get tough and stringy, but are never harmful. They grow into quite tall plants, reaching five or six feet sometimes, with large, dark green strap-like leaves. The latter are useful as excellent mulch for garden plants, which I use abundantly every year. And the showy red-purple flowers, which come out in July and August, are also good. The petals are very tin and flavorless, but nutritious and spectacular sprinkled on top of salads.

It's an unmistakable plant (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chamerion_angustifolium) and worthy of attention for any gardener/foodie in the region where it grows.


05-13-2016, 08:37 AM
Fireweed is ubiquitous in the Wasatch Mountains. (Northern Utah) at times it covers certain slopes, almost as thick as a blanket. I had no idea it was edible.

05-13-2016, 09:12 AM
I neglected to mention that it has long been a significant food plant for native peoples. I have read that the pith inside the tough, stringy stems, is also a good edible; I've never tried it, but might do so this summer, just to see. Basically, you'd just have to use a carrot peeler on the stem to get at it.


05-13-2016, 09:19 AM
Wow - Is this the same fireweed that is noxious and banned in Australia (http://weeds.dpi.nsw.gov.au/Weeds/Details/53)? (and yet we're fine with coral bleaching, apparently...)

05-13-2016, 09:44 AM
Wow - Is this the same fireweed that is noxious and banned in Australia (http://weeds.dpi.nsw.gov.au/Weeds/Details/53)? (and yet we're fine with coral bleaching, apparently...)

Not that one, thank goodness. This is rosebay willow-herb. I've had a look through the Atlas of Living Australia and can't find any records under either Epilobium or Chamerion, which is a bit odd. It seems like a candidate for weed potential here.

I've seen it in the UK, where it's native. It did particularly well after WWII -- lots of bomb sites and wasteland to colonise.

05-13-2016, 10:23 AM
Thanks, Hx. I thought it might have been one of those pesky visa issues...

05-13-2016, 12:37 PM
Yep, it's a different plant. It's called fireweed, I believe, because it's one of the first plants to grow in burn areas. It appears to be a northern-hemisphere genus.


Of course, if it were introduced to Australia and took off there (unlikely, since it likes northern, Temperate forests), it likely would become a noxious invader. Everything in its place.

05-13-2016, 09:46 PM
Probably the only place in Oz where C. angustifolium would thrive would be the mountains in Tasmania. It's a cool-weather (and even arctic winter) loving plant.


05-15-2016, 08:51 PM
I've not seen any here (western PA), but apparently it's a lot more widespread than I thought so I'll have to keep an eye out for it. I have been told by my sister's husband and his family, who lived in Alaska for awhile, that fireweed honey is one of their favorite things. It's on my list of "must try" honey varieties.