Native Bites: Fireweed

Fireweed Blossoms

I first discovered this plant in my front yard when I moved to Washington State.  I watched it in the spring growing tall, yet not knowing it’s name.  I saw it blossom light, bright purple, swaying in the wind.  I really didn’t take notice however until the flowers fell and the seed pods opened.  That’s when the fun began.  The long seed capsules split and curled, releasing hundreds of silky white seeds that floated through the air.  Maybe others didn’t want thousands of Fireweed seeds drifting through the neighborhood, but I did.  I wished they would keep floating around, swirling past the birch tree, sweeping up and over the viburnum and dancing with the wind.  It’s a beautiful wild magic.

After that I began to recognize Fireweed, also called willowherb, with it’s distinctive purple flower growing in clumps all over the area.  Even on a trip to Alaska several years ago, I saw it growing abundantly.  It’s easy to spot in open woods and along roadsides.  Called Fireweed from it’s habit of establishing in open areas after a fire, it’s native along the West Coast.  And it’s edible!

From the book Wild Harvest:  “The tender young shoots are an excellent early pot vegetable—just boil a few minutes.  A handful of the dried leaves, which brew up easily and have a fine flavor, will make a pot of tea.  The glutinous pith from the large summer fireweed stalks can be scraped out and either eaten raw or used in making delicious wild soup.”  I haven’t tried my own taste test yet, but Northwest Foraging says that the young shoots have a bitter taste when eaten raw and it’s better to use them as a cooked green.  Also, the pith from the summer stalks is a good, chewy hiking snack and bees produce a fragrant popular honey in fireweed rich areas.  We’ll never be hungry again!

Fireweed in Alaska

Resources:  Wild Harvest: Edible Plants of the Pacific Northwest by Terry Domenico, 2008.
Northwest Foraging by Doug Benoliel, 1974.

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