Fireweed - Epilobium angustifolium

Why Get to know this plant:

Fireweed flowers for beauty and connection to the earth. 

Fireweed flowers for beauty and connection to the earth. 

Fireweed is very useful to humans, bees and other neighbouring plants. This plant helps stabilize soil and reduce erosion after a fire. It is one of the first plants to come back after a large fire or deforestation event where it can be proliferate and soothing to the burnt ground. Fireweed honey is a popular commodity at farmers markets and specialty stores. For humans the flowers, leaves and roots are not only edible but also have medicinal use. As food the young shoots are likened to asparagus and the young leaves to spinach. Beautiful pink flowers can be added to salads and flower bud clusters can be cooked as a vegetable

Although pictured is not a honey bee, these plants are none the less very important sources of nectar for bees.

Although pictured is not a honey bee, these plants are none the less very important sources of nectar for bees.

Because of it’s anti-inflammatory properties, fireweed is excellent for skin care to help reduce redness and acne, like the soothing to ground after a fire, the fireweed in a salve or applied topically is cooling to the skin.

 

Fireweed has healing properties that strengthen the grounding connection to the earth; helps break up and move out old energy patterns that are being held in the etheric body to allow for new cycles of revitalization and renewal.

As survival tips: the fluff that is produced to move the seeds at the end of the reproductive cycle can be used as tinder to start fires, and the long stems of fireweed can be gently peeled into strips and wrapped along to make cordage!

The Haida used fireweed quite extensively, eating the tall stems and young shoots at feasts. Haida women ate fireweed to purify the blood and to make themselves beautiful.

 

 

Where This Plant Grows:

Fireweed grows in extensive patches in open clearings, logged areas, burns and roadsides. Whole hillsides in the summer can be covered in Fireweed. In my yard it pops up in several corners of the yard and spreads a bit each year. It likes moist to fairly dry disturbed areas and spreads once it is well established.

Young fireweed with bud. Alternate leaf growth. Prominent centre vein.

Young fireweed with bud. Alternate leaf growth. Prominent centre vein.

How to Identify Fireweed:

Look at that style! (It is a long, slender stalk that connects the stigma and the ovary)

Look at that style! (It is a long, slender stalk that connects the stigma and the ovary)

Fireweed is easy to identify when in bloom. It is a tall, smooth stemmed, herbaceous perennial which spreads from rhizomes. The flowers are purple to pink, 4 petaled with a very prominent 4 pronged style. They are showy and grow in terminal clusters and bloom in sequence from bottom to top. They bloom from June to September depending on where you are. Stems are tall and normally reach over one meter. Leaves are 5-20 cm long, grow

alternate, shaped narrow lance-shaped and are distinctly veined on the underside. The fruit of the plant forms in linear pods that split edge wise as they age, and open into hundreds of fluffy, parachuted seeds.

If you pass a patch of fireweed in the fall you will be amazed at how much soft fluffy material is produced!

Before flowers start (remember they bloom from bottom up!)

Before flowers start (remember they bloom from bottom up!)

If you look closely at the flowering plant you’ll notice there are buds, flowers and fruit all at the same time. The name of the genus of this plant is Epilobium which means on a capsule and speaks to its ability to have new flowers form on the top of a seed (flowers open from the bottom to the top.

 

 

Parts Used:

New shoots (in spring), leaves and flowers (summer), fluffy seeds (fall) and rhizome (fall).

 

Medicinal Actions:

Anti-inflammatory, anti-irritant, antimicrobial (antifungal), antiseptic, antioxidant, emollient (soothing externally) laxative and tonic.

 

 

 

Tips from Experience

Spend some time admiring the flowers up close and personal. These beauties are so magnificent that you can get some of the subtler medicine from just being around this plant and admiring what beauty and renewal can rise up from devastation (such as a fire). 

 

 

Caution: 

Because the plant has also been used medicinally as a mild laxative it is wise to eat smaller amounts and to spread out consumption so as not to eat tons all at once. Double check that you know what you are identifying, as an extreme beginner could mistake fireweed for foxglove (from a far). Though the plants are very different when you compare them side by side, they grow to similar heights and have similar color flowers and the latter is poisonous if consumed.

 

 

 

Constituents in the plant:

There is interesting research in its relevance for treating prostate disease, particularly BPH (benign prostate hyperplasia); as Kiss et al. (2004) found Fireweed extracts inhibitory against angiotensin-converting enzyme, aminopeptidase N, and neutral endopeptidase (NEP). Topical applications of the plant are analgesic and anti-inflammatory and internal use is antidiarrheal and antimotile on gastrointestinal tissue.

 

References:

Fields of fireweed grow the year after a fire bringing beautiful rejuvenation.

Fields of fireweed grow the year after a fire bringing beautiful rejuvenation.

Gray, Beveraly (2011) The Boreal Herbal; Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North. A Guide to Harvesting, Preserving and Preparing. Aroma Borealis Press. p. 91-94

Keane, Kahlee (2015) The Standing People; Wild Medicinal Plants of British Columbia. Save our Species Publishing. p. 104-105

Kiss, A., J. Kowalski and M. Melzig. (2004) Compounds from Epilobium angustifolium Inhibit the Specific Metallopeptidases ACE, NEP and APN. Planta Medica vol 70. No. 10 p. 919-923

MacKinnon et al. (2009) Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada. Lone Pine Publishing. p.232

Pojar & MacKinnon (1994) Plants of Coastal British Columbia: including Washington, Oregon & Alaska. Lone Pine Publishing. p. 206

Rogers, R., Young, D., Willier, R. (2015) A Cree Healer and His Medicine Bundle: Revelations of Indigenous Wisdom; Healing Plants, Practices and Stories. North Atlantic Books. p. 91-92

Turner, Nancy (1995) Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples. Royal BC Museum Handbook. p. 106