Flowery spotlight: Fireweed.

On a mid-July trip to northern Alberta, the roadsides were brimming with bright purple fireweed (Epilobium angustifolia, formerly Chamerion angustifolium); I don’t think I’ve seen that many plants in quite a few years.  While this beautiful wildflower isn’t considered noxious in this province, it has a rather aggressive growth habit (an understatement!) and most people don’t usually encourage it in the garden.

Fireweed is so-called because of its ability to be “first on the scene” and colonize burned land after a natural fire.  This may partially explain its abundance in northern Alberta, a region beset by several forest fires in recent years.   (In my reading, I came across this interesting notation, which remarked on the colonization of fireweed in Skamania County after the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980).  According to an article by Julie Walker in the Calgary Horticultural Society’s August/September 2012 issue of Calgary Gardening, fireweed will consume all of the potassium from burned soil and return it three-fold when the plant dies, thus rejuvenating the land.

As a bonus, fireweed is edible, too!  Tender young parts of the plant can be cooked into a variety of dishes such as stirfries and quiches.  The leaves and flowers are often added to salads.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think to sample the flowers while I was on our trip; I would have had to seek them out in an area less polluted by highway traffic.  There’s always next year!  🙂

Have you ever eaten fireweed?

20 thoughts on “Flowery spotlight: Fireweed.

    • I should rewrite the entry to clarify, so sorry! Apparently the flowers and leaves can be eaten raw in salads, and entire young plants can be cooked and served up. I’m curious as to what they taste like – I’m inclined to think the flowers, at least, are perhaps a little peppery.

      • The flowers raw don’t have a lot of taste on their own, but as I mentioned in my post, they impart a lovely delicate flavour to a jelly. It’s hard to describe. The best likeness I can come up with is a really good pink jelly bean.

  1. I found some growing behind our shed, so now that I know it is edible, I might just go out and try some. I’ll let you know how it tastes.

  2. I have a couple of plants in my garden but they are already over, so I will have to taste it next year now… I had no idea it is edible. A great way to keep it under control! Thanks for sharing! 😀

    • I am curious as to how aggressive fireweed is in an ornamental garden – they certainly seem to spread like crazy in the wild. I have read that they are quite prolific seed producers, so I imagine you probably deadhead the flowers! The writer I mention in my post, Julie Walker, does recommend the (judicious!) use of fireweed in the garden as a food and medicinal plant, so I guess if you can keep the plants from seeding in the lawn, it’s a great idea! 🙂

    • It is such a pretty plant; it looks wonderful when it grows in huge masses along the roadways! I was surprised at the fact that it is edible, as well. Definitely one to taste in the future!

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