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?