Fireweed – A Useful Summer ‘Weed’

In various parts of my property, and along the roadsides close by, one of the most noticeable and abundant weeds at this time of year is Epilobium angustifolium or Chamaenerion angustifolium, known in the UK as rosebay willowherb or bombweed and in the US as fireweed.

I welcome this weed into my forest garden and other parts of the property because this is no ordinary weed. It has a range of uses and is, in fact, a very useful plant.

Growing in the garden, fireweed attracts bees and other pollinators, and is a good source for the caterpillars or several species of moth and butterfly. It quickly colonises bare soil. The name of the plant in America ‘fireweed’ refers to the way in which the plant is a pioneer, reclaiming land after a fire. The British term ‘Bombweed’ related to the way that the plant colonised areas in London and elsewhere after the Blitz.

In the spring, we eat the young shoots and young leaves of this plant as a vegetable. The young shoots resemble asparagus. A sweet and appealing tea can be made from the dried leaves and some even grind the roots to yield a mildly sweet powder. The plant is also said to have applications in herbal medicine. The flowers can also be used to make a syrup or jelly, on their own, or combined with other fruits.

Though I usually use stinging nettles for this, as I have mentioned before, a natural cordage can also be made from fibres in the outer stems of these plants too. When dried, the seed heads make good tinder.

All this, and fireweed or rosebay willowherb actually looks lovely too. When it is in flower, I find it an attractive addition to the garden.

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