Chamaenerion angustifolium, Epilobium angustifolium
Common Name: Fireweed, willowherb, giant willow seed, rosebay willow, flowering willow, purple rocket
Tincture (ratio & % alcohol): Fresh: 1:3 Dry: 1:5 60%
Tea: Hot/cold infusions
Habitat and Botanical Description:
Fireweed is a tall, showy perennial that belongs to the Primrose family. The name fireweed comes from its ability to colonize areas burned by fire rapidly. Its stems grow 4 to 8 feet tall and a spike of stunning magenta blossoms adorn the tops from June to August. A single fireweed plant can produce up to 80,000 seeds. They are fluffy, delicate, and windborne and can travel far from the parent plant. Fireweed is a resilient plant that flourishes in poor soil conditions and can be found in open meadows, roadsides, along streams and forest edges. It is also an important food source for bears, moose, elk, and deer as well as pollinating insects and hummingbirds. Fireweed is usually found in stands, rarely alone and in some places the species is so abundant it can carpet entire meadows and mountainsides with its brilliant purple flowers. Many photographs have been taken of the surreal paint like colors. Fireweed is a beautiful addition to the home garden. Although, it spreads aggressively by rhizomes and seeds so extra care is needed, or it can quickly overtake a garden.
Fireweed is incredibly resilient and tends to be one of the first plants to appear after a forest fire. We can learn a lot from the way plants grow. Fireweed in this way, can be a symbol for new beginnings. Promising us the return of beauty and abundance. The essence can be ally for those who has been emotionally burned or devastated. It's an ally for supporting new growth or to help change life patterns that keep those caught in cycles of crash and burn. Fireweed can also teach us how to use our fire effectively.
Fireweed is just as beautiful as it is powerful. Its rich in antioxidants that benefit the entire body. The digestive system, the urinary system, the circulatory system, the heart, the brain, the endocrine system, immune system, the lungs, and the skin all benefit from its nutritive effects. Fireweed is an excellent source of dietary fiber, vitamin A, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, calcium, magnesium, and manganese.
Fireweed is an excellent anti-inflammatory for the entire digestive system. The tea soothes stomach problems like ulcers, gastritis, colitis. Infusions are demulcent and astringent that can be soothing in sub-acute stages of diarrhea. It’s often used as a gargle for sore throat, coughs, laryngitis.
Fireweed is good for candida overgrowth and works on our small intestine and colon to create a healthy environment where beneficial digestive bacteria can flourish and nutrients can flow into our body, and waste products can easily move out. It supports our intestines in discriminating between what we need to absorb and what we need to let go of. This helps to keep our entire system in a state of balance.
The leaves and flowers are useful for a multitude of skin problems from burns to psoriasis and eczema. Especially when taken internally as well as topically with a poultice, hydrosol, or macerated in oil. Its mild homostatic properties have a localized effect on bleeding wounds. Poultices made of the fresh leaves and flowers can be applied to inflammations of the ears and throat. A great addition to the home apothecary.
A popular fireweed tea, also known as Ivan chai can be made from fermenting the leaves. Fireweed tea has origins in Russia and became popular because it was abundant in nature and a cheaper alternative to “proper tea.” While it doesn’t have caffeine, it is oxidized the same way black tea is. The fermentation process creates a deeper, fruity flavor with a similar taste to black tea. Be sure to check out our blog on how to make Ivan chai
Fireweed offers something useful at every stage of growth. Harvest the young, tender spring shoots (about 6 inches tall) that erupt from the soil, after a cold, dark winter. The young shoots are reddish in color and often compared to asparagus. They can be eaten raw while wild harvesting or brought back home to be sauteed or simmered. Add to soups and stews for a nutrient rich addition. As the plant ages it becomes very fibrous, bitter and unpleasant to eat. Harvest the leaves and flowers during the summer months when the plant is in full bloom. Cut just above the yellowing leaves. Alternately, strip the leaves, and leave the flowers for the birds and the bees. The flowers will continue to provide nectar and pollen. To dry, bundle together and hang upside down in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight. Once dried, strip the leaves and the flowers, place in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Compost the stems. In the late summer and early fall, the cotton like seeds can be used as tinder and the fall roots can be dug and mashed into an anti-inflammatory poultice.
Fireweed is considered safe for general use and there are no reported side effects other than it can be slightly drying. Nevertheless, pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid using fireweed internally as there has not been enough research to determine side effects
- Dennis, La Rea J. 1980. Gilkey’s Weeds of the Pacific Northwest. Oregon State University press.
- Hitchcock C. L. and A. Cronquist. 1973. Flora of the Pacific Northwest an Illustrated Manual. University of Washington Press, Seattle.
- Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. Santa Fe, NM: Museum of New Mexico Press; 2003
- Moss E. H. 1936. The ecology of Epilobium angustifolium with particular reference to rings of periderm in the wood. Am. J. Bot. 23: 114-120.
- Popham, Sajah. Alchemical Herbalism Course. School of Evolutionary Herbalism. Lecture Notes; 2020
- Popham, Sajah. The Vitalist Herbal Practitioner Program. School of Evolutionary Herbalism. Lecture Notes; 2021
- Sinadinos, Christa. Northwest School for Botanical Studies Course. Lecture Notes; 2014
- Vizgirdas, E. Plant of the Week: Fireweed. https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/chamerion_angustifolium.shtml
Disclosure: This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications.