Fireweed, ranting widow, apple pie,
Rosebay Willowherb is an adaptable friend. Most parts of the plant are edible, medicinal and have other fantastic properties. In recent eastern adventures, Ed found it growing in abundance through Southern Siberia all the way to Mongolia. This is a good plant to know.
Rosebay, growing beside fields
Its not the best food, but being so abundant can be very useful. In the Springtime the young shoots and leaves can be eaten raw, and as they get older need to be steamed or boiled for 10 minutes. Treat the shoots like asparagus.
The root can be cooked as a vegetable, added to stews.
If you split the stem you can scrape out the sweet pith as a cucumber-like snack, though this can be quite astringent..
The flower stalks when in bud can be snacked upon raw and added to soups for flavour.
Peel the roots, gently pound them and use as a poultice for skin damage such as burns, sores, swellings, boils and other similar hindrances.
The leaves as a tea act as a tonic for the whole system, helping digestion and inflammation, but don’t drink too much because they’re also a laxative (unless you need loosening).
In autumn the downy seed hairs can be used as fast lighting tinder (similar to thistle down), very effective with flint and striker. Make sure you have a secondary tinder ready as the down burns away quickly.
The down was also used to stuff mattresses and mixed with cotton or fur to produce warm clothing.
The pith when dried and powdered can be applied to hands and face for protection against the cold.
The fibre from the outer stem is used as a cordage material.
A very good source of nectar for bees. Bee keepers sometimes move to newly opened forestry land where the plant is quick to colonize.
Margaret Baker warns that the Willowherb “will cause the death of the mother of any child who picks it”. So perhaps this is a plant for grown-ups to gather.
Fireweed likes to grow on freshly cleared ground : woodland clearings, at the edge of the wood, waste places (including towns), scree slopes and rubbish tips (though best not to use plants from such places).
Fireweed is tall, pink flowered with willow-like leaves. It does not normally grow alone.
Brown, Tom.Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants. (Berkley Books, 1985)
Launert, Edmund. Edible and Medicinal Plants of Britain and Northern Europe. (Hamlyn, 1981)
Mears, Ray and Hillman, Gordon. Wild Food. (Hodder and Stoughton, 2007)
Baker, Margaret. Discovering the Folklore of Plants. (Shire Publications, 1969)
Hatfield, Gabrielle. Hatfield’s Herbal. (Penguin Books, 2007)