One of my projects this winter will be compiling and organizing information and photos for a 'Anaktuvuk guide to plants' thing I am putting together, which is going to take me years and years but you have to start some where right? I do it only for my own sanity! I thought it would be neat to post some info and a couple photos of various plants I am learning about. This is not going to be gospel people, I am not a scientist or expert on herbal anything and I m not diagnosing a darn thing. Insert your expected disclaimer here.
This post is about Fireweed. Also known as Epilobium Angustifolium and in Inupiaq, quppiqutaq. this is one of those plants that I am really enjoying getting to know. It grows all across Alaska, but for some reason I do not remember seeing it growing up on the coast (it's not really found in the northern parts of AK either). When I first moved here I was blown away by how showy and large and vibrant the flowers were, and for some reason it struck me as just being 'pretty.' But I was wrong!
This plant got it's name because it usually the first thing to grow in a place that has just been burned by fire. The young shoots that grow are usually a purplish color and are eaten in salads, fried, steamed, or traditionally here dipped in seal oil. Traditionally these shoots were not stored for winter but were eaten as soon as they showed up. I haven't actually tried a shoot yet because for some reason I always miss that stage of growth. By the time I remember it they are already too old to eat, it happens pretty fast here!
Pretty much all of this plant is edible before it flowers. The young leaves are good in salads or in mixed greens, and can also be used as a medicinal tea. The leaves make a very tasty pale green tea that has soothing and physically calming effects good for sleeping problems and even coughing, and can also be used as a mild laxative. In Russia they call this tea 'Kapor' tea. The leaves also can be used to treat skin issues, like acne and infected insect bites and such. The flowers themselves you can make into amazing jelly or 'honey' that has a surprising citrus taste and a really pretty color to it.
You can also eat the pith of the stem and it is said to have a sweet taste. The one thing I did notice is that the taste of fireweed changes according to location. I have tasted some that were very sweet and others that were pretty bitter.
You can used the dried stringy bits of fireweed stem to weave twine for nets and such, though I haven't tried it yet. When fireweed goes to seed the fluffy stuff is really great tinder, and can even be used as a insulator for blankets and boots. They say that when fireweed goes to seed then it '6 weeks till winter.' I don't know if it's true but it always seems like it is!
Fireweed comes in a dwarf version also that is short and close to the ground and seems to like the river beds the most. It is used in pretty much the same way as it's larger cousin. Both plants are adored by bees and other flying flower lovers...which makes it interesting to pick!
|fireweed growing near a bolder in the vallye here.|
|close up of the bloom|
|fireweed gone to seed|
|vibrant fireweed jelly|