Monday, September 9, 2013


Fireweed-Chamerion Augustifolium, Epilobium Augustifolium, Epilobium Parviflorum

Also known as:  Roseburg Willowherb, Great Bay Willowherb, Bombweed, Pilewort, Various leaved Fleabane, Wickup, American Burnweed

Parts used:  Entire plant

Meridians/Organs affected:  urinary, renal, prostate, mucous linings

Properties:  astringent, tonic, emetic, alterative, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, laxative

This plant is a member of the Evening Primrose family.  In Britain around the 18th century, this herb was considered to be rare, found only in damp, gravelly soil.  It managed to find its way across the ocean and colonize here about the same time as the railroad began to expand.  It got its name fromt he fact that it grows wherever fire or disturbed earth has been-it is what is termed as a 'pioneer' species.  This means that it seems to appear out of nowhere after fires or war (also called bombweed as it seemed to grow in bombed locations in England after WWII).  It can also lay dormant for years and then spring to life after the earth has been charred.

Fireweed is a perennial with reddish stems, lance like narrow leaves and magenta colored flowers.  The seed capsules from the flowers open up to be dispersed (kind of like a spider web so they can be caught by the wind) and there are approximately 80,000 seeds per plant.  The leaves of fireweed are very distinctive which make it easier to identify.  Instead of the veins of the leaf going all the way to the edge of the leaf, they stop along the outer rim in a distinctive scalloping.  It can get up to 8 feet tall and on rare occasion you might find a white flowered variety.  It blooms from April to August and can be found in burned, recently timbered, disturbed areas, open fields, pastures and areas with wet, slightly acidic soils.  The root is gathered before flowering in the early spring.

The young shoots were often gathered by the Native Americans and eaten with other greens.  (The plant gets tough and bitter as it ages so is best gathered young for this purpose).  They would peel the stems and eat them raw or roasted.  The Dena'Ina Indians would use fireweed to treat boils and cuts and to draw out infection.  In Russia the leaves have been used for years as a tea substitute and in Austria they have used the tea from this plant to treat kidney, prostate and urinary maladies.  The stem pith has been used to thicken soups and boiled and fermented to make fireweed ale.  The pink flowers have been added to salads.  The entire plant is rich in vitamins C, A and beta-carotene.  Some indian tribes have used the stems to make fish nets and cords.  The pith from the stems has also been dried and powdered to rub on the skin in winter to keep the skin from freezing.  The flowers were used to rub on rawhide to waterproof it and the fluff from the seed pods was used as padding for blankets and clothing and as tinder for fires.  Despite its many culinary and practical uses has also been widely valued for its medicinal capabilities.  The leaf extracts are anti-inflammatory and have been used for diarrhea, hemorrhoids, cramps, inflammation of the stomach, mouth and intestines and to treat yeast infections.  The leaf and flower teas have been used for whooping cough and asthma and used as enemas and douches for internal complaints.  The peeled roots have been used as poultices for boils, burns, sores and rashes.  The leaves have been used effectively for mouth ulcers as well.  Jethro Kloss (author of Back to Eden) said fireweed is an excellent remedy for fevers and as a blood purifier, when taken hot.  In Alaska, where fireweed is the state flower, it is used to make honey, syrup, jam, jellies and everything else one can possibly imagine.

The King's American Dispensatory (1898) records that fireweed was a favorite of some early physicians for cholera, diarrhea, enteritis and dysentery related to typhoid.  The eclectics would use an infusion of the leaves for uterine bleeding and heavy periods.  It also states, "That it has not attained prominence as a remedy is not the fault of the plant, for in certain cases of summer bowel troubles it is without equal."

We have lovely patches of fireweed growing where I am located.  They bring a smile to my face whenever I pass them as I know how wonderful they are as a plant.  Both a food and a medicine and a practical textural herb makes fireweed an amazing thing to have around. 

As is customary with all of my posts I am including links regarding fireweed below for your benefit.  Use them as you see fit to.  Healthy and happy living!

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