Thursday, September 27, 2012

Epilobium angustifolium (fireweed, willow herb, rosebay willow herb, French willow, great willowherb, Schmalblättriges Weidenröschen)

The plant is native throughout the temperate Northern Hemisphere. As a pioneer plant it grows in new open areas which may be generated after deforestations, fire and human intervening. Fireweed gets its name from the fact that it is often the first plant to start growing in forests after fires burn back all other vegetation. Fireweed was one of the first and most abundant colonizers of Mt. Saint Helens after it erupted. 

The plant reaches a height of 1 to 2 meters and flowers in July-August partly creating a delightful flowering ocean of brilliant purple in open, cleared landscapes and along roadsides. Plants grow and flower as long as there is open space and plenty of light, as trees and brush grow larger the plants die out, but the seeds remain viable in the soil seed bank for many years, when a new fire or disturbance occurs that opens up the ground to light again the seeds germinate.

Leaves and young shoot tips of fireweed are edible, raw or cooked. Very young leaves are used for salads and soups or steeped for use as a tonic tea for upset stomach. Mature leaves become tough and bitter and may cause nausea. The unopened flowerbuds are tasty for salads or in stir-fries. 

Fireweed has long been used as medicine and the herb is antispasmodic, hypnotic, laxative and tonic, and has agents that cause the tissue to contract (remedy against prostate enlargement) and that soften and sooth the skin when applied locally. A fiber obtained from the outer stems can be used to make cordage. The cottony seed hairs which serve for wind dispersal over long distances has been used as a stuffing material or as tinder.


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