Other Names: River Beauty, Wild Asparagus, Blooming Sally
Habitat: Varies with specific species, but can be found in burned and logged areas as well as meadows and gravel bars. Can be found from Northern Alaska to the Yukon, Pacific Northwest and California.
Description:(Fireweed) Grows up to 8 feet high, Flowers are 4 petaled, bright and commonly magenta, but sometimes purple or white. Lower flowers mature earlier and from long pods after blooming. Leaves are long and narrow with smooth edges, and pale underneath. When mature the pods split open and release a wooly fluff that carries the seed.
(River Beauty) Grows from 4-16 inches in height. Flowers are larger and more colorful than Fireweed. Leaves are long narrow and grayish green in color. Stems are sometimes commonly branched.
Early Spring: Shoots
Late Spring: Leaves (best before flowering begins),
Summer: Buds and Flowers
Fall: “Down” from matured pods and the rootstalks
- The Spring Fireweed young stalks are high in Vitamin C and A. The stalks are edible raw, but can be steamed or stir fried. The soil conditions where foraged will affect flavor and often it is found spring shoots can be mild to somewhat bitter depending on area foraged. Bitter stalks can be pickled or blended with milder greens in pies or casseroles to control the bitterness.
- Shoots can also be simmered in stews or prepared like asparagus. One recommendation is to pack shoots in cooking oil and freeze them for winter use. River Beauty shoots are said to be superior to fireweed for potherb us.
- Young Leaves of both species are good mixed with other greens in salads ro vegetable side dishes. The buds (unopened) can be used in the same way. Raw Roots are popular food with Northern Eskimo’s.
- In the Summer stems can be split down the middle into halves and pulled through teeth to extract the edible parts of the stem. Fireweed leaf tea can be made into a pleasant drink, and is slightly sweet in flavor. The laxative nature of the tea dictates that this be used in moderation. Russian peasant call this tea “Kaporie”. You can bend the tea with dried berries or mint leaves.
- As stated above, the laxative nature of the tea can be used to relieve constipation, Herbal infusions are also recommended for spring tonics and to help settle upset stomachs.
- A Herbal Decoction can be made by boiling the whole herb and has been used as an Anit-Spasmodic treatment for whooping cough and asthma. Traditional use involves making the Herbal Decoction and sipping in wineglass amounts until spasms pass.
- Fireweed leaves and flowers can be steeped in Oils and is said to be a good external treatment for piles.
- Dry Powdered roots blended with Vaseline or other petroleum Jelly has been used to sooth infected insect bits, and abrasions. The Fresh Roots are also said to draw out Boils
- The wooly fluff from mature pods was used by Canadian explorers as a Tinder for starting fires
- Common in Kamchatka (The large peninsula in Eastern Siberia Russia), Fireweed was made into an ale. The Pith (The inner juicy ‘meat’) was boiled along with Cow Parsnip Stems, and Hallucinogenic Fly Agaric (Agaracus Muscarius) and this resulted in a “Stupefying Ale”
- Natives of Puget sound wove fireweed down with wool of mountain goats to make blankets.
- Fireweed Flowers were rubbed on mittens and rawhide to make them water resistant
- Inner Pith was dried, powered and rubbed on hands and face in winter to prevent chapping of the skin
- The String Fibers left in teeth after extracting pith was woven to create fish nets.