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Fireweed – this edible plant also has medicinal uses

Fireweed in the Fall

Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium)

Fireweed in the wildThe Fireweed plant (also known as Great Willow herb in Canada and Rosebay Willowherb in Britain) grows up to 1.8 meters (6 feet) tall. The reddish stems are plain, erect, and smooth with scattered alternate leaves.  The leaf veins are circular and do not terminate on the edges of the leaf but rather form circular loops and join together inside the outer leaf margins.  It has large, showy, pink flowers, each with 4 petals (and four stigmas), and lance-shaped leaves.

Its relative, the dwarf fireweed (Epilobium latifolium), grows 30 to 60 centimeters (12 to 24 inches) tall.

Special note: When fireweed first emerges in early spring, it can closely resemble several highly toxic members of the lily family, however, it is easily identified by its unique circular leaf vein structure (see photo gallery below).

Fireweed flowersWhere to Find: Tall fireweed is found in open woods, on hillsides, on stream banks, and near seashores in arctic regions.  It is often abundant in web areas with slightly acidic soils and in open fields and pastures.  It is especially abundant in burned-over areas (the seeds stay even after the burnt area reforests itself and germinate after another burn). Dwarf fireweed is found along streams, sandbars, and lakeshores and on alpine and arctic slopes.  Fireweed thrives where there is

Edible Parts: The leaves, stems, and flowers are edible in the spring but become tough and bitter in summer. You can split open the stems of old plants and eat the pith raw. They are a good source of vitamin C and vitamin A.  The root can be roasted after scraping off the outer covering but often taste bitter.

Other Uses: Some cultures add Fireweed to their dog food.  Can be used to treat boils and cuts by placing a piece of the stem on the infected area.

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