Fireweed becomes a tasty treat
Roxie Rodgers Dinstel and Leslie Shallcross
Fireweed is a tall perennial herb with numerous dense, narrow lance-shaped leaves. Bright reddish-purple flowers grow in long terminal clusters and are very showy.
Fireweed is the common name for the perennial plant Epilobium angustoifolium. You will find the plant growing in open meadows, in areas recently cleared of vegetation by wild fires and along riverbeds and roadsides.
Blooms begin at the base of the cluster and mature up the stem as the season progresses. Alaskans say that summer has started when the blossoms lowest on the stem bloom and that summer’s end is in sight when the blossoms reach the top of the stalk.
Before the plant blooms, fireweed shoots can be harvested for food. They are a good source of vitamin C and vitamin A. Young stems of the fireweed plant can be eaten raw or in salads.
Leaves and unopened buds also can be picked and used before the blossoms develop. The young, slender leaves and immature buds can be mixed with salad greens. As with many plants, the taste becomes stronger and the leaves become tougher later in the season, so harvest and eat leaves early in the spring.
After the fireweed begins to bloom, select young, undamaged blossoms for use in other fireweed recipes. Older blossoms will be bitter.
Fresh, bright pink blossoms can add color and mild flavor to a salad. Or the blossoms can be used in any of the recipes below.
Storage and Preservation
How to clean and store
Wash leaves, stems, flowers and shoots with warm water in a colander to remove dust and bugs. Lay out on paper towels to air dry, or pat dry with towels. Fireweed should be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator as you would other salad greens.
How to dry
Spread the fireweed (blossoms or leaves) on paper towels in a single layer and allow to air dry approximately two days. Store in a sealed container in a cool, dry place.
How to extract juice
In a large saucepan bring 2 1/2 cups water to a rapid boil. Pour boiling water over 2 cups hard-packed fireweed petals and buds (press fireweed down hard to measure 2 cups), let stand until cool. Refrigerate overnight to bring out the color. Strain through a jelly bag or several layers of cheesecloth.
Yield: 2½ cups
Hot pack for juice
Sterilize canning jars. Heat juice, stirring occasionally, until it begins to boil. Pour into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids. Process in a boiling water canner.
Pints or quarts 5 minutes
Pour into sterilized containers leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Seal, label with date, and freeze.
2 cups fireweed blossoms and buds
1 cup rice or white wine vinegar
Rinse blossoms in a colander and let dry. Place blossoms in a sterilized jar and pour vinegar over the top. Place mixture in a dark place and allow it to steep for 3 to 4 weeks. Strain vinegar through a strainer or a paper coffee filter. Store in the refrigerator. For longer storage, process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.
2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons butter
1 cup sour cream
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup fireweed blossoms
Mix dry ingredients together. Cut the butter into five pieces and cut into dry ingredients until crumbly. Mix sour cream and egg yolk together and mix with dry ingredients until all ingredients are combined. Dough will be sticky. Turn out onto a floured surface and sprinkle blossoms on top. Knead lightly (only about 10 times) to mix flowers in. Pat out into a square about ¾ inch thick. Cut into four squares and cut each square diagonally to make eight scones. Bake at 400°F for 12 to 15 minutes.
2 1/2 cups fireweed juice
3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon butter, margarine or oil
3 tablespoons powdered pectin
Sterilize canning jars and prepare lids. Combine fireweed juice, lemon juice, pectin and butter, margarine or oil in a large saucepan. Bring to a full rolling boil and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add sugar and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
To test, drop 1/2 teaspoon of jelly on a cold saucer and put it in the freezer for 5 minutes. If the mixture does not set to your satisfaction, add 1/2 cup sugar to the jelly in the pot and boil hard for 1 minute. Retest. During the test, the rest of the jelly mixture should be removed from the heat.
When test mixture gels to your satisfaction, ladle jelly into hot jars, add two-piece lids and process in a boiling water canner for 5 minutes.
Yield: 3 cups
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