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A Rosebay Willowherb Forage

Rosebay Willowherb (Chamaenerion angustifolius), dominated the landscape with beautiful pink hues on my walk. It flowers from July to Sept. It is a common pioneer species. It has an important role helping to rejuvenate the land, especially after fires; after the World War in England, this plant carpeted the scorched lands, and as such, became known as Bombweed. In America they refer to it as Fireweed.

I asked the plant first and foraged a small cup of flowers, along with a few leaves. I rarely forage flowers to be respectful of the pollinators (fireweed is a larval food for the Elephant Hawk-moth) however, I was met with such abundance!

In Russia, the flowering of this herb is said to indicate the coming of Autumn. I like to take the time to enjoy this plant as a cup of tea with a syrup sugar. I sit in the garden and reflect on the lessening sunshine and all that it will bring; the pink energy never fails to boost my heart chakra too!

There are loads of recipes online but making a syrup is as simple as: adding the flowers to hot water with sugar and adding a little lemon juice (to make it turn a lovely pink colour!). You can also use the syrup to make a floral sugary drink or lemonade (use fizzy water).

Next to make the tea. Ivan tea is a great occasional, caffeine free, tea alternative with Russian roots!

To make the Ivan tea, you simply crush the leaves slightly and allow them to ferment for a day before using like normal tea.

I have only ever used the flowers and leaves (the flowers look cute in a salad too). But many foragers eat the shoots, which are cooked like asparagus or the leaves and stems, lightly steamed like spinach. The piths were often used to add flavouring to stews and thicken them thanks to the gel-like properties.

In herbalism, Fireweed’s demulcent properties help to soothe our mucus membranes, while the tannins can help to tighten them. Traditionally used to support respiratory and digestive issues; for example, the tannins which produce a drying and tightening effect were used to ameliorate diarrhoea.

It is important to note that there is often confusion surrounding the Willowherbs. Willlowherbs were so named as their thin leaf looked similar to that of the Willow Tree, hence, Angustifolius - meaning narrow leaf. Rosebay Willowherb (Chamaenerion angustifolius), is often confused with Epilobium angustifolium or Hairy Willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum). Both are in the Evening primrose family (Onagraceae) and their names are used synonymously, but they are actually different plants.

The colour and height can be similar between Epilobium and Chamaenerion but they are actually quite different once you sit down with them.

By detailing the leaf you will see the leaves of Rosebay Willowherb have circular patterns and lines do not reach out to the edge of the leaf. In Chamaenerion angustifolium the flowers are spiked (raceme pattern), which opens bottom up and they take a horizontal position (in contrast the flowers of Epilobium hirsutum are not, and the flowers sit vertically).

Although Epilobiums are said to be edible, some old herbal books mention stupour, so best to do your research on this one! But interesting never the less! It is very important to be able to correctly identify plants that you find in the wild, as some lookalikes can be toxic.

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