By Janelle Eklund
It seems as though we hopped from winter to summer without any in-between spring. Between about May 24-26 seventy degree days woke up the leaves and plants from their long-er winter sleep. On May 26 you could almost watch the leaves on the trees unfold before your very eyes. The essence of their perfume permeated the air in a wonderful sticky sweet aroma.
Reddish maroon green fireweed now decorates the ground. Their tender shoots, four to five inches tall, make a great lettuce substitute for a spring salad. Lettuce seeds planted in the garden take a while to grow so it's great that Mother Nature provides an early abundance of spring edibles. An added bonus is that most of Mother Nature’s salads are packed full of vitamins, fireweed hosting lots of vitamin A and C.
Not only can you enjoy the shoots in salads but try stir frying or steaming like Asparagus. Even as the young leaves open to the sun, and before the plant flowers, their flavor and tenderness are still good for that early season salad. The early stage of the flower buds are also good to eat and give color to the salad bowl with its bright magenta dress. As the stem grows tall in its summer dance toward the sky, it thickens. Split it in half and draw it through the teeth to receive a sweet snack from the "marrow" or pith inside. This pith can also be used as a thickener for soup, pudding, gravy, etc.
As the plant gets older it becomes tough and bitter.
Fireweed leaves can also be used for tea but use sparingly as it can be slightly laxative. Because of this it can be used for constipation. Mix with other herbal leaves like mint to enjoy a different flavor tea. Fireweed tea can also relieve an upset stomach.
Other medicinal qualities are to steep the leaves and flowers in olive oil and use externally for piles or hemorrhoid. For pus-filled boils, abscesses or other wounds put a piece of the raw stem on the boil to draw out the pus. This also keeps it from healing over too quickly. The fresh leaves can also be used to plaster bruises.
Once stem pith is cleaned out the remaining fibers can be used as thread for sewing.
Fireweed is one of the first plants to spring up after a fire. That and it's fiery pink color gave it its name.
Bees are attracted to the sweet nectar of the blossoms of fireweed, producing a light sweet honey pleasing to the palate.
The blooms grow in stages up the stem of the plant. As the last buds open on top the bottom ones finish blooming and morph into long pods. Once the plant is fully mature the seed pods split open and release a cottony fluff to dance across the air. As the breezes blow the seeds they fall to the ground and wait for the next summer season to sprout, completing the circle of life.
Hence the saying: 'When the fireweed turns to cotton summer is soon forgotten'.
From my light to yours-
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.