I grew up in Alaska with many families in our community who made jams, jellies, soaps, teas, extracts, honey, and more all derived from the famous Alaskan fireweed plant.
Although I do not think we had a true understanding of its benefits, we knew it smelled good, tasted good, and seemed to be good for us. Now that I am older, I have learned a great deal more about the actual health benefits and amazing uses for fireweed.
In this article, I am going to discuss these benefits and uses in more detail from both a scientific perspective as well as a naturalist/cottage industry perspective. I will discuss a bit of the history of fireweed usage and its evolution into the modern world (and onto our shelves).
Lets go and take a look at what makes this plant so special!
The Historical Usage Of Fireweed
Northern Native communities stretching from Alaska to Canada often used fireweed (also known as Ciilaaq by the Inupiaq Native Alaskans) as a cooked or fresh vegetable (although they didn’t know it, when properly prepared soon after picking, fireweed is a good source of vitamin C and provitamin A), they used it as thread to weave baskets, and even as a salve to draw out infection from wounds.
I believe that these three examples of some of fireweed’s historical uses are important for the context for understanding its modern benefits.
By that I mean to say fireweed has always been used for/in food, the plant itself can be used to create sustainable crafts, and it has always been associated with various health benefits.
Here in Alaska, the Denaʼina even added fireweed to their dogs’ food as it seemed to keep them healthier and happier.
Fireweed is also a medicine of the Upper Inlet Dena’ina, who treat pus-filled boils or cuts by placing a piece of the raw stem on the afflicted area. This is said to draw the pus out of the cut or boil and prevents a cut with pus in it from healing over too quickly.
Now that we have a basic understanding of its historical usage, I want to explore the more modern applications of fireweed in food products and then its overall health benefits.
Fireweed Is The New Star In Many Modern Products
Fireweed has enjoyed a somewhat recent explosion in popularity in the cottage/premium food industry and as a healing salve.
Fireweed in food products can be enjoyed in applications ranging from a simple fresh picked fireweed salad that you can make yourself, all the way to extremely sought after premium honeys, jellies, syrups, and teas.
There is so much that I could delve into here, but to keep things digestible, let’s focus on the fireweed products and health benefits of the food we put inside us, and the healing power of the products we apply to our skin.
Fresh Fireweed Nutrition Facts
Above you can see the basic break down of the nutrition facts for raw Alaskan fireweed.
Fireweed is extremely low in calories and packs a huge nutritional punch when it comes to its vitamin C and A levels! The levels of vitamin C in fireweed are so significant in fact, that it is believed to have helped stave off scurvy in many northern communities even if they may not have realized it.
In its raw, unprocessed form, it can be eaten uncooked in a salad, it can be stir fried with other veggies, it can be roasted like asparagus, and the leaves in older plants can be stripped off and eaten like spinach. Generally speaking, the younger shoots (2-4 inches) are the most versatile and delicious.
As the fresh fireweed plants grow older, the leaves will bend down and turn green, tough, and bitter, you will know that they are too old to eat.
Honey, Jelly, & Extracts
Not only is fireweed honey, jelly and syrup sweet, slightly floral, and wildly delicious, they also have some health benefits.
Additionally, when you concentrate the real power of fireweed down into an extract, initial scientific research has shown some pretty interesting results surrounding antioxidant, anti-proliferative, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and anti-aging properties.
Let’s take a look at fireweed honey as an example. It has a flavor and texture unlike any other honey on the market, but its also very good for you!
There are few notable things about this type of honey that make it quite healthy to have around the house:
|Helps With Acid Reflux||Research has shown that honey actually does a very good job at lining the stomach and throat in a protective barrier. This can significantly reduce or even eliminate acid reflux.|
|Fights Diarrhea||The NCBI cites that eating raw honey can stabilize the gut and reduce the length of time you battle with diarrhea.|
|Reduces the Time You Are & Relieves You When You Are Sick||Honey can, through its antiseptic properties, reduce the time you are sick from the common cold. The World Health Organization also says that honey can be incredibly effective at relieving coughing symptoms at the same time.|
|Full Of Unique Antioxidants||Several antioxidant compounds including phenolic compounds like flavonoids and organic acids are found in premium and raw honey products, more so than many other natural unprocessed foods.|
|Better For Diabetics||Honey lowers triglycerides in the human body, which severely impacts diabetics with type 2 diabetes. Multiple studies have seen great improvements in their participants after regular ingestion of high quality wildflower honey instead of sugar.|
Fireweed jelly on the other hand benefits more directly from the actually plant itself, in particular, its flowers – which is what is used for making fireweed jelly.
All that incredible vitamin A and C don’t just lend the nutritional benefits though, they give the jelly a nice tart kick with a unique floral flavor like nothing else.
Perhaps you are not ready to eat a fireweed salad, or want something a bit more convenient to concentrate the health benefits of fireweed – look no further than an extract!
Now for this, it is recommended that you make certain you are getting the correct extract from the plant Epilobium Angustifolium.
The reason I bring this up is because if you are here in Alaska picking fresh fireweed, you will definitely get the right plant, but some sellers online may dilute or sell the wrong plant extract entirely.
Additionally, there are a few other plants out there commonly called “fireweed” that have not been studied and researched for their health benefits like Epilobium Angustifolium has.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information has conducted research regarding the health benefits of fireweed extracts and they had this to say in summary:
Experimental studies have demonstrated that Epilobium (Fireweed) extracts possess a broad range of pharmacological and therapeutic effects, including antioxidant, anti-proliferative, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and anti-aging properties.Igor A. Schepetkin with NCBI
If you want to look a little younger, it might just be time to break out the fireweed!
Topical Applications & Salves
Fireweed, as mentioned in the NCBI research, has some pretty strong evidence of being a true healer and even potentially an anti-ager which makes it very unique.
This has created a glut of new products on the market that are pushing the health benefits of not just ingestion of fireweed, but topical applications as well (creams, salves, lotions, teas, and antiseptic products).
The presence of the antioxidants quercetin and oenothein are responsible for fireweed’s medicinal effect on fungal, yeast, and bacterial infections as well as antihistamine and potential anticancer benefits. Flowers and leaves have been used to treat mild skin related allergic reactions and skin aberrations such as piles (hemorrhoids).
Fireweed in its topical form has also been acknowledged in new research and analysis as having potential for use as follows:
“…topically as a cleansing, soothing, antiseptic, and healing agent to treat minor burns, skin rashes, ulcers, and infections, and for treatment of inflammation of the ear, nose, and throat.”Igor A. Schepetkin with NCBI
Final Thoughts On The Benefits & Uses Of Fireweed
To sum things up, fireweed absolutely has many great and varied uses, along with some pretty clear potential health benefits!
It can be eaten raw, it can be cooked like a vegetable, it can be made into preserved goods, it can lend its flavors to honey, it can be made into extremely potent extracts, and is a real flavor and health powerhouse.
It was certainly a plant valued for generations in times past for all that it could provide, from food to medicine, and I think it’s well time we embraced this plant again in our modern age.
Pin It For Later!