Rows of purple-pink geitrams, also known as fireweed, rosebay willowherb, and great willowherb, line the landscape at this time of year. Their shoots emerge in the spring and by late summer they blossom. By the autumn, they become tall, wooly-looking stalks of seeds with silky hairs to be spread by the wind before the winter arrives.
Fireweed is one of those incredible wild plants that is both beautiful and edible, but might not get a second glance as it is generally referred to as a weed. Yet, like a phoenix, fireweed rises from the ashes. After a forest fire, they are one of the first plants to return, hence the name fireweed. They are able to quickly colonize an open area; their buried seeds able to germinate after a fire or disturbance in the land. Thus, making them an important part of managing the land and encouraging regrowth and revitalisation.
The plant has long been used for culinary and medicinal purposes. Traditionally, in Norway, the blades were used to make tea for ailments and placed on the back to soothe pain. In folk medicine, the root of the fireweed was cooked with sour cream and oat flour to make a porridge used for gout and external wounds.
Today, you’ll often find the flowers are used to make saft (juice concentrate) and jelly. They can be dried and used for tea and they are also used in salads and for decorating cakes and desserts. The young shoots (around 20 cm/ 8-inches or less) can be snapped off at the base and eaten raw in salads or cooked as you would with asparagus. The blades/leaves can be dried for tea, added to salads, or cooked as a vegetable. As the plant gets older, the more bitter the blades become.
If you happen to come across this delightful plant with its flowers in full bloom, grab a large bowl and start plucking. I like to start off the flowering season with a batch of saft or juice concentrate. It’s simple and has a lovely floral taste. You can add sparkling water to the concentrate for a more bubbly enjoyment.
Fireweed Juice (geitramssaft)
Makes about 10 ½ cups (2 ½ liters) of concentrate
- 8 ½ cups (2 liters) water
- 6 ½ cups (1 ½ liters) granulated sugar
- 1 ½ cups freshly squeezed lemon juice or 32 g (6 teaspoons) citric acid
- 16 cups (300 g) fresh fireweed flowers, rinsed
In a large pot over medium-high heat, bring the water, sugar, and lemon juice or citric acid to a simmer. Cook, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved, making a simple syrup.
Place the flowers in a large, heat-proof bowl. Pour the simple syrup over the blossoms and give them a good stir. The flowers will lose their color quite quickly. Set aside until cooled. Then cover and place the bowl in the refrigerator for 4 days. You don’t need to stir or anything, you can just set it and forget it.
After 4 days, strain the vibrant syrup concentrate over a cleaned glass bottle or bottles. Use a cheesecloth to catch the flowers and any bugs/debris that might have been on them. Discard the flowers.
When serving, use a 5:1 ratio: 5-parts water to 1-part concentrate. Adjust according to your taste. Swap out the water for sparkling water, if preferred.
The concentrate should last at least a month in the refrigerator.