Rosebay Willowherb, Chamaenerion angustifolium
The familiar tall, pink flower spikes of Rosebay Willowherb, also known as Fireweed, can often be seen crowding together in thick stands in open spaces, such as woodland clearings, roadside verges, grassland, waste ground and along drystone walls. An amazingly successful coloniser, this edible plant has grown in number from a scarce woodland species, to a readily recognisable plant all over the UK. As another of it's common names, Bombweed, alludes to, this expansion occurred as a result of two World Wars clearing huge areas of forest and burning the ground in both town and countryside - the perfect conditions for this plant to thrive.
Rosebay Willowherb is a tall plant, with magenta flowers rising up a central flower spike at it's summit. It has green, lance-like leaves that are arranged in spiral formation up its stem. It's flowers and leaves are edible, with the young shoots being cooked and eaten like asparagus, or added to salads, along with the flower heads. The flowers and leaves are also the main ingredients of the fermented Russian tea, Koporye. A recipe for this refreshing beverage can be found here.
Rosebay Willowherb Checklist
🌳 Deciduous Woodland edges.
🌲 Coniferous Woodland edges.
🐑 Grassland, including paddocks, fields and meadows.
🌊 Waterways, including rivers, lakes and streams.
🏡 Urban Green Spaces, including scrubland, parks and gardens.
🚜 Hedgerows, including field edges.
🐝 Moorland, including heaths and grouse moors.
🌸🌞🍂 Apr - Oct
☘️ Long, green-reddish and lance-shaped. The distinctive veins of Rosebay Willowherb leaves do not terminate at the leaf edges, and form a circular loop which outlines the leaf.
🌷 When in bloom, the Rosebay Willowherb has a very distinctive bright pink-purple flower spike, with numerous pretty four-petalled flowers.
🌱 The red stems are tall and erect with a pithy core.
Fruit / Seeds
🍏 The brown-red seed pod is long and thin, containing hundreds of silky-haired, downy seeds that are dispersed by the wind. This "seed fluff" makes excellent firelighter.
Aroma / Taste
👃 The flowers smell pleasantly floral.
👅 The leaves taste pleasant while very young. Older leaves make an excellent fermented tea.
🟩 ID Difficulty - Beginner
👀 The distinctive tall purple flower spikes are a key identifier of this plant.
👀 The distinctive vein pattern in the leaves is also a key identifier when not in bloom.
⛔️ Although easy to identify, younger children especially may confuse this plant with another tall, purple flowered plant, the Foxglove.
☠️ The Foxglove is a beautiful plant with a very distinctive flowerspike containing purple tubular flowers with leopard-print spots inside the "gloves". It also has large pale-green lance-shaped leaves. This plant is deadly poisonous, containing the toxin digitalis, which can lead to serious gastrointestinal pain and heart failure if ingested. It shares the same habitat as the Rosebay Willowherb.
✅ The easiest way to avoid confusion is to gain familiarity with the foxglove by exploring it with your child and comparing the two plants side-by-side, if possible.
✅ Always supervise your child when collecting Rosebay Willowherb.
🥗 Salad - The leaves can be eaten raw and added to salads.
🌺 Garnish - The flowers can be used as a pretty garnish.
🥬 Green - The young leaf shoots can be cooked as an asparagus-like vegetable.
☕️ Beverage - Can be used to make teas or other drinks.