West Coast Wild Harvest Issue 1 Spring/Summer 2016 - Page 43

FORAGING GUIDE Fireweed Chamerion angustifolium WORDS LEIGH JOSEPH ARTWORK VALERIE RAYNARD Squamish Name: xach’t Range: Found growing as far north as southern Greenland, through Alaska, and as far south as southern California. Habitat: Fireweed thrives in disturbed habitats such as old forest fire sites, roadsides, avalanche tracks, riversides, and clearings. Parts of Plant Used: New shoots, leaves, and flowers F ireweed is a lovely perennial plant that can be used in a variety of ways by foragers. Fireweed is considered a pioneer plant and will be one of the first plants to grow in a disturbed site. The brilliant magenta blooms of fireweed are a sight to behold, especially when they are growing as far as the eye can see in the site of an old forest fire. These tall and elegant blooms grow in characteristic terminal clusters of four-petaled flowers ranging from light pink to purple in color. The plant can grow as tall as three metres in height. The leaves grow alternately up the stem and are lance-shaped and stalkless and range from 5–20 centimetres in length. In the spring the new shoots of fireweed appear and have a pinkish­ red tinge to the green stalk and leaves. The shoots are best harvested when they are less than a foot in height, and still very flexible. They are often called wild asparagus and can be used cooked in a similar manner. The shoots are good eaten fresh in salads, steamed or sautéed and are rich in Vitamins A and C. The leaves are also rich in Vitamin C and can be harvested throughout the summer and added to salads or green juices, or sautéed with garlic and butter for a delicious and nutritious addition to the dinner table. The leaves can be steeped as a tea that has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antiseptic properties. The flowers of fireweed can be harvested and used to make fireweed jelly, a beautiful, delicate, treat that captures the essence of fireweed. Fireweed has been used by Indigenous Peoples in North America for thousands of years. Many Coastal First Nations groups ate the young shoots fresh and made medicinal teas from the leaves. The fibrous outer portion of the stem was used to make twine for fishing nets. The Squamish People used the feathery seeds of the plant to mix with mountain goat hair, and the hair of a special breed of wool dog, to create wool to weave blankets. These woven blankets told a story: the specific woven patterns indicated family lines and professions, and offered spiritual protection for the people wearing the blankets. SPRING/SUMMER 2016 43