A n g u s a n g u s t i o n a n

This beautiful native plant is stunning enough to be grown in any garden and yet is considered a weed. It has not been used much in medicine in recent years but was a favorite of the American Eclectic physicians in treating diarrhea and typhoid. Its soothing, astringent, and tonic action is wonderful for all sorts of intestinal irritation, and it makes a good mouthwash.

Rosebay willowherb is one of Europe's largest and most beautiful wildflowers. In North America, it is called fireweed because of its tendency to spring up as an early pioneer on burnt land. It is rarely grown in gardens these days, except for the rare white form.

Julie remembers the excitement of seeing her first fireweed as she and her parents drove north on the Alaska Highway, when she was eleven. We've heard of one American herbalist who cheers every time she sees fireweed by the roadside, sometimes drawing strange looks. It's a plant that brings joy just by being there.

Rosebay willowherb is one of the first plants to appear whenever the earth is scarred. In Second World War Britain, it sprang up on bomb sites in London and elsewhere, rising like a phoenix from the ashes and rubble (its seeds last for years in a dormant state). In Clydebank, Scotland, it colonized the bombed Singer sewing machine factory site and was nicknamed Singerweed.

The "narrow leaves" (the English version of angustifolium) of the plant do resemble willow enough to earn its common name, but there is no real connection, medicinal or otherwise.

In Russia, the leaves are drunk as a tea called kapoori, while in Alaska the flowers are a valuable source of nectar for honey, and are made into jellies and syrups. This honey is said to be the most northerly available anywhere.

Various groups of native North Americans have used rosebay as a food plant. Supposedly the young shoots boiled in the spring taste like asparagus, but we haven't tried it, and "wild food" expert Roger Phillips is not a fan, as the attached quotation suggests.

Use rosebay for...

The plant's astringency, however, works well in our syrup recipe, which is good for diarrhea and a pleasant remedy for children (and adults) who are suffering digestive upsets.

Onagraceae Willowherb family

Description: A tall, 4 to 5 foot high perennial, with stunning magenta flower spikes in summer and into fall.

Habitat: Heaths, mountains, forest clearings, waste ground, and railway embankments.

Distribution: Across northern Europe, Asia, and North America; also parts of north Africa.

Related species: Rosebay willowherb is closely related to other willowherbs in the Epilobium genus: see page 186.

Parts used: Flower spikes and leaves, harvested in summer.

Despite all the exotic tales of eating rosebay willow-herb I have been unable to make it palatable. It is far too bitter to enjoy as any kind of vegetable.

- Phillips (1983)

That it has not attained prominence as a remedy is not the fault of the plant, for in certain cases of summer bowel troubles it is wthout an equal.

- King's American Dispensatory (1898)

[Rosebay] Cleanses old patterns from the body and stimulates renewal of energies on all levels of being; attracts restorative healing energy from our surroundings.

America's Eclectic doctors of a century and more ago favored rosebay willowherb for all kinds of diarrhea and enteritis, cholera infantum, or typhoid dysentery. King's American Dispensatory (1898) said of one of the leading Eclectics: "With Prof. Scudder, infusion of epilobium was a favorite remedy to correct and restrain the diarrhea of typhoid or enteric fever." The Eclectics also used the leaf infusion for uterine bleeding and heavy periods, and the fresh leaves as a poultice for "foul and indolent ulcers." We have found it works well for mouth ulcers.

Contemporary American herbalist David Winston uses rosebay to treat candida overgrowth.

Several flower essence makers produce a fireweed essence, saying it is a powerful aid in connecting us to the healing energies of nature and the earth. This helps in problems concerning change and in shifting stagnant energy patterns. It is used both for a "burnt-out" feeling and for shock and trauma. If you'd like to try making your own essence, follow the instructions given on page 154 for self-heal essence.

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