We are bombarded with health claims about various herbal teas but, unfortunately, few of these claims have been conclusively substantiated by comprehensive research studies. However, what about fireweed?
It’s a fascinating plant.
Native to much of North America (with related plants native to Europe), fireweed is well adapted for survival. As its name indicates, this flowering perennial is one of the first plants to repopulate areas after volcanic eruptions and following fires. One study identified seeds in an air column over a burned forest and estimated that fireweed seeds traveled 62.2–186.5 miles (Pavek 1992)!
Fireweed belongs to the evening primrose family, and has a vibrant pink-purple flower.
For humans, the plant is particularly versatile—traditionally used for fishing nets (stems), to preserve bowstrings (leaves), and to waterproof mittens and rawhide thongs (flowers) (Adamczak et al. 2019).
It was a food source as well. The young stems, buds, and new leaves were eaten, and after boiling, the roots too were eaten by the Inuit (Adamczak et al. 2019). Leaves, flowers, and roots were used to make tea and tinctures. Fireweed honey remains particularly prized in Canada.
And importantly, fireweed was heavily used medicinally. Native Americans, the First Nations, western Europeans, Scandinavians, Russians, Chinese—they all used this plant. Applied topically, it served anti-inflammatory and antiseptic purposes. Ingested, it was used to treat a wide range of ailments, from the minor complaint to serious illnesses.
Current research suggests that fireweed has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties. In 2019, Adamczak and colleagues pointed out that fireweed:
is a rich source of polyphenols: flavonoids, phenolic acids and ellagitannins. Phytochemical analyses resulted in the identification of about 250 metabolites, including about 170 substances found for the first time in this plant in the last six years.
Oenothein B, the main polyphenol in fireweed, is being studied for its:
antioxidant, antitumor, immunomodulatory, and antimicrobial effects . . . and may provide promising leads for the development of novel therapeutics and chemopreventive agents. (Yoshida et al. 2018)
With promising results like this, we may be hearing more about this fascinating plant and its possible health benefits.
Meanwhile, what is fireweed tea like?
I was able to sample fireweed from Altaivita, a package having been given to Lisa of TeaHaus. According to the company’s website, they collect their herbs from “the territory of the ecological zone Altai Territory and the Altai Republic” and are based in Barnaul, a city in western Siberia that’s located in the forest steppe zone (grasslands and forests) of the West Siberian Plain.
The oxidized charcoal-colored leaves have a nice fruity aroma. Although the package insert provides various ways of having the tea, depending on what health issue you are addressing, I simply drank it as a cup of tea. I used a heaping teaspoon in eight ounces of boiling water and brewed it for ten minutes.
The cup was a deep yellow-brown color with a pleasant aroma.
Looking at the spent leaves, they were mostly large pieces of leaf along with some stems.
I found this tea unexpected!
It had a lot of flavor—berries, slightly sweet but with a bit of an edge, a tiny bit of smoke and earth, faintly floral. It reminded me of the smell of a meadow in summer’s heat. The flavor lingered pleasantly on the palate.
Regardless of its purported health benefits, I would certainly drink this as a substitute for black tea when I didn’t want caffeine but did want something that’s akin to real tea rather than an herbal. Its complexity and lovely flavor make this tisane ideal for evening sipping, particularly on a chilly night when you crave a reminder of the summer sun.
Note: Fireweed was originally in genus Epilobium but was transferred to genus Chamerion.
–Adamczak, A., et al., “Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium L.),” Herba Polonica 65(3). 2019.
–”Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium),” The Healing Power of Plants, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives, 2005.
–Pavek, Diane S., “Chamerion angustifolium,” Fire Effects Information System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, 1992.
–Yoshida, T., et al., “Chemical and biological significance of oenothein B . . .,” Molecules 23(3). 2018.
–Z Living staff, “The regenerative powers of fireweed will warm you up,” ZLiving, 8/13/18.