Synonyms: Chamerion angustifolium Other names: great willowherb Nomenclature: angustifolium = narrow leaved Nativity / Invasiveness: Montana native plant
General: perennial from widespread rhizome-like roots that form new shoots freely. Stems usually simple, 100-300 cm tall, hairless except for fine hairs in the flower cluster and, especially, on the ovaries. Often in large colonies.
Leaves: alternate, narrowly lanceolate, almost stalkless, 5-20 cm long and 0.5-3.5 cm wide, slightly paler and veiny beneath, numerous on stem.
Flowers: rose to purple, rarely white, with 4 petals 8-20 mm long. Numerous flowers in terminal, greatly elongate clusters, lower flowers blooming first. Sepals 8-12 mm long. Style 1-2 cm long, longer than the 8 stamens, softly long-hairy on the lower portion, stigma 4-cleft.
Fruits: erect, linear pods, 4-8 cm long, green to reddish, splitting lengthwise to release 100's of seeds, each tipped with a fluffy, dirty-whitish hair tuft.
Common well up into the mountains, especially along highways and railroads and on old burns, in all parts of MT except the extreme s.e. parts. Also in the rest of the U.S.
Leaves and young shoot tips of fireweed are edible, raw or cooked. They can be used in salads or cooked as a vegetable. When boiled they make a wholesome vegetable and are a good source of vitamins A and C. The leaves should only be used when they are young. Although they are said to be edible, another report says that an infusion of them can cause nausea. Young shoots can be cooked. They are said to make a good asparagus substitute. The root can be eaten raw, cooked or dried and ground into a powder. Used in spring, it has a sweet taste. The flowering stalks are edible too, raw or cooked. Added to salads, they are best used when the flowers are in bud. The pith of young or older stems is said to be slightly sweet, tender and pleasing to eat, raw or cooked, though it's only obtainable in smaller quantities. Gelatinous, it can be used as a flavoring in soups. The stems are said to be a good laxative, but are best not eaten on an empty stomach. A tea is made from the dried leaves, it is sweet and pleasant. Called 'kaporie' tea in Russia, it contains 10% tannin. The leaves are also used as an adulterant of China tea.
Willow herb is often used as a domestic herbal remedy, though it is little used in conventional herbalism. The herb is antispasmodic, hypnotic, laxative and tonic, and has agents that cause tissue to contract, and that soften and soothe the skin when applied locally. It is used in the treatment of diarrhea, mucous colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. The plant is used in Germany and Austria to treat prostate problems. A poultice of the leaves is applied to mouth ulcers. An extract of the leaves has anti-inflammatory activity. An ointment made from the leaves has been used to soothe skin problems in children. A tea made from the leaves and roots is a folk remedy for dysentery and abdominal cramps. A poultice made from the peeled roots is applied to burns, skin sores, swellings, boils etc. The Blackfoot Indians used the powdered inner cortex rubbed on the hands and face to protect them from the cold during the winter. They also made a tea of roots and inner cortex given to babies as an enema for constipation.
A fiber obtained from the outer stems can be used to make cordage. The 'cottony' seed hairs are used has been used as a stuffing material or as a tinder.