This well-known time keeper for when snow will begin is what can show if you are a Sourdough or not. Fireweeds in Alaska are a vital part of what makes us so unique and gives us both a vital countdown clock to also a favorite flavor many enjoy in numerous ways. In Great Britain they call it rosebay willow herb. Here it’s known for growing quickly and so we call it fireweed. When Mt St. Helen blew open it was one of the first plants to grow back on the mountain side. It really is a hardy plant and will grow on most land devastated by fire. Some natives used it for weaving and the shoots can be eaten as well. Some people use the leaves for salads. The weed grows on many meadows and streams. Beautiful when you’re trekking through Alaska you’ll see it on the forest edges. It’s a tall wildflower. Easily identifiable because it can get up from 1 to 9 feet tall and is so brightly colored.
How can Fireweeds tell us when the snow will start?
Fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium) is a common and beautiful wildflower here in Alaska, found along the roads and in any open area among the trees. As the fuchsia-colored flowers give way to fluffy white seeds that float on the wind and the leaves turn crimson, we know that summer is coming to an end and autumn is here. This seasonal indicator is so important that there is a well-known local saying that when the fireweed blossoms at the top of each stalk open to bloom, it is only six weeks until we see the first snow. Some are able to take this even further counting down those weeks by the shade of the leaves and how far up the stalk the cotton has grown. It is quite a sight to see these triangular stalks of flowers go from blooms to strange long pods to then blooming again with cotton seeds.
Fireweed: Flavor of Alaska
So while we keep time with the fireweed, we also enjoy tasting the fireweed. As a jam it is said to taste like blackberry or crowberries, it tends to be a light flavor depending on the concentration used. If eating the plant as a young shoot, they are often compared to asparagus.
Here are some recipes that you can follow if you want to harvest and use some of the fireweed you come across in your area.
Fireweed Simple Syrup
A delightful floral simple syrup that is excellent in lemonade & cocktails, stirred with powdered sugar to make a light floral icing for cakes or just drizzled over fresh fruit! Makes roughly 1 1/4 cups.
- 1.5 cups fireweed flowers, packed tightly and stems removed
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- First you’ll need to clean your flowers well. Place them in a medium sized bowl and cover with water. Gently swirl the flowers around with your hands, to shake loose any dirt or critters (these are wild flowers after all). Leave the flowers to sit in the water for a few minutes. Any bugs will find their way to the top, so just pick them out. Drain your flowers, and set aside.
- Add the water and sugar to a medium sized pot and bring to a boil on the stove top. Once boiling, add the flowers and lemon juice, and boilfor 10-15 minutes, until all the colour has drained from the flowers. Strain the syrup into a bowl using a fine mesh strainer. Transfer the strained syrup to a sealable container and place in the fridge. Will last for a few months.
A small batch of delicious lemonade that highlights the humble fireweed! Makes 2 1/2 cups, or enough for 3 servings.
- 1/2 cup fireweed simple syrup
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1.5 cups water
- In a pitcher, add all the ingredients and stir well to combine. Chill and serve with ice!