Rosebay Willow Herb

Rosebay willow herb  Chamaenerion angustifolium

This plant loves to thrive on newly turned soil and is often found in large patches. One of it’s other common names is fireweed which is partly due to it’s stalk and leaves turning a reddish colour after flowering but is also attributed to the fact it was one of the first plants to return to an area after an the area is burned. 

This often overlooked but delicious plant has many edible parts. The leaves are used as a nutritious tea in parts of Russia The leaves are used when the flowers are young and before full flowering as the leaves get more bitter after the plant fully flowers. You strip off the leaves from the stem and roll the leaves between your fingers to crush them slightly. You allow them to ferment for about three days and then dry them out and then use as a herb tea. The plant contains vitamin C, beta carotenes, flavonoids and protein. It also thought to help with balancing gut flora due to it’s slight bitterness. 

The younger pre flowering stems can be eaten and taste a bit like asparagus. You strip the stems of their outer coating and cook the inner part as you would asparagus. I like it pan fried cooked in olive oil and liberal sprinkling of salt. 

The flowers can be eaten and in Canada they are made into a divine and delicious floral jelly. They can also be added to salads and cocktails as a floral garnish. 

Rosebay willow herb flower jelly

Rosebay willow herb flowers – about half a carrier bag. 

Water – 500ml or enough to cover the flowers in the pan

Lemon juice – two lemons

Butter or oil – 1 teaspoon

Pectin powder – 3 tablespoons

Sugar – 150g or more if needed

Spread the flowers out for a few hours to allow the insects to move on to another home

First make a strong overnight infusion

Then in a clean saucepan put the flowers in and pour in enough water to cover them

Bring to the boil for about 5 minutes

Allow to cool and leave it covered overnight to fully infuse

The next day strain the strong infusion and remove all the flowers

Then add the other ingredients

In a clean pan add the rosebay willow herb juice, the lemon juice, butter or oil and the pectin powder. Bring to a hard boil for one minute and then add the sugar and bring to the boil for a one minute again.

Test to see if it will set

Do the set test with a saucer that has been in the freezer for 5 minutes. Drop a small amount onto the chilled saucer and allow to set for 30 seconds then push your finger through it. If it wrinkles then the jelly is set. If it doesn’t add more sugar and bring to the boil for another minute, remove from the heat and redo the wrinkle test with a rechilled saucer. Repeat if necessary.

Storing

Then pour in cleaned jars, while still warm and allow to set and cool in the jars and then place the lids on the jars and label. Enjoy!

The root has the most medicinal benefits of this plant and has been used to help with an enlarged prostate. 

Do not use plants medicinally without discussing it with your GP or Medical herbalist first. 

You cannot dig up a plant for it’s roots without landowners permission. Fine if it’s in your garden or land. 

Do not eat or nibble on a plant unless you are 110% certain of it’s identification. 

Do not take more than a third of patch of a plant so that others in your community can enjoy it and the wildlife that feeds on that plant can continue to do so. 

This vinegar is wonderful added to a salad dressing. It’s very good with a crisp lettuce based salad but experiment and see what you enjoy. 

Rosebay willow herb vinegar

Simply place rosebay willow flowers into apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar. Filling about half the bottle with flowers.

Allow to steep for four weeks and then strain out the flowers. 

You now have a delicious floral vinegar to add to your salad dressings or even over chips! 

There has been a flurry of folk making dandelion honey this year, which is fantastic, it is worth knowing that you can make a vegan flower based honey from other flowers. Dandelion and red clover lend themselves well to a honey as they contain so much pollen. 

Rosebay willow herb and red clover honey

500ml water

650g sugar

1 pint full of red clover flowers

1 pint of rosebay willow herb flowers

Add the sugar and water together in a clean pan and bring to a rolling boil for about 10 minutes and then add all the flowers and allow to steep overnight.

The next morning strain the mixture and pour into sterilised jars and label. 

Rosebay willow herb shoots pickle

Rosebay willow shoots, enough to fill the jars you have. 

Gather young shoots before they flower and strip the outer bark off and rinse the inner shoot.

250ml vinegar – apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar

250ml water

3 tablespoons sugar 

1 teaspoon of salt

Spices (optional) 

In a clean pan add the vinegar, water, sugar, spices(if using) and salt. Bring slowly to the boil allowing for the sugar and salt to dissolve. Remove from the heat, strain(if using spices) and allow to cool slightly. 

In sterilised jars have the cleaned shoots waiting and pour over the cooled vinegar pickling mixture.

Allow to fully cool and then place the lids on the jars and label. Place in the fridge for about a week to allow the flavours to infuse. Enjoy with a good strong cheese, cows milk, coconut or nut based!

5 Replies to “Rosebay Willow Herb”

  1. As a young lad I remember our goats used to seek out fresh willow herb.. once cut n started to dry they wouldn’t touch it.

    • GatheringNature says:

      Oh I wonder why? the goats left it alone when it was dried. From friends having goats they seem to be happy to eat a wide variety! I’ll look into that. Thanks.

      • GatheringNature says:

        Hi Gordon, on some quick research. Goats like it when it’s young but not when it’s older as it’s woodier and bitter. Pretty much the same as humans. One source said that goats can bloat on it but that maybe the over eating tendencies of goats!

  2. Thank you for a couteous reply. Goats don’t stop nibbling as I remember.
    Currently season 1 working with nettle to varying degrees of success
    Broom + whinn blossom now just passing
    Dandelion just passing.
    Unsure if Dandelion leaf can be stored longer term as it appears to have reduced kidney stones after years of issues.
    Willow herb looks interesting as local thank you

    • GatheringNature says:

      Your welcome Gordon. Dandelion leaf can be dried, tinctured and pickled for later use. Best to use the leaves when are young pre flowering they are less bitter. Sounds like you’ve been having fun with the plants.

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