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Herb of the week: Willowherb, Fireweed.

Photo: Epilobium angustifolium 19. A short profile:

Latin: Epilobium angustifolium and other species of Epilobium. You can use various evening primroses instead: that's Camissonia and Oenothera species. Or try Gaura, if you can't find any of those.
Family: Onagraceae, evening primrose family.
Parts used: Leaf.
Taste: Astringent.
4 humors: Dry.


  • A great gut anti-inflammatory.
  • Enhances general enzyme production in the stomach lining.
  • Good for the prostate.

Food uses:

  • The young shoots can be eaten like asparagus. Like asparagus, the secret is in the sauce: a nice bearnaise or hollandaise does wonders, as does plain salted butter (or butter and salt). Yum! Twist off the young leaf at the top end, though: that bit is too strong in taste for willowherb "asparagus".
  • Add leaf and flowers to salads and the like, but don't add too much.


  • The flowers will explode into a light, air-filling fluff. If you pick them do so without the thicker flower stem, which is loaded with said fluff.
  • The flowers are even more astringent than the leaf. Don't use flowers in your green powders.
  • Generally, I pick the leaf off the stems in the woods and meadows and carry just the leaf home with me. Picking whole stems and hanging those to dry is quicker, so if you're in a hurry, go for that instead.


  • I add willowherb leaf to all teas for people with digestive problems.
  • The leaf is nice for those who plan to change their diet drastically: it cuts down or eliminates digestive upset from that change. That's omnivore -> vegetarian or the other way around, and that's traveling far far away for a while.
  • The leaf can be given to lads with enlarged prostates; they'll fare even better if they start to move those buttocks.

Comments on Facebook:

  • From Jen B.:
    Henriette--thanks for teaching me about the benefits of this "weed" we have wild in Upper Michigan!
    Any tips on how to transplant some? When? Or gather seeds? If I cut some and put it in water, would roots grow?
    24 March at 22:00
  • From Henriette's herbal:
    It's _so_ abundant here that I haven't had to think about propagation at all. Go for other Epilobiums, go for Oenotheras (or Camissonias), go for Gauras, if this one doesn't grow where you're at.
    24 March at 22:41
  • From Jen B.:
    I should have clarified a bit does grow close by, but I want to share w/ a friend long distance, and move some onto my hillside. =D
    24 March at 23:55
  • From Jen B.:
    Thanks for the PDF from your contest...reading, "Appearance: The young shoots have an abundance of tiny leaves at the top; they are hairless. Any leaves on the stem spiral up along it. The leaves have smooth edges." Nice photos!
    Curious leaves, too--make an easier Spring ID, "The leaves of Fireweed are unique in that the leaf veins are circular and do not terminate on the edges of the leaf, but form circular loops and join together inside the outer leaf margins. This feature makes the plants very easy to identify in all stages of growth. When Fireweed first emerges in early spring, it can closely resemble several highly toxic members of the lily family, however, it is easily identified by its unique leaf vein structure."
    25 March at 05:25
  • From Jan F:
    A local chef here in Homer, Alaska, USA makes fireweed vinaigrette with the blooms. We have vast fields of fireweed that bloom here in the summer. He pays people to harvest the blooms. .... I love young chefs who are always trying something new!
    12 March at 14:50
  • From Henriette's herbal:
    Cool! An outfit here makes a sugary lemony fizzy drink from the flowers; pretty color, but its all too sweet for my tastes. (It's made the same way you'd make elderflower fizzy.)
    12 March at 15:08
  • From Craig W.:
    When we did a plant study on Epilobium with the Scottish School, one of the important phrases that came out for me was 'burnt out in the headlong rush to the top'. Always thought is might make a good medicine for burned out execs with prostate problems? Has anyone ever used it for 'off label' indications?
    12 March at 17:11
  • From IIMH:
    Yes, I remember you saying that about Epilobium now, but thanks for the reminder! I haven't used it much at all, but must revisit.
    12 March at 20:51
  • From Craig W.:
    So many herbs, so little time! :-) I also remember that the preparation that had the best taste and 'feel' to it was a whole plant infusion that Chris Hedley made. My flowering tops tincture was quite a taste experience....
    13 March at 14:29
  • From Michelle R.:
    Apparently it is meant to have an enzyme to help herb cuttings grow as well.
    16 March at 08:57

Comments on the herblist:

  • From Sarah
    Date: 2012 03 14 - 23:44:38 +0200

    I use the tall late summer stalks to make twine - using the same method as for nettle. I'm sure there are more practical uses, but I really like the elegant, gold-straw colored bracelets that can be made.

Please add your own experiences etc. in the comments!

Willowherb is in my book, Practical Herbs, and it's the sample herb to boot! Compare and contrast this blurb with the willowherb text in the book.