Human Flower Project

Kim Lehman & the Bounty of Fireweed


A friend returns to Texas from Alaska with a treasure trove, all derived from one northern wildflower.


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Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium)

Anchor Point, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, July 31, 2005

Photo: Kim Lehman and Mark Wieland



Through the talents and generosity of an amazing person, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), we’ve come to know Fireweed. That’s know in the nearly Biblical sense: thanks to Kim, we have fireweed to see, bookmark, sweeten with, and smear on toast.

Kim and her husband Mark Wieland are recently back from Alaska, where fireweed reigns through the summer. They returned with gorgeous photos and much more. Kim pressed several of the beautiful flowers. Dried, they are the color of amethyst. She also made us some fireweed jelly, plum colored, tangy and very sweet.

imageHerb Putney and Kim talk honey

Anchorage, Alaska, summer 2005

Photo: Mark Wieland

A bee expert herself, Kim paid a visit to Alaskan bee wizard Herb Putney in Anchorage, bringing home to us some of his renowned fireweed honey. It’s pale greeny gold and delicate, fit for a gourmet. Kim says that Putney’s honey is so highly sought after, she’s seen one jar sell for $600

Fireweed is the northernmost of all major honey-producing plants. This honey site describes the flavor as “delicate, sweet… with subtle, tea-like notes.” We say, “Bring on the English muffins.”

This beautiful wildflower settles on land that people or fires have disturbed, thus its name. Was there ever a more all-purpose plant?

“The Dena’ina eat the young stems and leaves raw or boiled, sometimes with fish eggs. Some people peel the stems before eating them. The inland people mix the cooked fireweed with their dogs’ food.” The Upper Inlet Dena’ina also use fireweed as medicine for cuts and skin diseases, “placing a piece of the raw stem on the afflicted area.”

And this eight-foot beauty is also an Alaska weather-caster. As its purple buds bloom successively higher on the stalk, fireweed measures the duration of summer. “As the last flowers are blooming at the top of the stalk, the earliest blooms seed and turn to cotton…. When the fireweed turns to cotton, Alaskans say there are about six weeks until winter begins.”

Perhaps the botanists out there can clarify for us whether Kim’s fireweed specimens are Epilobium angustifolium or Chamaenerion angustifoium. While you guys figure that out, we’ll help ourselves to another slice of toast with fireweed honey.

Here’s Kim’s recipe for fireweed jelly…

 


Fireweed Jelly

4 c. loosely packed blossoms

2 1/2 c. water

Boil until color comes out of blossoms. About 5-10 minutes.

Strain 2 1/4 c. juice. Return to pot.

Add 3 T. lemon juice

3 1/2 c. sugar

Bring to full rolling boil—1 minute

Add pectin

Return to full rolling boil—1 minute

Makes about 2 pints

Kim Lehman writes:

Annette Barnett and I made the jelly at Toksook Bay, Alaska on September 8th. We got the recipe from her neighbor Cathy, who got it from another friend in the village. The jelly that did not set made delicious syrup which we put on pancakes made with blueberries we picked. They were the most delicious pancakes I have ever eaten! Of course you had a taste on cheesecake with the “flower juice.”



Toksook Bay is a fishing village of about 500 people. No cars. Two small stores. A clinic, a school, a community center where they do tradition Yu’pik dances and country two stepping which they call “fiddlin’” Of course lots of bingo games, a catholic church, an in home video rental, lots of sweat houses, four wheelers and snow mobiles.



No trees, just tundra. Loads of berries, salmon berries, blackberries, blueberries, gooseberries (I think that is what they’re called)



Toksook Bay has a website


Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 09/16 at 10:23 AM

Comments

Something about fireweed we love so much, my hubby & I. I don’t remember when (or why) it started, but for years now, whenever we are driving anywhere and see fireweed, we yell out “fireweed! yay!” and give a little round of applause & cheers. Sometimes, on the way to the Oregon coast, this happens a lot & the ride is quite noisy, sometimes visiting relatives don’t like it, but it’s just too bad. We’re not going to stop cheering the fireweed.

It’s so ingrained that when I saw the headline for this entry, my mind automatically filled in the “yay!” after fireweed. Flowers let us be joyously silly like that, maybe that is what we’re cheering.

MN

Posted by MN on 09/16 at 04:37 PM

...we had a nice “crop” of Fireweed in Glacier National Park this summer. Also the smaller cousin, often commonly known as Alpine Fireweed ... can’t give ya the Latin right now. All my field guides are packed for the move from Montana down to South Lake Tahoe for a winter motel job.

I’ve written a fireweed article as part of my weekly Wildflowers of North America at Suite101.com, which will appear next summer unless I pull the plug due to some questionable changes in the offing there…

Anyway, great photo and article.

Also, I believe Epilobium angustifolium and Chamaenerion angustifoium are the same thing.

Gregg M. Pasterick
Gypsy Innkeeping in Montana for just a couple more weeks…

Posted by Gregg on 09/16 at 10:37 PM

I thoroughly enjoyed this article about one of my favorite flowers from my childhood in Alaska.  Thank you!

As for some of the jelly not setting up:

You must always use pure cane sugar (NOT beet sugar or a mixture of the two) when making jelly.  Beet sugar for some reason just doesn’t interact right with the fruit’s natural pectin.  I made some delicious pear syrup a few years ago.  That’s when I learned this secret.  grin

Blessings

Posted by Judith Twitchell on 09/12 at 12:57 PM
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