Growing up in Alaska I thought fireweed was "our weed." (note: first photo of bouquet was taken at about 8:45pm - our sunset is still after 11pm at this time in the summer) It's everywhere here, I just didn't think it was anywhere else (yes, I need to get out more). On a recent trip to Washington state I found it grows there too. Then I found a review of a book that talks about wild edibles and mentions it grows in Canada too. This all makes perfect sense I just hadn't thought it through. It probably grows in other Northwest locations, I just haven't taken the time to look that up yet.
The fireweed here is about 3/4 through blooming right now. It starts with a green stalk with long leaves and usually grows a couple of feet high before it starts blooming. The blossoms start 6-12" below the tip of the stalk and bloom from there to the top over a couple of weeks. All over Alaska you'll see fields of bright pink fireweed. You'll also see it growing along side the highway, or in a yard or garden, or in the park. Go to an outdoor summer wedding and you'll see vases of freshly picked fireweed decorating the tables. Go to the farmers market and you'll find fireweed honey and jelly. I also found this blog that talks about eating the shoots when they start to come up (that will have to be next year). Even the big box stores and chain drugstores here sell fireweed edibles, lotions, teas, and candles in their souvenir section.
Short on time, but always with a long list of things I want to try, I knew if I was going to make fireweed jelly it was now or never. Not really never, but I would have to wait until this time next summer anyway. So last night I picked a bunch of fireweed. Then I thought about how I probably didn't have enough, so I picked a bunch more. The second batch I picked at my nieces house and found that she has some fireweed along her driveway that is over 6' (yes feet!) tall!
It took about a 1/2 hour to remove the blossoms from the stalks, and another 20 minutes or so to boil the blossoms into this beautiful deep purple stock. I refrigerated the juice overnight simply for time sake. It was late by the time I had gotten to this point. The juice refrigerates well and can also be frozen for a later date. I love the progression of color loss in the petals as it cooks out. The strained petals have almost no color left in them!
My jelly came together quickly. I haven't made jelly before and was surprised at how simple it was. I can see a lot of homemade jellies in our future. :-)
I found several very similar recipes online, but ended up using this one from food.com. It was quick and simple. I've already made 2 additional batches of juice, including one with lavender buds added to the fireweed blossoms. I'll post a pic of that one when it's done. The straight fireweed jelly is fantastic. It has a very subtle floral flavor, something I haven't had before and can't really describe well. I hope the lavender doesn't overpower the fireweed in the other batch. I think I may enter one or both into our state fair that is coming up in a few weeks.
original recipe from Food.com
makes 4 half pint jars
2 1/2 cups fireweed juice*
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon butter
1 (1 3/4 ounce) packages dry pectin - Sure Jell for best results
3 cups sugar
*For fireweed juice:
Harvest about 8 packed cups of fireweed flowers. Rinse thoroughly and put in 2 quart pot. Add just enough water to make water level just below top of packed flowers. (Juice should be a deep purple color when finished. If too much water is used in boiling process, juice will be a brownish color. More water can always be added after flowers are boiled to increase amount of juice.) Boil flowers in water until color is boiled out and petals are a grayish color. Ladle juice into jar through cheesecloth to strain.
For fireweed jelly:
Warm fireweed juice, lemon juice and butter on stovetop.
Add Sure-Jell, bring to boil and boil hard for one minute.
Add sugar and bring to full boil for one minute. Skim top of jelly.
Pour into pitcher(makes it easier to fill jars)and skim again.
Fill sterilized jars leaving 1/8 inch space at top.
Process in hot water bath for 10 minutes.
Remove from water bath and cool completely at room temperature.