What makes the willowherb so wonderful?
Epilobium belongs to the evening primrose family. The annual, herbaceous, sometimes semi-shrubby, conspicuously flowering plants grow in the temperate areas, especially in North America and Eurasia. The term "willow" in the name was given to the plant because of the similarity of its leaves with those of the willow (Salix). The term "röschen" does not come from the rose, but because in German names of red-blooming flowers the color red is often referred to as "rose" or "Röschen". Epilobium comes in around 190 different subspecies. To name just a few: Narrow-leaved willowherb (Epilobium angustifolium), small-flowered, (Epilobium parviflorum), glandular, (Epilobium ciliatum), shaggy, (Epilobium hirsutum) or the lanceolate form (Epilobium lanceolatum). However, the best known among us is the narrow-leaved and small-flowered subspecies. These beautiful flowering plants are widespread in Europe, Asia and North America. They can also be found everywhere in Germany. They like to grow in light-rich hedges, embankments, forest clearings, on roadsides but also on barren land.
How do you recognize a narrow-leaved willowherb?
The plant, native to Germany, blooms all summer from June to August with magnificent flowers and an intensely pink to rose-red color. The plant can grow up to 1.5 meters high. The plant's special distinguishing features are its long, narrow, pointed leaves, which are about 5 - 20 cm long and 1 - 2.5 cm wide. The leaf margins are slightly toothed and curved downwards. Further features are the pod-shaped seed heads up to 6 cm long and the 2 to 3 cm wide flowers with 4 linear sepals. The leaves, which are blue-green on the underside, are sessile and have clearly visible leaf veins. The buds and flowers grow at the end of the plant stem. The numerous nectar-rich flowers particularly delight beekeepers, as they are ideal for bee pastures. The hairy seeds hang on wool-like, white feathers and can fly for miles as typical little paragliders. Of course, this increases the rate of spread enormously. A single plant of the genus Epilobium can produce hundreds of thousands of seeds that can colonize their surroundings up to a distance of 10 kilometers in a short time. In America, the plant is known as "Fireweed" (fire grass), which is due to the fact that it quickly spreads again on the burned areas after a forest fire. Because of this extraordinarily strong urge to spread, the narrow-leaved willowherb, which is generally considered a weed, will rarely be found in German gardens. In the wild, however, the plant can be found more often. There is a risk of confusion with other species of fireweed, which can be neglected, as all plants in this family have similar properties. It is also possible to confuse it with the similarly tall, purple-red blooming purple loosestrife, a medicinal plant from the loosestrife family. Narrow-leaved willowherb was already known as a food in ancient Europe. As a medicinal plant, however, it has only been known since the Middle Ages.
Applications of Epilobium angustifolium in the kitchen
The tasty herb has many uses as a food in the kitchen. Basically, almost all parts of the plant can be consumed. To do this, the flower buds and leaves are collected in spring from April to July and the inflorescences and flowers from July to August. The young leaves of the willowherb can be eaten, together with the young shoot tips, as a salad or as an addition to vegetable dishes. The leaves are a real vitamin C bomb. They contain 4 times more vitamin C than citrus fruits. The flowers and buds of the fireweed are also edible. Used as an edible decoration for salad, they can be consumed with it. Infused with the leaves, they also make a great-tasting tea. The elongated fruit stands and stems of the plant are also suitable for consumption. Either raw or cooked as a vegetable. The leaves and shoot tips of the willowherb also make an ideal blend of herbs for seasoning dishes. Even the roots can be used in many ways. These can be collected in spring and consumed raw. The taste is sweet and has a slight sharpness. The roots can also be cooked like vegetables or can be processed into flour after drying. The flour, in turn, is well suited for thickening sauces or for mixing with cereal flour. It is also possible to use roasted root pieces as a coffee substitute. These possible uses in the kitchen also apply to all other Central European fireweed species.
Applications of Epilobium angustifolium in folk medicine
Fireweed tea has traditionally been considered an effective herbal medicine for urinary tract problems and kidney problems. Pharmaceutical studies show that the plant has a strong healing effect on prostate diseases. Acute and chronic prostate inflammation (e.g. prostatitis) are effectively alleviated. The herb (Epilobii herba) harvested and dried during or shortly before flowering is used for therapeutic purposes. The collected leaves must be kept in an airtight container for 1 day so that they can ferment. This allows the valuable ingredients and essential oils to develop really well. Then the leaves are to be dried for about 1 hour in the oven at a maximum of 80 degrees. Then they are ready for preparation. For the tea infusion, pour boiling water (approx. 250 ml) over a heaped teaspoon of fireweed leaves and strain after 5 - 10 minutes. You should drink a cup of it 2 to 5 times a day. Side effects or interactions with fireweed tea are not known. The tea does not contain caffeine such as black tea and can therefore be drunk at any time of the day or night without hesitation. Even people with an affinity for kidney stones can drink it without hesitation, as the tea contains no oxalic acid and only a small amount of puric acid. Puric acid is also known to cause gout. In ancient Russia, the tea made from the narrow-leaved fireweed is under the name "Ivan Chai" known. Since ancient times, Ivan Chai has been used there as a remedy for a variety of ailments and diseases. It is reported that Ivan Chai is said to be particularly effective in treating migraines, dizziness, palpitations and stomach upsets. Another sensational effect of fireweed tea was discovered in Russia, albeit in Russia in the 1970s. The plant stimulates the production of the body's own interferon, regulates the immune defense against tumor cells and thus inhibits their growth. The famous herbalist and author Maria von Treben also knew about the healing powers of the fireweed. In her bestseller "Health from God's Pharmacy", she describes the powerful effects of the medicinal plant on prostate diseases. The ingredients of Ivan-Chai are impressive: provitamin A, vitamins C, B and P, ß-carotene, pectin, lectin, iron, copper, manganese, nickel, titanium, boron, organic acids, tannins, mucilage and bile acid. In combination, the ingredients in fireweed are highly effective against numerous ailments. The proportion of these biologically active substances varies depending on the location. Allegedly, the active ingredients of willowherb from northern regions are said to be stronger, as the short but hot summers that are common there increase the medicinal properties of the plant. The antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, wound-healing, sleep-promoting and diuretic properties of willowherb have been proven by numerous empirical reports. This broad spectrum of activity makes the plant a real miracle weapon in folk medicine.
The anti-inflammatory effects, especially for urinary tract infections and prostate problems, of the plant known in Germany under the common names woman's hair, fireweed, thunder herb or wood-herb, have long been recognized in traditional folk medicine. Conventional medicine is unfortunately still lagging behind. Unfortunately, there are still no recognized clinical studies on effectiveness to convince evidence-based medicine (EBM). But especially in folk medicine, the first thing that applies is "trying is better than studying".