Willowherbs – Epilobium SPP.: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Pie Scented Wild Plants

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Willowherbs (epilobium spp.) aren’t a stranger to our Edible and Medicinal Plants blog. We covered Fireweed previously, the star of the species as far as human usage goes. And the showiest. The others are mostly quainter looking, but I think they deserve a moment in the sun too.

Hairy willow-herb (e. hirsutum) has showier blooms closer to fireweeds. It’s a rare find in Haliburton, Ontario. You might find it in low wet waste areas. You’re more likely to find the quainter flowered fringed willow-herb (e. ciliatum) which is common in damp open areas, and in moist roadside ditches. Its closest lookalike is purpleleaf (e. coloratum), another rare find here on swamp edges or perhaps disturbed roadsides. Uncommon here in damp ditches and open sedge and grass areas is narrow-leaved willowherb (e. leptophyllum). Another rare here is marsh willowherb (e. palustre).

There are other species that share the name. Occasionally, skullcap is called hooded willow herb. And purple loosestrife is sometimes called purple willow herb.

Willowherbs – Epilobium SPP.
Willowherbs – Epilobium SPP.

Edible Uses of Willowherbs

Hairy (e. hirsutum) comes in second to fireweed for human usage and its leaves and stems are similarly edible when cooked. Ditto smaller, quainter relations like (e. latifolium).

The scent of these plants have given them folk names like apple pie, cherry pie, and plum pudding. Fireweed petals can be used to sweeten candies and desserts, jellies and syrups. It’s one of the sweeteners used with soapberries/Canada buffaloberry and water to make sxusem, a whipped traditional dessert by many First Nations peoples.

Bees who nectar from willowherbs make a spicier honey.

Willowherbs – Epilobium SPP.
Willowherbs – Epilobium SPP.

Medicinal Uses of Willowherbs

Willowherbs is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive

Medicinal tags include Astringent. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes willow herb (e. ciliatum) used in a tea for diarreha. Fireweed gets the most medicinal attention.

Growing Epilobium SPP.

Fireweed is the most showy native of the species, and hairy willow herb shares its larger blooms. But the fringed et al have that kind of shabby chic look that reminds me of fleabane, horseweed, and maybe grassy looking blooms like blue-eyed. These are all vastly overlooked plants for landscaping, as showy is the typical gardening aesthetic. But they are pretty plants for a cottage garden that looks more wild and natural.

There are moths whose caterpillars eat the leaves, including the many-lined carpet moth (anticlea multiferata).


And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes

A Modern Herbal (Volume 2, I-Z and Indexes)

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants (Out of Print)

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