March 21st. It's the first day of spring - and we're on the way to another glorious Yukon summer of fun in the sun. We…
The Yukon’s official flower doesn’t have a very romantic name. But this tall, elegant symbol of the territory is much more than a pretty picture on a travel brochure.
Fireweed comes by its name honestly. It’s among the first plants to bloom after a forest fire. Its seeds are survivors and its growth is prolific once a raging forest fire has past by. But consider the value of this colorful symbol you see all over the Yukon. It contains a sugary gel that can be obtained by splitting young stalks and scooping it out.
Fireweed has quite a few different names, depending on where it grows. French Canadian voyageurs called it l’herbe fret. They cooked the leaves and ate them as a substitute for greens. In Russia, fireweed leaves are boiled and the resulting liquid, called Kapor tea, is a refreshing and nourishing beverage. Try pouring hot water over young tender leaves. It makes a fine brew, but be sure it’s fireweed you are brewing. The tea is light green and quite sweet.
Fireweed is also known as great willow herb, blooming Sally, French willow and rosebay, again depending on where you are. Some people call it mooseweed, with good reason. Elk, moose and deer consider a stand of fireweed their field of dreams as they feast on the sweet stalks and tender leaves. In many places, beekeepers try and to grow fireweed near their beehives. You see, it makes a dark, sweet honey, which is superior in taste to that of almost every other flower.
The scientific word for fireweed is Epilobium angustifolium. Quite a mouthful. No wonder most people call it fireweed. That strange name simply means “ on the pod” and describes the way the flower sits on top of a long ovary, which becomes a seed pod or capsule. In mid-summer, fireweed sends out an airborne flotilla of silky seeds looking for a recent burned-out clearing.
So, the next time you spot an exquisite field of fireweed waving in a soft summer breeze, consider the fact that this colorful symbol of the Yukon is more that just 'another pretty face'.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.