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Rosebay Willowherb

Edible Edible Autumn Autumn Spring Spring Summer Summer

An easy to identify plant usually found in large numbers with many flowers to make a salad pretty.

Hedgerow Type
Common Names Rosebay Willowherb, Fireweed
Scientific Name Chamerion angustifolium
Season Start Apr
Season End Oct
Please note that each and every hedgerow item you come across may vary in appearance to these photos.


Long and lanceolate, green sometimes with a flush of red or a red leaf base.

The leaves of Rosebay Willowherb are unique in that the veins are circular and do not terminate at the leaf edges but form circular loops and join together. This can help with identification before the flowers appear.


The flower has four purple/pink petals and some say it resembles a rose, hence the name.

The seed pod is long, thin and browny red, it contains hundreds of tiny, silky haired seeds that the wind can carry a long way.


The tiny seeds are held within a light, fluffy down.

Seed Pods

Unopened seed pods are long and usually green to red.


Tall, straight, erect and red with a pithy core.


Bare soil, open woodland, paths, roadsides, gardens, waste ground and particularly on previously burnt ground.

Possible Confusion

Loosestrife, pictured, can look similar but with the different flowers and the unique leaf vein pattern of Rosebay Willowherb it should be hard to confuse theses plants.




Pleasant while the leaves are very young.




The very young shoots can be treated like asparagus and served with butter and lemon, the older leaves get very bitter.

Young leaves can be added to salads.

The soft inner part of the stem can be easily removed and used as a thickener for soups or stews.

The flowers can be used to brighten a salad.

Medicinal Uses

Has been used in the treatment of whooping cough, hiccoughing and asthma.

Other Facts

Fireweed, one of its common names refers to the fact that Rosebay Willowherb will grow on burnt ground as the seeds can settle deep in the soil and remain viable for many years.
A tiny bit of root left in the ground will grow into a plant after many years if the soil is disturbed.
The hairy seeds gathered together make a great tinder for sparks or friction fires.
The hairs have been used as a fine clothing fibre.


16 comments for Rosebay Willowherb

  1. Sergey says:

    Great site!
    Here in Russia, we love a “tea” made of fermented Rose-Bay. We call it “Иван Чай”. Fantastic taste an color.

  2. Chrissie Anderson says:

    I have heard that rosebay willowherb is highly toxic. I am confused, is this right?

    1. Poppy Ives says:

      The only research I can find says that it is toxic to horses not humans.

      1. Catriona CAIE says:

        My horses love eating it.. and will actively look it out and eat it when out foraging in the hedgerow – they are still very much alive.. so not sure why people think it is toxic to horses

        1. Eric Biggane says:

          I can’t really help I’m afraid, I can find only one reference to it being toxic to horses and many with people saying their horses love it. My friends horse knows chervil from hemlock and will eat all the chervil right next to a hemlock plant without touching the hemlock, animals are usually quite good at avoiding poisons except during drought conditions when there is nothing else available. Does anybody else have any info on the toxicity to equines?

  3. Alex says:

    It used to be widely spread through ancient Slavic communities as a potent tea. Very good for prostate, male weakness etc. Better to drink fermented as it has a nice tea taste opposite to dried which has just a “dried herb” taste.

  4. Jay says:

    You can also make a lovely sweet syrup out of the flowers 🙂

  5. Dorothy Warren says:

    Horses love rosebay willowherb. My Mum’s horse has been eating it for over 20 years – a real treat and he crosses the loaning to get it. Not toxic.

  6. nikkdobson says:

    Can someone explain to me how to make a fermented tea from it? Thanks

    1. Sharon Mathis says:

      Look up Ivan Chai (fireweed Tea). YouTube has good instructions how to make the tea. It tasty and fun to make. The process to make is not hard. I made my first batch this last year. I will definitely be making more. It is good for your immune system too.

  7. Zoomgranny says:

    Goats LOVE willow herb. At rural shows, you can see all the goatkeepers bring it in, to keep the goats happy. I am trying to het some growing on my garden for my own goats, but no luck so far. Definitely not toxic to goats.

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      The only evidence of any harm to goats from willow herb is a report of a goat getting bloated after eating some!

    2. Sharon Mathis says:

      I have only read of a different weed called fireweed that is a weed with a flower that is yellow similar to a daisy that they say is toxic to horses. It is not the same plant as the tall fireweed plant with purple leaves that we have here in alaska.

  8. Bob Lowe says:

    There is a yellow-flowered plant in Australia, called fireweed, that is toxic to horses. Perhaps it’s the use of the name ‘fireweed’ for rosebay willowherb that has caused the confusion?

    1. Robert Cragie says:

      I believe the Australian fireweed is a type of ragwort, which is indeed toxic to horses but totally different to Chamerion angustifolium.

  9. Katharine says:

    Bees loved it this year. There was a beautiful specimen in my garden but it seeded early due to the drought.

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