Rosebay Willow-herb (Epilobium augustifolium)
Rosebay willow-herb is from the evening primrose family and is a tall plant often reaching well over a metre high. It has hot pink or purple four petalled flowers, the green leaves are long and thin resembling the leaves of the willow tree. The seed pods are hairy/fluffy and are often seen blowing in the wind as autumn approaches.
Contains vitamin A, C plus phosphorus, riboflavin, tannin
The plant contains epilobium, which has been known to interfere with the hormone progesterone. Consequently it should be avoided if you are pregnant, on HRT or taking a birth control pill.
The seeds are not edible
Astringent, anti-diarrhoeal, internal anti-inflammatory, digestive, diuretic, infantile eczema treatment, mild antibacterial
Known as Bombweed due to its abundance on bombsites after the Second World War. Rosebay willow-herb is one of our most common wild flowers, covering waste ground, railway embankments and any other spare bit of land. It seems impossible but a century ago it was considered a rare plant, however the urbanisation of the countryside, specifically with the advent of railways, spread it far and wide and it is now almost invasive.
I have looked at railway embankments many times on train journeys and wondered what it could be used for. Having searched through various books I have now managed to find a number of uses for it.
Firstly I discovered that the plant is edible, the leaves and flowers can be eaten raw or cooked. More interestingly the long thin stem of the plant contains a pith which can be eaten raw or chopped and added to soups and stews. I haven’t tried it yet but I have read various accounts of bush survivalists cutting open the stem and enjoying the pith as a quick energy snack.
When tea was expensive the leaves were dried and used as a substitute. Apparently the roots, which are also edible, were dried and ground into a flour to make bread or a porridge type meal in times of hardship. I have also read that the entire plant is used in parts of Eastern Europe to make a very strong wine.
Although rarely prescribed by modern herbalists, rosebay willow-herb has a long history of being used for a variety of domestic remedies. It was pounded and made into poultices for boils and carbuncles, its anti-bacterial and astringent properties would certainly cleanse and soothe angry skin. An ointment made from the leaves was also a traditional folk remedy for childhood eczema.
In every country where Rosebay willow herb grows there seems to be a history of using the plant for gastric problems. From gastroenteritis to dysentery it seems to have been considered useful for them all. It has even been known to be useful in the treatment of typhoid. The plant is also diuretic and was once used as a cure for irritable bladder, cystitis and prostate problems.
The tea has been used in cases of IBS, diverticulitis and colitis due to its internal anti-inflammatory actions. Leaves made into a gargle are a traditional folk remedy for throat infections such as laryngitis. Using the tea as a mouth wash is also known to be helpful in the treatment of mouth ulcers and oral inflammations.
Added to the plants culinary and medicinal uses, its long stem was historically used to make rope and twine. The fluffy seeds were also once collected in large quantities and used to stuff toys, mattresses and pillows. The down of the seeds were even woven with cotton at one time to make stockings.
These are some of my personal experiences using Rosebay willow-herb combined with information I have researched over a number of years. I am not encouraging people to self-medicate, in the treatment of specific conditions it is best to consult with a herbalist or your GP. If you should develop an adverse reaction to any of the above please stop using the herb immediately. And always take care when identifying the plant.
Happy Hunting, Claire Fleetneedle
LIFE ON PIG ROW DISCLAIMER: We’d like to thank Claire for this wonderful piece, as she points out, this is her personal experience and common sense must prevail in homemade herbal remedies. Therefore, if you are out and about foraging and aren’t confident that what you are about to pick is edible or medicinal the best advice is to leave it where it is. In the event of an adverse reaction to any homemade herbal remedy or foraged edible food you are advised to seek out medical advice. While every care is taken in the production of these posts neither Claire Fleetneedle nor Life on Pig Row are responsible for adverse reactions. Please remember to check local by-laws before foraging and never forage on private land without permission. Please use common sense when foraging.