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Foraging Diaries – Rosebay Willow Herb – Chamerion angustifolium

"On ground abandoned and cast aside

and railway embankments you can be spied

upright in stance and as bold as brass

all turn and flee when you harass

yet, there's beauty in your arrogant way

as you brazenly state ' I'm here to stay '

you bloom and bloom like a blazing fire

all dressed up in its finest attire

you are a majestic red sky

on an Autumn night

in truth you are a Shepherd's Delight".

-john (called jack) wren

Family: Onagraceae

Botanical Description

Height: Up to 1.5m

Leaves: Long and lanceolate, green occasionally with a flush of red or a red leaf base. The leaves of Rosebay Willowherb are unique as 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.

Flowers: June to September. Violet or rose purple, 20 to 30 mm in long, tapering racemes, petals slightly notched..

Root and stem: A horizontally growing root stock sends up a tall, straight, erect and red stem with a pithy core.

Status: Perennial

Habitat: Woodland clearings, roadside verges, grassland and waste ground.

Distribution: native to the northern hemisphere, ranging from Alaska to Greenland, and from northern Europe to northern Asia. It is also present in parts of South America and Australia, where it has been introduced as an ornamental plant.

Parts used for food: Leaves, shoots, stems

Also known as Fireweed, Bombweed, Blooming Sally, Blood-Vine, Cats eyes, Red Buffer, Ramping Molly, Plum Jam, Flowering Withy, Blooming Willie

When it comes to foraging a good rule of thumb to abide by:

If in doubt, leave it out

One of the most colourful sights of late summer is Rosebay Willowherb, lining our roadsides and railway embankments with a profusion of blooms in vivid pink. Until early in the nineteenth century, Rosebay Willowherb had a restricted distribution in the British Isles. Thereafter it became much more widespread, beside railways, in disturbed areas, woodland clearings, and on burnt ground. It also acquired a variety of local names, possibly suggesting that the plant spread faster than the name, so people invented new names. Rosebay Willowherb’s leaves resemble those of some narrow-leaved willows (Salix spp.),

Due to its ability to rapidly colonise burnt ground and bombsites Rosebay Willowherb acquired such names as fireweed, or, less frequently, bomb-weed ‘because it was first to grow on bombsites’, London pride, and London’s ruin. In Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, where the plant grew in profusion on the site of the Singer Sewing Machine factory which was bombed during World War II, it was known as Singerweed. The vivid pink flowers bloomed on the sides of Mount Saint Helen three weeks after the volcano eruption.

Rosebay Willowherb contains ninety times more Vitamin A, and four times more Vitamin C than citrus fruit such as oranges. Previously used in Europe and America for skin complaints, whooping cough in children, asthma and stomach disorders. In modern herbal medicine, it is listed as an astringent, demulcent (soothing and anti-inflammatory), antidiarrhoeic, haemostatic (stopping bleeding) and mildly antimicrobial.


The plant’s tannins may aggravate constipation, gastric ulcers, inflammatory conditions and anaemia.

Europe Russian Tea or Ivan Chai for centuries, was THE tea of commerce. Ivan Chai is synonymous with fermented fireweed tea. The Russians claim to have invented the process of tea fermentation. Russian Tea offers several health benefits:

· Normalises blood pressure

· Balances digestive health

· Improves concentration

· Improves energy levels

· Promotes relaxation

· Builds immunity

· Improves mood

· Strengthens circulation

· Supports the kidneys and urinary system

· Detox

· Relieves tension headaches

· Prevents cavities

· Caffeine-free

Disrupted by the Crimean and Napoleonic wars, commercial production of Ivan Chai eventually stopped, yet Rosebay Willowherb continued to be used as a herbal supplement in Russian homes.

Rosebay Willowherb Tea aka: Ivan Chai

Tastes similar to black tea, except the fermentation process brings a fruity, almost pineapple-like aroma. The fermentation process removes the acidic, freshly cut grass aroma, replacing it with a floral, fruity fragrance.

Preparation Time

5 days with a curing time of 2-4 months (can be used immediately after fermentation and drying, but the flavour will improve over several months)


Rosebay Willowherb leaves (collected straight from the plant leaving the flowers to go to seed, or if found in abundance then you can chop the stems and take them home to process, using the stems for cordage)


Collect the Rosebay Willowherb (make sure you have identified the correct plant and not Greater Willow-herb or Foxglove which have similar coloured flowers)

Leave to wilt in a wicker basket for 12-18 hours until the leaves are dry enough to bend without breaking the central vein

Roll the leaves and place in a bowl with an airtight lid to keep insects out during the fermentation. The bowl should be loosely filled to allow for adequate oxidization. Let this ferment for at least 2 days, I prefer at least 5 days to give it an increased fruity kick.

To stop the fermentation process then dry in the oven for 20 minutes, or use a dehydrator.

Store in an airtight jar.

Place a small amount in a cup and add hot water.

Brew for a delicious and healthy beverage


On a final note the pith inside the younger plant stalks has a distinct melon taste, nice to nibble on during a walk, also the stem can be processed in the same way as Nettles to make cordage.


Harford, R (2019) Edible and Medicinal Wild Plants of Britain and Ireland Accessed 27/07/2023

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