Making Fireweed Jelly

The hillsides in the Sawtooth National Forest are bursting with wildflowers mid-summer. Everything from silvery lupines to scarlet paintbrushes take advantage of the bright, summer sun to bloom. Having grown on the landscape for centuries, the wildflowers of Idaho have adapted to withstand harsh conditions and changes. One flower with deep ties to change is fireweed.

I’ve never seen or heard of fireweed before moving to Idaho. It’s an incredibly striking plant, with bright magenta flowers and deep green leaves and reddish stems. Fireweed loves growing in disturbed areas, taking advantage of the open space and bright sunlight. This plant will rapidly cover areas burned by fire, a pioneer plant in these areas. Every part of this plant is edible during every stage of its growth. That includes everything from its leaves and flowers down to the roots. From salads, teas, stews, and medicine, this plant has been used by many people for centuries, from Alaska down to the West Coast. One use for fireweed I learned about this summer is fireweed jelly.

My neighbors at the RV pads near the Visitor Center were well traveled retirees. One couple, Diane and Walter, spent some time at Denali National Park in Alaska. There they encountered huge meadows of fireweed and a recipe for fireweed jelly. One sunny morning in August, after waiting patiently for the flower to bloom, we set off to collect flowers for jelly. The jelly recipe called for 2 cups of flowers. We found a large sunny patch of fireweed and were sure to only take less than 10% of the plants available. When foraging, I also like to ask permission of the plant before I pick it and move on if I don’t get it!

Me in a field of fireweed!

After gathering our petals, we set to making the jelly. First, we steeped the petals in hot water. Then we added it to the mixture of sugar, lemon juice butter and pectin that was heating up on the stove. After poring the mixture into jars and waiting patiently for a few days, we had the most beautiful jelly I’ve ever seen!

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