Dominating roadsides and loosing allergy-inducing pollen, fireweed is sometimes thought of as a pest. But with a little time, some boiling water, sugar and other common ingredients, these blooms can be put to a useful, inexpensive and delicious use.
Fireweed jelly and honey are made from the blooms of the fireweed, which grow in abundance throughout Alaska and Canada and bloom during the summer months.
"You've got to pick them before the blossoms go," Sabrina Royster of Kenai said. "They're good anytime they start blooming until they're done."
This was Royster's first year attempting to cook with fireweed. She and some friends from work wanted to make a few batches to send to their families outside Alaska as gifts.
"Even if you've never done it before, you can't screw it up," Royster said. "It's really easy to make the jelly and honey because you don't use a pressure cooker, just a hot water bath."
Fireweed jelly requires nothing more than fireweed blooms, water, lemon juice, sugar and powdered pectin. Instructions for making jelly in general are found in any case of store-bought jelly jars.
To make fireweed honey, pink and white clover blossoms need to be gathered and added to the fireweed. White clover blooms for most of the summer and is found almost everywhere grass grows. Pink blossoms can be harder to locate but bloom the same time white clover does.
"It's important that it all coincides," Royster said. "They'll (clover blossoms) turn brown when they're done. Then they'll dry out, so you want to catch them when they're pink and white."
Bags of blossoms wait to be cleaned.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Royster advised about two days for the entire process -- one to pick the blooms and one to cook.
"Both of them take about 45 minutes to make." she said. "Then you have to wait for the jelly to cool and gel. The honey's good when it's hot, but it's more like syrup. When it's cool, it's the regular thickness, like bee honey."
The omnipresent stands of pink weeds waving by the roadside may not look appetizing at first glance. But Royster said she was surprised at what they added to her culinary creations.
"We were very pleasantly surprised about the taste and flavor of the honey, and the fireweed jelly surprised us with how dark it was -- a pretty dark shade of pinkish-purple," Royster said. "It's interesting because the fireweed blossoms don't have a real strong scent or smell, so you wouldn't think they'd add much to the flavor. It has a real unique flavor, not anything you can describe. We were very happy with the outcome."
Fireweed recipes don't require anything out of the ordinary to make, so they're easy on the pocketbook, too.
"If you've never bought a lot of honey or jelly up here because it's so expensive in the stores, you'll have a lot of it at your fingertips," Royster said. "Even one batch will give you enough to use for a while. I just think everybody should try it."
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