Fireweed Jelly is a delicate rosy pink jewel of clear wobbly jelly with a unique taste – sweet yet tangy, floral yet fruity. Harvest these common wildflowers from field and forest and turn them into this luscious treat to spread on your toast – capture the essence of summer wildflowers in a jar!
Have you seen stands of beautiful pink-flowered spires growing in ditches, fields, or forests’ edges? These wildflowers are so ubiquitous here in the north, you may not even notice them until you specifically go looking for them. They grow abundantly around the lake and yard at my parents’ cabin in northern British Columbia.
This year the fireweed is especially prolific there, as it is a plant which is very effective at natural colonization after a disturbance like forest fires (which ravaged the area last summer). It establishes from dormant seeds, reintroducing vegetation and and stimulating regrowth to the burned-out lands. Large swaths of brilliant pink fireweed add a glowing beauty and softness to the stark landscape.
Fireweed grows wild everywhere in North America (it’s Yukon’s official flower), Russia, and can also be found in Britain (known as rosebay willowherb, it’s the County flower of London) and other parts of the world. Closer to home, there are patches of fireweed in the ditches on the country range road we live next to, outside of Stony Plain.
It shows its lovely pink flower stalks for much of the summer, and then its furry seed pods in late summer and fall. Fireweed has been valued by various indigenous cultures for its medicinal uses, with all parts from roots, shoots, stems, and leaves to its flowers being used. The leaves can be fermented to make a tea similar to black tea and the flowers make a most wonderful delicate jelly; its magenta pink colour is particularly striking.
I’ve been meaning to make fireweed jelly for a while, so this year at the cabin, on the morning before we left, I gathered an armful of fireweed blossoms – it took no time at all.
I snapped off the stems just below where the flowers started and piled them loosely into a large paper bag. Then, during our long (11 hour) drive home, I stripped the blossoms from the stems and popped the bag of blossoms into our cooler with ice packs in it. That night I boiled up the flowers once we got home, left them to cool in the fridge since I was too busy unpacking to get to making the jelly. The next day I made up the batch of jelly – a fun kitchen project – and now I’ve got these beautiful jars in my pantry.
What a wonderful flavour. I have trouble describing it, but when a friend said it tastes like jujube candies, I had to agree. Fireweed jelly is bright and fruity and floral, though it tastes like no fruit I know. The shimmering pink colour of this jelly is magical – a jewel-like tone that sparkles as you spread it. I love fireweed jelly on toast with salted butter or a thick smear of cream cheese underneath – heaven!
Fireweed Jelly Fun!
First you need to pick your fireweed. Just snap off the flower stalks below where the first fresh blossoms start.
Then strip off the blossoms by pinching the stem between your thumb and fingers and pulling upward to strip off all the blossoms and buds, including the little stems each blossom is attached to the main stem with, all the way to the top of the flower stalk.
Now you’ll have a whole bunch of beautiful blossoms.
Boil them up with some water and watch those beautiful blooms turn muddy brown. But don’t despair – you’ll see their vibrant colour come back magically very soon.
Let the flower ‘soup’ cool. Strain it and squeeze out the blossoms to get every last drop of goodness out of them.
Add in some lemon juice and ‘voilà!’ – it’s back to the original deep magenta shade of the blossoms (the magic of the acid reacting with the flowers’ essence).
Now add in the pectin, whisk it well to make sure there are no lumps.
Dump in the sugar.
And boil it furiously for one minute.
You’re done – now you can just ladle it into the sterilized jars, seal them, and process them.
You’ll have jars of jewels adorning your pantry shelves to brighten up your meals in the long winter ahead. Won’t you be proud to pull out one of these jars of fireweed jelly to share with loved ones!
* * * * *
- 8 cups (2 litres) fireweed blossoms and buds, lightly packed
- 5 cups (1.2 litres) water plus more if needed
- ¼ cup (60ml) lemon juice
- 2 packages (57gms/2 oz. each) powdered pectin
- 5 cups (1 kg) sugar
- Put the fireweed blossoms and the water into a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-high and boil, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Let this mixture cool. (It can be covered and chilled overnight at this point if you can't get to jelly-making that day.) The mixture will be a dull purple or muddy brown colour at this point. Don't worry - the acid in the lemon juice will bring all the vibrant colour back again.
- Prepare 7 half-pint (250ml) jars for canning; wash and sterilize them (either in a boiling water bath, in the oven at 225°F/110°C, or run them through the dishwasher on the hottest setting). Put the matching snap top lids into a small saucepan of hot water and keep them warm on medium-low heat on the stovetop.
- Strain the blossoms through a nut bag, several layers of cheesecloth, or a clean piece of cotton muslin cloth or tea towel. Squeeze as much of the liquid out as you can and discard the spent blossoms. Top up the fireweed juice with water to make 4 cups (960ml).
- Add the lemon juice to the fireweed liquid and watch the glorious magenta colour from the flowers come back again; a bit of natural magic.
- Pour the now-beautiful pink liquid into a large pot. Add the pectin and whisk to dissolve any lumps. Bring the liquid to a boil, then add all of the sugar. Bring it back to a rolling boil and boil the jelly hard for one minute.
- Pour the jelly into the sterilized jars (try not to get any on the rims), wipe the rims with a clean damp cloth, add the snap lids and rings and seal them finger-tight (only as tight as you can get them with your thumb and forefinger).
- For added insurance against spoilage, you can process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Then set them onto a tea towel on the counter and leave them undisturbed until they're cool.
- Makes 6 to 7 half-pint (250ml) jars.
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