What is rosebay willowherb?

With its tall flower spikes that turn into fluffy seeds, rosebay willowherb is a striking plant that is easy to identify. Its ability to quickly colonise bare ground has resulted in additional names such as ‘bombweed’ and ‘fireweed’.

It is also an edible plant, with its leaves being used to make a caffeine-free tea known as Ivan’s tea.

Learn more about the species in our expert guide by author and forager David Hamilton:

How to identify rosebay willowherb

Close-up of the pink flowers of rosebay willowherb
Rosebay willowherb. © Florin Garoi/Getty

The bright pink-purple flowers of willowherb and height of the plant make it a relatively easy species to identify. For those unfamiliar with plants, it could potentially be confused with foxgloves, from a distance, since wild foxgloves are also tall with pink flowers.

The leaves are green, long and pointed.

As summer comes to a close, the tall pinkish-purple flower spikes of rosebay willowherb give way to a multitude of fluffy, wind-dispersed seeds. These seeds allow the plant to be one of the first colonisers of empty ground.

Is rosebay willowherb good for pollinators?

It’s an important wildlife plant, not only for pollinators, but also as a food source for the caterpillars of numerous moths. Elephant hawk-moths and the bedstraw hawk-moth are among those who enjoy snacking on the leaves.

Is rosebay willowherb the same as bombweed and fireweed?

Rosebay willowherb in flower
Rosebay willowherb. © Graham Marsden/Getty

Yes rosebay willowherb is also called bombweed and fireweed. During World War II, this plant’s ability to seed disturbed and cleared land saw the plant thrive. By 1946, it had spread across bombsites all over London, gaining the name ‘bombweed’.

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It also goes by the names ‘fireweed’, from its natural tendency to grow on land cleared by fire, and ‘blooming Sally’, from a corruption of the word ‘Salix’, the scientific name for willow.

What is the scientific name of rosebay willowherb?

The scientific name of rosebay willowherb is Chamaenerion angustifolium.

Is rosebay willowherb edible?

A pot of rosebay willowherb tea (also known as Ivan's tea), plus two cups of tea, on a wooden table.
Rosebay willowherb tea (Ivan's tea). © David Hamilton

The leaves of rosebay willowherb can be dried and used to make a a delicious caffeine-free alternative to black tea.. It is a popular tea in Russia, where it is known as Ivan’s tea.

Main image: Rosebay willowherb. © Roberta Fuganti/Getty


David HamiltonForager, photographer and author