FireweedBotanical Name: Erechtites hieracifolia (LINN. and RAFIN.), Cineraria Canadensis (WALTER.)
Family: N.O. Compositae
Synonyms: Senecio hieracifolius (Linn.).
Parts Used---Herb, oil.
Habitat: Newfoundland and Canada, southward to South America.
Description: This coarse, homely American weed is an annual and derives its name from its habit of growing freely in moist open woods and clearings, and in greatest luxuriance on newly-burnt fallows. It has composite flowers, blooming from July to September.
Lactuca Canadensis, the wild Lettuce or Trumpet Weed, and Hieracium Canadense, are also given the designation of 'Fireweed' in America from their habit of growing on newly-burnt fallow, but Erechtites hieracifolia (Rafin.) may be called the true Fireweed, as it is the plant which commonly goes by that name.
Senecio is derived from Senex (an old man), in reference to the hoary pappus, which in this order represents the calyx; Erechtites comes from the ancient name of some troublesome Groundsel.
Fireweed is a rank, slightly hairy plant, growing from 1 to 7 feet high. The thick, somewhat fleshy stem is virgate, sulcate, leafy to the top, branching above, the branches erect. The leaves are alternate, delicate and thin, very variable in size and form, lanceovate to linear, apex-pointed, margins irregular, sharply toothed, or divided right down to the midrib into leaflets, which are sometimes then bipinnatifid, the lower, very short-stalked and becoming sessile as they grow up the stem. The flowers are white or yellow, a corymbose panicle. The little fruits are oblong, slender, tapering at the end, striate and crowned with a very fine copious silky pappus, white or violet. The whole plant is succulent, the odour rank and slightly aromatic, with a bitterish and somewhat acrid and disagreeable taste.
In the United States Fireweed is a very troublesome weed; the fields often get infested with it, and when growing among Peppermint, it is definitely destructive, as it gets mingled with the plant in distilling and causes great deterioration of the oil.
Constituents: A peculiar volatile oil - oil of Erechtites - transparent and yellow, obtained by distilling the plant with water, taste bitter and burning, odour foetid, slightly aromatic, somewhat resembling oil of Erigeron, but not soluble as that is in an equal volume of alcohol. The specific gravity of the oil is variously given as 0.927 and 0.838-0.855, and its rotation 1 to 2. According to Bielstein and Wiegand, it consists almost wholly of terpenes boiling between 175 and 310 degrees F.
Medicinal Action and Uses: Astringent, alterative, tonic, cathartic, emetic. Much used among the aborigines of North America in various forms of eczema, muco-sanguineous diarrhoea, and haemorrhages, also for relaxed throat and sore throat, and in the United States Eclectic Dispensatory in the form of oil and as an infusion, both herb and oil being beneficial for piles and dysentery. For its anti-spasmodic properties, it has been found useful for colic, spasms and hiccough. Applied externally, it gives great relief in the pains of gout, rheumatism and sciatica.
Dosage: (Internally) 5 to 10 drops on sugar, in capsules or in emulsion.
The homoeopathic tincture is made from the whole fresh flowering plant. It is chopped, pounded to a pulp and weighed. Then two parts by weight of alcohol are taken, the pulp mixed thoroughly with one-sixth part of it and the rest of the alcohol added. After having stirred the whole, it is poured into a well-stoppered bottle and allowed to stand for eight days in a dark, cool place.
The resulting tincture has a clear, beautiful, reddish-orange colour by transmitted light; a sourish odour, resembling that of claret, a taste at first sourish, then astringent and bitter, and an acid reaction.