The story of the Bombweed

Bomber Brew

You will need:
• 4 large handfuls of Rosebay Willowherb leaves
• Ceramic dish
• Greaseproof paper
• Water

Words by:
Nikki Bawn
Featured in:
September 2023

Nikki Bawn of Boggle Lane Foods looks at the background of a seasonal wild plant known for its hardiness and heritage.

2023 marks 80 years since the famous Dambusters flew their mission from Lincolnshire to destroy dams in Nazi Germany during World War II. The legacy of this war has helped shape our county in more ways than one, even when it comes to foraging.

It’s not just geology that has formed the natural habitats across our vast and varied landscapes of rolling hills and pancake-flat fenlands. A bird’s-eye view over England’s second largest county would reveal a peppering of faded scars.

Among Lincolnshire’s 2,687 square miles, some of these craters, left by bomb blasts, are now called home by a host of wild plants. One is known as the Bombweed.

It was given this name during and after the war because of its ability to spring up in areas where fires from the blasts once raged. You may know it as Fireweed or Rosebay Willowherb. This striking, tall plant loves to settle in burnt out, desolate landscapes to transform them into colourful paradises.

Its elegant stems are crowned with neon violet-pink, four-petalled flowers in late summer and can reach up to 8m high. This phoenix of the flower world has some amazing nutritional and healing potential.

Everything from the flowers and leaves to the stems are prized by both bees and foragers. This majestic plant is said to cure everything from psoriasis to stomach ulcers as well as reduce inflammation and ease cold symptoms – which is not surprising when you discover that it is packed with vitamins A, B and C as well as calcium, potassium and manganese.

Food source
Bombweed is a potent plant and a great source of food and medicine that has been used across the northern hemisphere for aeons. I like to scatter the pretty petals on salads and desserts, but my go-to is tea. You can gather the thin, spear-shaped leaves and with a couple of simple steps create a delicious and healing cuppa. Or strip the stems and scrape out the pith if you’re looking for a refreshing and unique ingredient for dressings. It may be fiddly, but scooping out the pith can add delicious notes of wild cucumber to salsas or salads.

Guelder Rose berries for a pectin boost in jams, to plants for healing herbal teas.

Why not explore the wonders of our hidden habitats and discover your inner forager? I promise you won’t look back! Remember though, nature is powerful so always check the identity of your finds and their potential impact before you use them.

• Wash and dry the leaves then take a few at a time and bruise them between your fingers before placing them in your ceramic dish.
• Place a dampened, clean cloth over the dish and put it somewhere warm for 12 hours, e.g. an airing cupboard – so that the leaves can begin to ferment.
• Take the leaves from the dish and lay them evenly on a greaseproof paper lined baking dish or tray.
• Place the tray or dish in the oven at around 80°C for around 1 hour, leaving the oven door open slightly to ensure it doesn’t get too hot.
• Check the leaves every 10 to 15 minutes, turning them to ensure they dry evenly.
• Once dried, you can place the leaves in a clean sealed container and they will keep for around three months.
• Use some of the leaves to make your tea by placing ¼ of a handful in a cup and pouring over hot water (not boiling) to submerge the leaves, then leave to steep for around 15 min before drinking. Enjoy!

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