Alaska Unexpected

Every state has its roadside weed. But not all are used to make ice cream and jam.

As you’re traveling around Alaska, whether trekking through the interior to the Nunamiut Eskimo Village of the Anaktuvuk Pass or a city tour of coastal cities like Anchorage, look for bright-pink flowers on top of towering stems between June and September. Spotted in shorelines, prairie fields, roadside gulches and along streams, fireweed’s (Chamerion angustifolium) pop of pink is a stunning sight.

It’s also edible.

At Wild Scoops in downtown Anchorage, Fireweed bumps up against Chocolate and Madagascar Vanilla on the flavor menu. Jars of fireweed jam line the shelves at Fred Meyer and within souvenir shops. Fireweed honey is a twist on tea time, sweetening the brew. And drizzling pancakes and waffles with fireweed syrup is totally what locals do.

Why is it called fireweed? Turns out the name is directly linked to its origin. These pink flowers tend to crop up after fires have burned an area. After Mount St. Helens erupted in Washington in 1980, fireweed sprung out of the soil soon after. And when London was bombed during World War II fireweed populated the city. Did you know fireweed can grow as tall as nine feet? You’re more likely to spot growths of between four and six feet, though. Look for it, whether you’re kayaking on Byers Lake in Denali State Park (Denali National Park’s little sister) or experiencing, in the sweet town of Seward, whale watching or salmon fishing.

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