I have never observed fireweed in the eastern United Stares, however it does occur commonly all over the forested regions of the West from Alaska to Mexico. It is also scattered throughout Europe and Asia where land has been disturbed. It is a bright red international signal that man or nature has eliminated the green cover of the land. It is a true forest fire/volcano lover.
Strangely enough, although I never see it in survival books, it is one of the most edible plants. Other names for it are deer horn, named for the spike-like prods that stick up beneath the beautiful red, four-petaled flowers, and wild asparagus for its tasty, asparagus-like young stems. The tender leaves can also be steamed or boiled as greens. Beekeepers in western states often move their hives close to logged or burned areas where their bees have close access to its sweet honey providing flowers. Why it is called a weed is beyond my comprehension. It should be cultivated as a food plant
When my daughter, two grandchildren and I took a mule called Blackjack across the High Sierras, Blackjack would stop to browse on a sow thistle or fireweed. They were his two favorite foods and he would pull us off the trail to reach either of them. Mules seem to know more about the beneficial vitamins and trace elements in so-called weeds than modern man - maybe they are smarter in a natural sort of way!
Like Blackjack, the Paiute Indians of California knew all about fireweed and used it also as an anti-diarrhetic and hemostatic herb. I would rename this flower firefood.
The real problem is that the term weed has come to mean a nuisance plant when, in fact, weeds are without a doubt our most beneficial earthly helpers. The word weed should be drummed out of the English language, and weed killers banished from society like all murderers. Nelson Coon, in his classic book on the use of wild plants, calls weeds wayside plants. That is indeed a good term for weeds because roadways and trails are disturbed areas and thus ideal spots for the natural cropping of all varieties of weeds. There is not a trail or roadway across the United States that a knowledgeable survival expert could not, as Blackjack did, eat his way along, or even cure a few disorders if so inclined. Other than as a source of food and herbs, the real value of weeds has to do with their soil restorative powers which are awesome. Why is this so?
The short simplified answer is that in depleted soil, weeds send their roots deep down into the more mineral-rich subsoil. In doing so, they pull up into their stems and leaves the very minerals that Julius Hensel speaks about - potassa, sodia, lime, magnesia, manganese, iron, silica, alumina, phosphoric acid, sulphur and fluorine. Weeds are boxed and packaged storehouses of almost every important mineral needed for healthy plant growth. Just as importantly, weeds are natural mixers of such minerals. Since it is done by nature and not Dupont, the magic force called paramagnetism is attained in the mixture. It is quite usual in the laboratory to mix such minerals together and attain little or nothing of this paramagnetic force, so why not let the weeds do it correctly?