3 Herb Mamas

Wednesday’s Weeds: JEWELWEED

on July 16, 2014

Jewelweed Flower

JEWELWEED (Impatiens biflora)

One of the toughest parts of writing a Wednesday’s Weeds post this time of year is choosing only one plant. I think I go through at least half a dozen options daily. I had Nettles slated for this week but then a timely harvest of Jewelweed had me thinking that it might prove more useful right now. 

There are several species of Jewwelweed that you might encounter including Impatiens biflora (shown above), I. capensis, and I. pallida, all of which are useful medicinally. There are quite a few common names, many of which can lead to confusion as common names often can. Spotted-Touch-Me-Not, Wild Balsam, Wild Impatiens, Wild Lady’s Slipper, Speckled Jewels, Wild Celandine, and Quick-in-the-Hand are all names, in some form or variation, that I have heard applied to completely different plants. This is an excellent example of why it is important to learn scientific names and develop good botanical identification skills. 

 

Jewelweed (Impatiens spp.) can reach several feet in height with sparsely branching leaves which are tender and delicate. The stems are succulent and somewhat translucent with swollen joints and when split open reveal a juicy clear liquid that is a balm to poison ivy rash (or other itchy rashes) sufferers. The above ground parts are what is wanted and since the plants are easily uprooted, you will want to use scissors for gathering. The ovate leaves are lightly toothed and will appear bright and silvery when immersed in water. Water droplets bead up on the foliage like tiny jewels, hence the name. Jewelweed likes moist, shady areas and will wilt and dry out quickly in direct sun and dry conditions. When the seed pods ripen in oblong capsules they explode and scatter seeds with the slightest touch, thus the name Touch-Me-Not. 

 

Jewelweed

Dew and rain bead up in droplets, or “jewels”, on Jewelweed leaves.

Although there are some historical references to internal use, the main way I use Jewelweed is to treat poison ivy, nettle stings, and other other itchy rashes. The juice is found predominantly in the stems but also the leaves and flowers have wonderful healing properties. However it is rather like Aloe gel and resistant to drying methods. The relief from these uncomfortable conditions is almost instantaneous when the juice is applied. The simplest method is to “bruise” or crush up the stems and flowering tops and rub them all over the affected skin. Ahhhhhhh…

However, Jewelweed is not always available when needed. For example, sometimes folks are exposed to poison ivy without knowing it when hauling firewood or handling animals who brushed up against the oil of the poison ivy plant at times of the year when Jewelweed is not growing. I tried many methods of preserving Jewelweed, some of which were moderately successful and some which were not effective at all. Drying, for example, completely destroys its medicinal virtues. By far, the easiest and most effective one has been making a Jewelweed Slurry. Two or three ingredients and a blender or food processor and a freezer are all that is needed. I simply fill my blender with some Aloe gel, sometimes a little distilled water, and a lot of Jewelweed and puree. That’s it. 

 

 

Jewelweed Slurry

Two simple ingredients for Jewelweed Slurry: Jewelweed & Aloe Vera Gel

This can be applied fresh to treat a rash or it can be frozen in ice cube trays or small containers for use as needed. It is sloppy and gloppy but so cooling and relieving. If you need the slurry to stay in place you can mix it with a little clay powder before applying. 

 

Jewelweed Slurry to freeze

Ice cube trays are fine for freezing Jewelweed Slurry but I use small containers to make it easier to share with others as needed. 

 My standard protocol for poison ivy prevention/treatment is to wash the affected (or suspected) area of skin with COLD water and a strong natural soap like Fels Naptha or other castile soap. We never use warm or hot water because that simply spreads the poison ivy oil around on the skin, worsening exposure. Then we follow with a nice slathering of Jewelweed slurry, with or without clay added. Clay has drying qualities to it  as well but isn’t necessary unless you need to get up and be moving about and you don’t want Jewelweed slurry running down your legs and arms. Some people add some Plantain and/or Comfrey leaves to their slurry. Those are nice additions but also not essential. 

Sometimes if I am doing weed walks with a group of people I will brew a big wash tub of Jewelweed “tea” and invite anyone who thinks they may have brushed by or through poison ivy to dip their arms, feet, legs into it to rinse off any potential rash causing oils. I will close with a wonderful quote about this plant from Philip Fritchey’s PRACTICAL HERBALISM: Ordinary Plants with Extraordinary Powers.

“Little is known of the chemistry of this neglected plant. Science has only recently uncovered a few of its antihistamine and anti-inflammatory compounds, i.e. kaempferol 3-rutinoside; 2-hydroxy-1; 4-naphthoquinone; and lawsone. For the most part, though, the secrets of Jewelweed’s nearly magical mode of action remain a mystery.”

Avail yourself of the magic this summer as needed! ~Leenie


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