Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is a self-seeding annual that grows prolifically all over North America. It’s usually found in damp ditches and near creeks, and is one of the best pollinator plants for avid gardeners to cultivate. Why? Because not only does it attract bees and butterflies, it neutralizes poison ivy, and is invaluable for insect bites, skin rashes, and eczema.
A Gardener’s Best Friend
Just about anyone who’s spent a fair bit of time out in their garden will know that insect bites and rashes come with the territory. Mosquitoes, horseflies, blackflies, and gnats are just a few of the biting jerks that attack us when we’re pulling weeds and harvesting veggies.
Furthermore, some plants—both cultivated and wildcrafted—can cause some interesting rashes. For example, I’m allergic to juniper, so just brushing up against its needles will have me itching for days. Other people may react to tomato or squash leaves… just about anything can cause contact dermatitis if you’re sensitive to it.
Poison ivy is a common irritant, and interestingly enough, jewelweed usually grows in the same vicinity! If you’re ever out foraging and you accidentally make contact with poison ivy or poison oak, look around: you might just find its antidote blooming nearby too.
How to Identify Jewelweed
This plant is also known as “spotted touch-me-not”, because it expels its seeds rather explosively when anyone so much as touches them. Seriously, its ballistic seed dispersal method is called “explosive dehiscence”, because those seeds get shot all over the place at the slightest nudge.
If it’s in bloom, you’ll be able to identify it by its luscious orange flowers, which are spotted with darker orange or red. They have three-lobed corollas, with a hooked, spur-like calyx lobe on the back of each blossom.
Their stems are smooth and juicy, slightly translucent, and tend to have a silvery sheen that wipes off easily. It’s the stems and leaves that have the saponins that we’re after.
To use the plant immediately, use a knife or your thumbnail and crack the stem open. Then rub the mucilaginous interior over the affected area. The leaves have the saponins as well, so if you only have juvenile plants around and you have some time/space to work, you can chop up all the aerial parts and slather that on yourself like a poultice.
Alternatively, you can harvest the plants and use them two different ways for year-round care.
Jewelweed Salve Recipe
- A large handful or two of fresh jewelweed stems and leaves, chopped
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 vitamin E capsule
- 2 tablespoons beeswax pellets (you can use carnauba wax for a vegan salve)
- Double boiler or DIY version thereof
Place some of the chopped plant matter into a double boiler or glass jar, and add the olive oil. You can double or triple this recipe, so just adjust the wax and oil amounts as needed.
If you’re using a glass jar, place that inside a large pot that has just enough water to come 3/4 of the way up the jar. You don’t want any extra water inside this mixture.
Warm the oil and plant mixture on low heat for at least an hour (preferably three or so), stirring gently on occasion. This will infuse the oil with all the lovely saponins held in the leaves. Then strain into a bowl, and stir in the beeswax and vitamin E. While still warm, pour this mixture into clean jars or salve tins, and allow to cool.
Notes on storage:
Since jewelweed is so succulent (has a lot of water content), this mixture isn’t going to be shelf stable: it can get moldy if kept at room temperature. Store it in the fridge instead, where it’ll keep well for several months. In fact, it actually feels really great when you apply this cooled salve to itchy bites or hot rashes.
If you’d like to keep jewelweed on hand year-round, then your best bet is to freeze some as well.
Frozen Jewelweed Pops
Are you familiar with those reusable silicone freeze pop moulds? They’re ideal for herbal applications to treat rashes and burns. (*Tip: this also works really well with aloe vera, for burns, etc.)
Grab a few large handfuls of jewelweed stems and leaves, and pop those into a food processor or blender. Add a couple of tablespoons of water, and puree until smooth.
Pour this mixture into the silicone moulds, and freeze them. When and if you have a rash or a nasty insect bite (or 30 of them…), just push on the bottom of the mould to expose some of the frozen plant matter.
Apply this to the affected area for cooling relief as it alleviates the itch, swelling, and irritation.
Just don’t eat these freezies. They’re not toxic, but they taste vile.
As you can see, this plant is spectacular as a medicinal herbal ally, but it’s also ideal for attracting pollinators. It draws all manner of bees, butterflies, moths, and even hummingbirds to your garden. If you’re planting vegetables and herbs, try to grow jewelweed in a soggy area nearby to get your veg fertilized enthusiastically.
Alternatively, if you don’t have any low-lying, boggy patches on your land, you can grow these plants in pots. Just make sure they get a fair bit of sun during the day, and that they’re in peat-heavy soil that remains damp at all times.
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