03 July 2014
I just returned from a special journey back to my hometown, introducing my son for the first time to my old stomping grounds. When we went through the local Arboretum up there, I fondly recalled to him how, as a girl, I first met a particularly enchanting plant ally: jewelweed (Impatiens capensis).
In an Arboretum nature walk for children, the leader entranced me by submerging a translucent, serrated-edged jewelweed leaf in water, glistening silver like a mermaid underwater. And then removing it to show how the water droplets beaded up, like little “jewels” glittering in the sun! I still love to catch sight of her shimmering at the edges of ponds and streams after a light summer rain.
Adding to the fun were the distinctively spotted, brilliant orange cornucopia-shaped flowers that come out in the late summer. Turns out, their common name is “touch-me-not”, since the ripe flower seems rather ticklish and will shoot out spirals of seedpods when pinched or prodded—much to our delight!
Yes, jewelweed is very pretty and quite entertaining, but don’t take her too lightly because of it. She may be dainty, but she’s powerful. Her leaves and roots contain strong anti-inflammatory and anti-itching properties, which offer an effective treatment for hives, insect bites and even poison ivy. In fact, jewelweed is often found growing in close proximity to poison ivy…a great benefit if you encounter that irritant while out on a hike.
You can use her clear, calming juices as a poultice—right from the leaves and stalks—applied directly areas of poison ivy exposure. The chemical compounds in jewelweed help to neutralize the urushiol—the irritating oil in poison ivy that causes the rash.
Bring some jewelweed back with you and, once you get home, simmer it in water for about 20 minutes to create a broth. The water will turn bright reddish-orange; that will let you know that the medicinal properties have been extracted. A cloth soaked in the soothing broth can be used to bathe the affected area. You can also freeze this jewelweed broth in ice cube trays and keep it available (and potent) should you need it at some later time.
Just make sure that you don’t pop those ice cubes into a drink by mistake. Although many wild food guides list jewelweed as edible, I myself find that it isn’t particularly yummy and some people get a bit of an upset stomach when they ingest it. I think it’s quite enough to enjoy jewelweed for her beauty, her playful nature and her wonderful healing gifts.