First, the taxonomy info (skip this paragraph if you don’t like technical stuff). Jewelweed (botanical name: Impatiens capensis) is an annual plant usually found in wet, shady soil alongside creeks, bogs and ditches. The leaves are oval with rounded tooth edges; the lower leaves are opposite but the upper leaves can become alternate. The flowers, bright orange with red spots (or sometimes yellow), bloom from June to September.
You can even be prepared in advance by making jewelweed ice cubes and keeping them on hand. Here’s the recipe I learned from my herbalism teacher, Patricia Kyritsi Howell:
Gather 8 or 9 fresh jewelweed plants (with or without roots; if you include the roots, be sure to rinse the plants to remove dirt). Chop the leaves and stems coarsely and place in a blender or food processor. Add enough water to cover and process until smooth. Pour into a quart-size canning jar, cover and let the mixture steep overnight. Then pour it into ice-cube trays and freeze until solid. When it’s ready, you can pop the cubes into a freezer bag and store in the freezer. Whenever you have a rash, insect bite or abrasion, smooth the jewelweed ice cube over the area for instant, cool relief.
The Cherokee used jewelweed ceremonially as an ingredient in Green Corn Medicine for the annual corn harvest. Historically, the community would make an offering of the first green corn and other important plants to ensure the rest of the crop would be successful. They also used jewelweed:
- for babies with hives – root infusion used topically
- for a child’s “sour stomach” – rubbing crushed leaves or an infusion directly on the tummy
- for pregnant women – using a decoction of the stems both topically and internally to “bathe private parts” and help ease childbirth
The Iroquois used jewelweed:
- as a wash for liver spots
- as a diuretic, drinking an infusion of the roots to increase urination
- as a urinary aid – taking a decoction of plant for difficult urination or stricture (narrowing) of the urethra
- as eye medicine – applying a poultice of leaves and stems to raw or sore eyelids
- as a febrifuge – taking a cold infusion of plant parts to reduce fevers
- as a gynecological aid – applying a poultice of mashed plants to a woman’s breast injury
- as a kidney aid – drinking a decoction of the plant for kidney problems and dropsy (edema)
The Meskwaki used a poultice of fresh plant for nettle stings. The Micmac prepared an infusion of the leaves for jaundice. The Mohegan made a burn dressing, compounding the flower buds with rum to use as an ointment, and also a poultice of crushed flowers, without rum, for burns, cuts and bruises.
The Ojibwa considered jewelweed an analgesic, and would rub the juice of a fresh plant on the head for headache. The Omaha made a poultice of crushed stems and leaves for eczema. And for the Potawatomi, an infusion of the whole plant was used for chest colds.
So next time you come across jewelweed in the fields or woods, take a moment to appreciate it — especially after a rain, when raindrops bead up on the leaves and shine like jewels (one explanation of the name). Say “thank you” for everything jewelweed does for us.
Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs, Steven Foster and James A. Duke.
Native American Medicinal Plants: an Ethnobotanical Dictionary, Daniel E. Moerman
All photos from Wikipedia