When I was on a weekend retreat at The Mountain in North Carolina, I noticed several patches of the native plant we call Jewelweed or Spotted touch-me-not. What I didn’t see much of, fortunately, was its nemesis, poison ivy. Still, it gave me an opportunity to share my appreciation of this medicinal plant with the other attendees.
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.
The seedpods are fascinating for kids of all ages. Tiny cigar-shaped pendants that grow fatter as they ripen, they will explode when lightly touched — hence the name, “touch-me-not.” You are actually helping the plant propagate by “sproinging" the seeds.
Jewelweed is one of the best remedies for poison ivy rash and mosquito bites. In fact, you will often find it growing near poison ivy, as if to say, “I’m here to help.” For immediate relief, you can pick and mash a few leaves (chewing but not swallowing them if you prefer) and place the green pulp directly on the affected skin.
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.
Native Americans of the woodlands and Southeast have been using jewelweed for centuries, and not just for poison ivy.
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:
The Iroquois used jewelweed:
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.
Sources: Medicinal Plants of the Southern Appalachians, Patricia K. Howell.
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
Christin Whittington is a practitioner of energy medicine – helping people restore balance in their bodies, their health and their lives using a combination of Reiki, Reflexology, Jin Shin Jyutsu, Qi Gong and herbal medicine.