A Jewel in the Weeds: Jewelweed

Impatiens capensis. An annual plant that is both useful and beautiful. I love spotting these little jewels every summer. Found in mostly moist habitats, it can also often be found growing next to creeks or small channels of flowing water, usually in the shade. The flowers are a pale yellow on the Pale Jewelweeds and golden orange on the Spotted Jewelweeds. I found both species while on my walks these past two weeks. These delicate flowers hang down like jewels, giving the plant it’s common name. Flowering season usually begins in May till first frost depending upon the latitude. Spotted Jewelweeds usually bloom with the Pale Jewelweeds following after. A single flower may be in bloom for about 1-3 days.

Medicinal uses were utilized by both the Native Americans and by the early European settlers. Jewelweed was a popular treatment for preventing and/or relieving the itch of Poison Ivy, I still use this plant as such today. Juices extracted from the stems and leaves were used as a balm or as a wash externally for poison ivy, also for the sting of American Stinging Nettles along with other skin rashes. Athlete’s foot and ringworm can be helped since Jewelweed contains tannin, which is an astringent, and 2-methoxy-1, 4-naphtholoquinine, a fungicide and an anti-inflammatory as well as containing lawsone (hennotannic acid), which is used as an antihistamine and as an anti-inflammatory.

I like making a deep infusion from the leaves and the stems until the water turns medium brown. This infusion can either be bottled or can be frozen for up to 1 year. I make ice cubes to treat active poison ivy during the summer months. A poultice can be made using crushed leaves and stems. This poultice is used for treating acne, bruises, burns, cuts, eczema, headaches, hemorrhoids, hives, insect bites and stings, measles, poison ivy, sores, sprains, and warts.

Not only is this a beautiful and medicinal plant but it can also be a tasty addition to your summer meals. The flowers can be eaten in salads or can be stir fried. Jewelweed seeds are tasty like a walnut but very small and a bit harder to gather. The shoots, leaves and stems are also edible but must be cooked thoroughly. The shoots should be gathered before they reach a height of 8 inches and should be boiled for 10-20 minutes in 2 changes of water. The leaves and stems can also be boiled and eaten as a potherb. This plant also contains harmful chemicals, including calcium oxalate crystals and selenium in its raw state so it is not advised to eat, unless cooked. Happy foraging!

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