The benefits of Jewelweed are quite specific. Today it is most widely used as a topical treatment for extreme itchiness and rash caused by contact with plants and insects, most notably: poison ivy, oak and sumac.
This plant is wonderful to know and easy to recognize. The fluid in jewelweed’s succulent leaves helps to heal rashes and stings of any kind. For me, jewel weed was an exciting plant to learn about. Growing up I had heard that there was a plant which grows close to poison ivy that would help to cure the rash. To me this was such a beautiful mystery. Discovering that this plant does exist was so fascinating, a true ‘jewel’ of knowledge. I especially love to show people jewelweed so they too can spread the word and show others this helpful plant, a mere common weed that cures poison ivy does indeed exist.
Latin Name: Impatiens capensis and Impatiens pallida
Botanical Family: Balsaminaceae
Common Names: Jewel weed, Touch me not, Quick-in-the-hand, Wild Lady’s Slipper
Plant Properties: Diuretic, demulcent, emollient, anti-inflammatory, antipruritic (stops itching), antihistamine, anti-fungal
Energetics: Cooling, astringent, moistening, bitter
Plant Uses: contact dermatitis, rash, eczema, psoriasis
When to Harvest: I have gathered jewel weed in the early spring when the first two tiny leaflets appear. They are potent enough to use for medicine even at this stage. The ideal time to harvest jewel weed for medicine making is when it is flowering, but if you need some right away, even the smallest plants will do.
Parts Used: The entire plant. The roots are very shallow making this an extremely easy plant to harvest. The knobby joints are the areas of the plant that are most fluid-filled.
Plant Preparations: Tea (decoction), Infused oil, fresh plant poultice.
History of Use
Jewel weed has been used extensively throughout North America for poison ivy, poison sumac and poison oak rash. Jewelweed was used for other skin eruptions associated with bee stings, nettle stings, hives, herpes, blisters, hemorrhoids, acne and burns. Traditionally, jewelweed has also been used in the form of infusions (strong tea) internally for headache, stomach ache, kidney problems and externally for bruises, muscle sprains and soreness. Finally, it was an ingredient in the medicine used for the Green Corn Ceremony. (North American Ethnobotany)
- Internal use of Jewelweed as a fresh plant, a tea, tincture or oil can be extremely dangerous for some people.
- Alcohol extractions for internal and external use must be avoided entirely
People who suffer from: rheumatism, kidney problems, kidney stones, gout, arthritis or hyper-acidity must avoid internal use of jewel weed. Jewelweed contains calcium oxalate crystals which can cause severe adverse reactions in some people including coma and death, liver and kidney damage. (MacKinnon)
Cooking and drying destroys calcium oxalate but caution should be taken when taking this herb internally. (MacKinnon)
Avoid alcohol extractions internally and externally. Alcohol extractions are heavily warned against. Some people can have an allergic response to an external application of the alcohol extract that is severe enough to require hospitalization. I have always made jewelweed medicine with oil infusions and strong teas. Both oil and water extractions are completely effective ways to administer jewelweed. An infused oil can be mixed with bee’s wax to preserve it. Tea can be frozen in an ice cube tray for future use.
Identification: Jewel weed is a succulent and delicate plant which grows up to 2 meters tall depending on the location. The jewel weed that grows in my back yard reaches a height of about 3 ft, where as down the road by the stream it towers far above my head.
Leaves and Stems: The stems of jewelweed are hollow, full and knobby at the joints and slightly translucent. The leaves are alternate on the upper part of the stem and opposite near the base. The waterproof leaves are oval with rounded teeth. (Harris)
Flowers: Delicately hung like a jewel, the flowers on Impatiens are yellow to orange. When the plant has gone to seed, you can explode the seed cluster by touching it. I have always thought jewelweed got its name for the flowers that hang like pendants, but I have since read that the name jewelweed was given to it because of the way water droplets sit on the plant. The leaves and stems are water proof which causes water to settle on it, giving the impression of jewels.
- Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) – Has orange flowers that have red spots. It flowers from July to October.
- Pale Jewelweed (Impatiens pallida) – Has light yellow flowers that are larger than the capensis flowers. They sometimes have a small amount of brown spots and others have no spots at all. Pallida also flowers from July to October. (MacKinnon)
Habitat: You can find jewelweed growing in shady, damp areas. Ditches, stream, river, bog and lake sides, the edges of forests. I have jewelweed growing in back yard in a shady spot. Jewelweed does share the same habitat with poison ivy. (MacKinnon)
Environmental Status: Jewelweed is vulnerable in Quebec. Imperilled in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Labrador. (based upon the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife (MacKinnon)
Jewel weed – The Peace Keeper
Reflecting on jewelweed, I came to know it as a “peace maker” because of the way it calms or completely stops the hostile reaction of our immune system to poison ivy. I have had several people visit me over the years with extensive rashes from poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. I have also received many calls, emails or visits from people who tell me how miraculously jewelweed worked for them. On two separate occasions, I was visited by nurses who work in the ER. saying they would like to have access to this medicine in the hospital they work in.
A famous, and oft-cited, 1958 scientific study demonstrated that an overwhelmingly number of subjects with the poison ivy rash (almost 95%) responded well to a jewel weed treatment (Annals of Allerty 1958; 16: 526-527). This confirms my practical experience with jewel weed. I have looked at more recent studies from the United States which show that jewelweed had no impact whatsoever. This astounds me. In my 10 years of experience working with jewelweed, I have seen overwhelming evidence that jewelweed does have an incredible effect on the poison ivy rash. One day I will collect the data and maybe even have a clinical study myself.
I once had a man email me to ask if he could come to my house to get some salve for his son who had poison ivy. The boy had been at a friend’s house who happened to have my salve and they had been putting it on his rash. He was given so much relief from it, that when he got home, he begged his father to get him some. It wasn’t until they arrived at my door that I realized they had driven 2 hours to come get it! What a great Dad.
How Does it Work?
Jewel weed exhibits its antidote effect when you apply it soon after contact or at the earliest signs of rash. When applied to an already existing rash, jewelweed will speed the healing and help to alleviate the itch in a tremendous way.
Urushiol (the rash-causing oleoresin in poison ivy) can take as little as 10 minutes and up to 72 hours to penetrate the skin. Depending on the thickness of the skin that has been in contact with the oil, rashes will erupt at various times. People tend to think this is the rash ‘spreading’ but rather this is due to variations in the absorption and thus a delayed response. “The poison ivy rash is not contagious and does not spread.” – American Academy of Dermatology.
I believe the chemistry behind jewelweed’s antidote effect is still yet to be understood completely.
“Dr. Rosen has identified the active ingredient in jewelweed as a chemical called lawsone. This substance binds to the same molecular sites on the skin as urushiol. If applied quickly after contact with a poisonous plant, lawsone beats the urushiol to those sites, in effect locking it out.” – James A. Duke, The Green Pharmacy, 1998.
Although lawsone may indeed be the active constituent in jewelweed, I prefer to trust all the constituents in the plant that work together to create its medicinal value. I also question Dr. Rosen’s idea that the jewelweed ‘locks the urushiol out’ because it does not explain previous cases rising up. These areas have already been affected by urushiol, they have already gone through the chemical binding in the dermis. Therefore there would be no blocking action happening. Further, I have seen first hand how jewelweed will completely stop a previous rash from re-erupting with a very small dose. Perhaps jewelweed does interact with the new molecules that are present in the dermis to calm the immune response. How this occurs though, I still do not understand.
Always Wash With Cold Water
A common mistake people make is to wash with hot or warm water. Heat will cause the pores to open and speed up the absorption of the resin. Wash thoroughly and repeatedly with cold water and apply jewel weed. If you see signs of a rash, apply Jewel weed continually until symptoms disappear.
Jewelweed is yet another highly valuable plant that is sadly overlooked and considered a weed. I truly hope that after reading this monograph you will feel confident about finding and using jewelweed and that you will share your plant knowledge. Absolutely legendary in its medicinal virtue, jewelweed is one of my favorite medicinal herbs to know. Capable of lessening or completely stopping the effects of poison ivy makes jewelweed worthy of more study and understanding.
- Gibbons, Euell. Stalking the Healthful Herbs. Alan C. Hood & Company, Inc. 1966. ISBN: 978-0911469066
- Harris, Marjorie. Botanica North America – The Illustrated Guide To Our Native Plants, Their Botany, History, and The Way They Have Shaped Our World. HarperCollins Publishers Inc. New York, NY. 2003 ISBN: 0-06-270231-9
- Hutchens, Alma R. Indian Herbology of North America. Merco, Windsor, Ontario.1973. Library Catalog Number: 615.321.RS 164
- MacKinnon, Andrew, Kershaw, Linda, Arnason, John, Owen, Patrick, Karst, Amanda, Hamersly Chambers, Fiona. Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada. Partners Publishing and Lone Pine Media Productions (B.C.) Ltd. 2014. ISBN: 978-1-77213-002-7
- Weiner, Michael A. Earth Medicine- Earth Foods, Plant Remedies, Drugs and Natural Foods of the North American Indians. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc, New York, New York. 1972. Library of Congress Number: 73-167802
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- botanical.com – A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve
- googlebooks.ca – The Green Pharmacy: New Discoveries in Herbal Remedies for Common Diseases by James A. Duke