By Carol Schleich
Talk about companion planting…
Last summer while attempting to fight off two invaders I learned something – just call it irony.
Part of my yard seems to be a safe haven for poison ivy and unfortunately non toxic solutions such as boiling water, vinegar and salt did not eradicate this blight. I clipped roots, sprayed the formerly contraband chemicals, wore ever so flattering thrift store long sleeved shirts and brown jersey gloves and still ended up on the losing side of the fight. Even one small blister on my wrist drives me crazy.
Simultaneously, I decided that a beautiful wildflower lining a ditch was out of control and began thinning it. As it choked out weeds and I had no substitute in mind, I don’t understand my rationale, other than their water filled stems were easy to pull which made me feel successful at something.
The Natural Poison Ivy Remedy
One week-end while driving through the Hocking Hills I decided to stop at a small shop to get a cold soft drink. No such luck. It was not a convenience store, but a souvenir stand with dry goods including t-shirts and various sundries. As I looked around, I spotted a brown plastic bottle with a small home printed label which the proprietor explained to be a home remedy for poison ivy, concocted by one of her friends to relieve the torments of stinging nettle, aka itch weed, and other examples of contact dermatitis. At $6.50 it would be a steal—if it worked and if it was safe—with the added bonus of proceeds going to an animal rescue the shop owner supports!
“What’s in it?”
I learned that the main ingredient in the homemade remedy, was jewel weed, which grows wild throughout the area. An Internet search reveals that the pretty wildflower growing in my ditch, just yards from the poison ivy that refuses to die was orange jewelweed.
According to Wikipedia, jewelweed (impatiens capensis) is a traditional Native American remedy for skin rashes including poison ivy. The plants grow from three to five feet tall and bloom from late spring to early fall and hummingbirds as well as bees are heavy pollinators.1)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impatiens_capensis
The Touch Me Not Plant
This nickname can be confusing. Some have said that the touch-me-not title should belong to the plants for which jewelweed is a remedy. I.e., we shouldn’t be touching poison ivy or stinging nettle, right? However… Jewelweed is called the touch me not plant because its seeds explode when touched.
Do Deer Like Jewelweed?
Some wonder if jewelweed will attract deer or repel deer. While it’s said that deer like all impatiens, however, I have impatiens next to my house and while deer often roam my yard, they don’t seem to bother the touch-me-nots.
Editor’s Note: In the footnotes at the end of this article, you’ll find a link to a really interesting article by Krishna Ramanujan of Cornell University Chronicle, on how even when deer graze jewelweed it actually increases the growth of the plants in that area more than it diminishes. It most likely has something to do with jewelweed’s exploding seeds and the resiliency and adaptability of Mother Nature. 2)http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2014/12/some-plants-evolve-tolerance-deer
Natural Poison Ivy Remedy
One of the simplest ways to use jewelweed is by plucking the leaves and rubbing them over the afflicted area of skin. Often the result is immediate relief. But if you live and garden around poison ivy, you can make some extract to keep on hand.
Making Jewelweed Extract
Although I found a formula for jewelweed tincture as a poison ivy antidote, I decided against using alcohol and created my own compound by steeping a pan of jewelweed stems, flowers and roots in boiling water. I let it cool, strained and composted the jewelweed and refrigerated the liquid, then splashed it on liberally after any and all yard work. It also helps relieve the misery of mosquito bites and may be preserved by freezing in ice cube trays. Fresh jewelweed’s stems can be sliced open and the juice be rubbed directly on the affected area. Some people claim that the fresh juice works faster and is much more effective than the tincture.
Calamine lotion has always been too chalky and drying while not always performing to my expectations, so I am happy to report that both the purchased tincture and my own brew soothed my skin and kept poison ivy at bay. No more itching! No blisters!
JEWELWEED WORKS BETTER THAN CALAMINE LOTION!
The best time to harvest jewelweed is while it’s flowering. However, you can apply the crushed leaves to afflicted areas any time.
Warnings: Jewelweed compound can stain clothing, but more importantly, under no circumstance ingest this tincture. (You already knew the latter.) As with any home remedy, there is always the possibility of an allergic reaction. P.S. After working as a paralegal for twenty-two fun filled years, I feel compelled to subscribe to the CYA code; hence the disclaimer. I personally have had nothing but positive experiences using jewelweed.
By Carol Schleich, Master Gardener
Next, learn more about other uses and benefits of jewelweed.
Jewelweed contains a compound called lawsone in its leaves proven to have anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory properties.3)http://www.bio.brandeis.edu/fieldbio/medicinal_plants/pages/glossary.html#poultice The plant is safest and most effective when used as an external wash, poultice, or salve.4)http://www.motherearthliving.com/plant-profile/jewelweed?pageid=2#PageContent2
Native American Ethnobotany and Historical Jewelweed Uses
- Poison Ivy, stinging nettle and other skin rashes
- Gastrointestinal distress – rubbed externally on stomach
- Childbirth – stem decoction taken to ease childbirth and bathe private parts
- Plant decoction used as a wash or liver spots
- Diuretic made from infusion of roots
- Sore eyelids – poultice from smashed stems
- Fever – Cold infusion of plants
- Kidney problems – decoction of plants
- Liver Aid – Compound plant decoction used as a wash for liver spots
- Analgesic – juice of plant rubbed on head
- Pulmonary Aid – whole plant infusion taken for chest cold
Disclaimer: This is an informational report of traditional uses and not to be construed as medical advice or recommendations. Ingesting jewelweed without knowledgeable supervision is not advisable and should be avoided. Similarly, if any external use causes a reaction, you should cease use immediately and consult your doctor.
About contributing writer, Carol Schleich:
I am mother of two, grandmother of two, Master Gardener working as a volunteer with developmentally disabled adults, and a lifelong animal rescuer. I am also a writer and ordained minister (without a church).
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