By Carol Schleich
Talk about companion planting… jewelweed is one of nature’s companion plants! Last summer while attempting to fight off two invaders I discovered a new plant. Even though I’m a Master Gardener, I wasn’t already familiar with this powerful little plant. It turns out to have been an ironic discovery.
Part of my yard seems to be a safe haven for poison ivy and unfortunately non toxic solutions didn’t work. I tried boiling water, then vinegar and salt, and even clipped roots.
None of these measures got rid of this noxious plant. I finally resorted to spraying disavowed chemicals in a last ditch desperate attempt to rid my Eden of the devil.
Still, I ended up on the losing side of the fight. Even decked out in ever so flattering long sleeved shirts from the thrift store and brown jersey glove, I was affected. Even one small poison ivy 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. It choked out weeds and I had no substitute in mind, so I don’t understand my rationale for eradicating it.
Perhaps it was fueled by simmering irritation at the poison ivy rash. Or, that this weed’s water filled stems were easy to pull which made me feel successful at something. It wasn’t until later that I discovered its identity.
The Natural Poison Ivy Remedy
One week-end while driving through the Hocking Hills, Ohio, 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. The proprietor explained it to be a home remedy for poison ivy, concocted by one of her friends.
This homemade salve was a natural remedy 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. There was even an 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 grows wild throughout the area. An Internet search revealed it to be the same pretty wildflower growing in my ditch, just yards from the poison ivy that got on me.
It turns out that the remedy for skin rashes, including poison ivy tends to grow wherever poison ivy grows, and in much the same manner.
The Touch Me Not Plant
This plant of course is Jewel Weed, Impatiens capensis. It has a confusing nickname of the “touch me not” plant. So… it’s a remedy for poison ivy, but shouldn’t be touched…? What?!
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.
Jewel weed is another example of one of Mother Nature’s amazingly adaptive plants that has evolved to guarantee its survival. Its spring loaded seeds help it spread easily from the weather and passing animals.
Loved by pollinators such as bees and hummingbird, jewel weed grows from three to five feet tall and blooms from late spring to early fall.
Jewelweed is called the “touch me not plant” because its seeds explode when touched, thereby guaranteeing its survival.
Do Deer Like Jewelweed?
Some wonder if jewelweed will attract deer or repel deer. 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.1)https://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. As with most medicinal leaves, it works best if you roll the leaves between your fingers or palms to release the oils, then rub onto the afflicted area. Often the result is immediate relief.
If you live and garden around poison ivy, you can make some jewelweed extract for your medicine cabinet. That will enable you to have it on hand for whatever kind of skin rash or irritation you may experience, throughout the year, including poison ivy, because you can still get poison ivy rash in winter if you come in contact with the vines.
Making your own plant extract is easy, and we cover that next.
Jewelweed works better than calamine lotion for poison ivy, mosquito bites and other itchy skin irritations.
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.
- Steep stems, flowers and roots in boiling water
- Cool and strain, (compost the plant parts)
- Refrigerate mixture to use over the next week, or
- Freeze in ice cube trays to use as needed
The steeped jewelweed tincture 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 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!
The best time to harvest jewelweed is while it’s flowering. However, you can apply the crushed leaves or stem sap to afflicted areas any time.~Carol Schleich, Master gardener and contributing writer, GardensAll
As with any home remedy, there is always the possibility of an allergic reaction. After working as a paralegal for twenty-two fun filled years, I feel compelled to subscribe to the CYA code; hence the disclaimer. However, I personally have had nothing but positive experiences using jewelweed.
- Jewelweed compound can stain clothing
- Ingestion of large amounts can be purgative
- Contains calcium oxalate which can be toxic raw, but is destroyed in cooking
- Avoid or minimize if you have a tendency toward rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones and hyperacidity2)https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Impatiens+capensis
Jewelweed leaves contains a compound called lawsone, that’s proven to have antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties. The plant is most often used as an external wash, poultice, or salve.3)https://www.bio.brandeis.edu/fieldbio/medicinal_plants/pages/glossary.html#poultice4)https://www.motherearthliving.com/plant-profile/jewelweed?pageid=2#PageContent2
- 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
- Fungal infections such as athletes foot5)https://www.psu.edu/dept/nkbiology/naturetrail/speciespages/jewelweed.html
Wishing you great gardens, happy harvests and no poison ivy!
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).”
Editor’s Note: Carol Schleich went onto greater gardens in 2018. Loved and admired by family and friends, Carol was friend to plants and animals and delighted in nature and flowers, 1949-2018.7)https://www.sheridanfuneralhome.net/obituary/carol-schleich
Remember… with any home remedy or medication, there is always the possibility of an allergic or adverse reaction, so always proceed with care under proper guidance and instructions.~GardensAll.com
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