As Poison Ivy begins to leaf out and the tilt of the earth allows for the sun to angle downward onto your landscape, Jewelweed emerges to the rescue once again. The mucilaginous aloe like substance within Jewelweed has been used as a traditional healer and well known folk remedy to help sooth a variety of skin ailments including irritating contact dermatitis resulting from poison ivy, nettle, mosquito bites, insect stings and sunburn. To build upon this traditional remedy of using the plant applied directly as a poultice – before or after the onset of a reaction, I followed a tip in the Peterson’s Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs and took preventive precaution recognizing these seasonal occurrences and made jewel weed ice cubes.
To identify the fairly common and widespread annual yellow jewelweed also known as Pale touch-me-not (Impatiens pallida) and the Orange Jewelweed also known as Spotted touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis) search in shady and wet places around May through September. They grow approximately 1-3 feet and have translucent stems that are watery when broken. The name touch-me-not references the seed pods that will pop at the touch or when brushing past (the seeds are a mini wild edible treat that taste similar to black walnut). I prefer and grew up using the name Jewelweed that references the water repellant quality of the leaves that make a drop of water on top appear like a shiny silvery sparkling jewel.
To make the jewelweed ice cubes, first properly identify a location where the plant is found in great abundance. Collect the plants you need by carefully pulling the stem straight out of the soil and then removing the roots that won’t be part of the project. Next blend your collected plant material with water and freeze.
Having these cubes readily available should help provide longer term relief than the temporary use of a single stem and combines the cold temperatures of the ice to alleviate pain by narrowing blood vessels, which helps limit the amount of swelling. While many including myself will tell you anecdotally that they believe Jewelweed works, there is documented research to confirm suspicions. According to Peterson’s Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs “a 1957 study by a physician found it effective (in 2-3 days) in treating 108 of 115 patients”. and that a “component in the leaves, lawsone explains reported antihistamine and anti-inflammatory activities”. And according to Wild Man Steve Brill, Jewelweed contains the same anti-inflammatory and fungicide that is the active ingredient of preparation H.
It’s worth noting that the plant is not just beneficial to humans but essential to the hummingbirds and other pollinators with long tongues that visit the long pendant like flowers that provide nectar in exchange for pollination services. Where I live in the Northeast, I always keep an eye out on early summer for the ruby throated hummingbirds around the same time as the flowers blossom.