Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Impatiens capensis - Spotted Jewelweed

Impatiens capensis - Jewelweed also called Wild Balsam, Balsam-weed, Impatiens pallida, Pale-touch-me-not, Spotted touch-me-not, Snapweed, Slipperweed, Silverweed, Wild Lady's Slipper, Speckled Jewels, Wild Celandine, Quick-in-the-hand. 

Spotted Jewelweed is a North American native plant.  Impatiens means “impatient,” a reference to the fact  dried seed capsules that burst open when touched.  Capensis means “of the cape,” because it was believed incorrectly that the species was native to the Cape of Good Hope in Africa.
These plants are common in regions that are at least seasonally wet and partially shaded, such as creek beds or damp soils.  Plants are 3-5' high, with translucent and rather fragile stems with swollen joints.  The stem will pour forth a mucilaginous, watery juice when cut or bruised.  Leaves are bluish-green, oval-shaped, with shallow teeth, about 4" × 1¾".  Flowers bloom from July to October and occur in clusters of one to three.

Viewed from the side, flowers are shaped a bit like a horn of plenty, or Cornucopia.  They are yellow, with two large lower petals and one upper petal, with spots or patches of red-orange. Due to the spotting they may appear orange rather than yellow from the front.  Each flower is about ¾" in size.  The seed pods, about ¾-1¼" long, spread their seeds by drying into a spring-loaded form that pops upon contact, delighting children.  It is also usually found growing in proximity to poison ivy.  A close cousin, the yellow jewelweed, has no (or almost no) spots.

Spotted Jewelweed has long been used as a preventative for poison oakpoison ivy, stinging nettles (yellow dock is the preferred antidote), other plant induced rashes, bug bites and many other types of dermatitis.  Poultices and salves from Jewelweed are a folk remedy for bruises, burns, cuts, eczema, insect bites, sores, sprains, warts, and ringworm.  Is also considered a potent anti-fungal and has been used for eczema, athlete's foot, and scalp diseases.  The raw juice and leaves are used in topical skin treatments. It is not for internal use.

Some sources suggest that the crushed stems are best; others that stems, leaves and flowers can all be crushed together. If you have a choice, use stems only, from plants that haven’t flowered yet.  The juice extract can be prepared in the field simply by rolling and crushing a handful of jewelweed between the hands, then applying the sap to the exposed skin.
Spotted Jewelweed is uniformly considered to be much more effective on skin irritants than its close cousin, yellow jewelweed.  Most advocates believe that the jewelweed extract needs to be used within four hours, prior to the development of poison ivy blisters, but a few insist that it is helpful even when applied to blisters. Controlled studies sometimes confirm jewelweed’s effectiveness, but not always. 

Everyone agrees that poison ivy is often found in places where jewelweed is present.  But poison ivy also grows in places where Jewelweed cannot, so there is no guarantee that you can find it. 
Jewelweed extract can be included as an ingredient of soaps, available commercially; or frozen into ice cubes and saved for later.  So far there are no records of problems, such as allergic reactions, as a result of applying jewelweed extract. Since spotted jewelweed is fairly often found in the proximity of poison ivy, and it is easy to prepare by rubbing between the hands, there is no harm in attempting to use this remedy.

Spotted Jewelweed as a Poison Ivy Remedy: Boil a potful of jewelweed till the liquid is about half of the original volume; this liquid can be used to neutralize the poison ivy oils on skin; to preserve this liquid, freeze it in ice cube trays and keep cubes stored in plastic bags in freezer.  Whenever you come into contact with poison ivy, simply rub affected area with iced jewelweed cube.  It will keep in freezer for up to a year. You can also preserve the infusion by canning it in a pressure cooker. Do not make alcoholic tinctures from Jewelweed because some people have had bad reactions using jewelweed with alcohol.

Outdoorsman and proponent of natural diets, Euell Gibbons (9/14/11 - 12/29/75) was considered the father of wild foods during the 1960s. He recommended Jewelweed not only for curing poison ivy, but also as a vegetable.  He recommended that the young stems be boiled in water until tender. The water was frozen for later use as a medicine, but the stems, he said, were like eating string beans.  Most sources, however, say that this plant is for external use only.

Spotted Jewelweed is a valuable resourse for wildlife, often visited by nectar-loving animals, such as hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies and the seeds are eaten by Northern Bobwhite and White-footed Mice.

1 comment:

Betty Stone said...

thank you for this wonderfully indepth description of jewelweed. I am glad to know what this is, as it grows abundantly on our property in Alleghany County, NC.