Jewelweed: A Hiker’s Best Friend

Photo by Fritz Geller-Grimm/Wikipedia

Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis, is the most important plant to know about if you’re worried about exposure to poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac, all of which contain the fearsome allergen called urushiol.

Jewelweed can also take the itch and pain out of insect bites and nettle stings.

There is a widely quoted study from 1958 that found jewelweed dramatically effective for 108 of 115 patients with poison ivy rash, curing their symptoms completely within two to three days. Steve Brill writes that it works as a preventative as well, if you slather it on your skin directly after exposure to poison ivy. He says you can preserve jewelweed for later by tincturing it in witch hazel, too.

Photo by University of California, Berkeley

Most field guides instruct you to crush jewelweed leaves and split the stems and apply them directly to the skin, but an ethnobotanical encyclopedia I have also mentions using the flowers.

I tried using jewelweed flowers this weekend when I was out hiking through a monster nettle patch. My hiking companion did the same. We noticed that they felt slick and gooey. He said it took the pain out of his stings. I wasn’t sure if it worked for me, because I was distracted by a swarm of aggressive mosquitos.

Jewelweed at Westmoreland Park

To find jewelweed, look for bright orange flowers with red speckles on them. They’ll be growing along or near a water source. The stems are person height at three to five feet tall. The flowers, also called touch-me-nots, have a very unusual shape. They are “irregular,” like violets or pea flowers.

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15 thoughts on “Jewelweed: A Hiker’s Best Friend

  1. Has anyone ever tried making an oil infusion of jewelweed to keep about or make creams from? I’d like to know how effective it would be.

  2. Re; Poison Ivy/Oak. I am Search & Rescue certified and in our training we learned a neat secret for preventing getting Poison rashes. Liquid Pectin. Yes, the stuff you make jelly with. The box has two packets. Open one and eat a tablespoon a day until it’s gone. Keep opened one in fridge. (It is kinda like snot, so have something to drink ready!) Write the date 6 months later on the other packet and do the same with it then. You will be rendered immune even if you get in it. Dont know how it works but it’s safe. Do this annually as a routine and you’ll be safe and happy !! (Some people may still get a reaction, but it will be significantly less severe)

  3. For myself, rubbing the juice of the split stems relieves the itch of poison ivy very quickly, but does not get rid of the bumpy rash. That said, I’ll take bumps over itchy bumps any day! I have also used it right after I had touched poison ivy, and I did not get a rash.

    Although they are small, and hard to gather in quantity, the seeds taste remarkably like walnuts and a few sprinkled in a salad is a neat treat.

  4. Great post!! You know why it’s called touch-me-not? When the seed pods get big and plump and a critter walks by and gives it a rub the pod blows up and spews it’s seeds. Try it, it’s pretty interesting to watch and feel.

    When I use it on my itches i always just chew it up a bit and rub the chew on the itch. Done deal.

    It’s also and edible.

  5. Great post! I love Jewelweed, although mostly for its beautiful flowers… like you, I wasn’t completely convinced by its effectiveness when I tried it. I get a lot of poison ivy rashes when I go hiking, so one year we harvested a bunch of Jewelweed, boiled it, and then made ice cubes out of the liquid. I can say that the ice cubes were very soothing and definitely helped to reduce the itchiness, although only temporarily…!

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