Jewelweed: A True Gem

Reader Contribution by Mary Lewis
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One of my fatal flaws is insatiable curiosity. My dad calls it “got-to-know-itis.” So, when I see something new, I try to find out information about it. And that’s where my jewelweed story begins.

My husband and I were hiking one of the beautiful trails here in Minnesota when I saw a pretty plant next to a creek. The blooms looked like tiny orange orchids, and I was smitten. When we got home, I opened Google on my laptop, and started searching. I discovered this orchid like flower is called jewelweed (Impatiens capensis).

Jewelweed is a common plant that grows in moist, semi-shady areas throughout the northern and eastern areas of North America. It thrives in floodplain forests and around the forested edges of wetlands. Jewelweed contains a compound called lawsone, in its leaves, proven to have antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties. According to the USDA, “Jewelweed has a long history of use in Native American medicine. When applied topically, sap from the stem and leaves is said to relieve itching and pain from a variety of ailments, including hives, poison ivy, stinging nettle, and other skin sores and irritations. The sap has also been shown to have anti-fungal properties and can be used to treat athlete’s foot.”

After doing my research, I figured someone must have a way to preserve jewelweed for use when it’s no longer in season, so I did a little more digging. And, yes, of course, I found that the sap can be infused into a carrier oil, and then made into a salve.

Photo by Katera/AdobeStock

A friend of mine has a large patch of jewelweed growing on her land, and she was happy to let me harvest some back in August. I cut about 20 2-foot-long stems. Then I cut those into 1-inch pieces, added them to small jars and just covered them with olive and almond oil, and let them simmer in a couple inches of water in a crock pot for about 6 hours. (I set the lids on top of the jars loosely to keep the condensation out of the oil.) Once the oil had cooled, I poured the contents of the jars through a fine sieve into a measuring cup. I wanted the infused oil, not the jewelweed stems. Then I poured the oil back into the jars.

My husband hunts deer, and when he was out scouting for sign, he purposely brushed his hand against some stinging nettles, so that we could see if jewelweed would actually work. He washed the affected area with soap and water, and then applied the oil. Within minutes the itch was gone, and the rash was gone within a couple of hours.

Now that I knew it was an effective treatment, I got to work making the salve. Salve is an ointment used to promote healing of the skin or as protection. I melted an ounce of beeswax in a double boiler and then poured that into 4 ounces of the warmed jewelweed infused oil. I added a splash (half a teaspoon) of vitamin e oil and then poured the warm mixture into lip balm tubes. The end result was 22 tubes of salve.

The lip balm tubes are a convenient way to carry the salve with you. They are small enough to fit in a purse, pocket or backpack, and the salve is less messy than the oil.

Here are a few hints to help if you decide to make the salve yourself.

  • Have a designated double boiler to melt beeswax, because beeswax is incredibly difficult to wash out of a pan.
  • Have a designated pouring vessel for the salve and plan on recycling or throwing it away.
  • Some ingredients may not work well with others, so always use a clean container if you are making a different product.
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