Friday, May 21, 2010

A Jewel of a Weed

Jewelweed - the way the dewdrops or raindrops stay on the leaves could be the reason it has this common name. Impatiens capensis is the scientific name for this annual that grows about 4 feet tall. There's another species, Impatiens pallida, whose flower is all yellow. The foliage reminds us of the dwarf impatiens we plant in shady flower gardens. In the woods, one sees it in wet areas, almost in companionship with poison ivy, for which it is a remedy, using the stems, leaves, and juices.

According to the Peterson Field Guide by Steven Foster and James Duke, Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants, one crushes the leaves to release the juice and a poultice is applied to a new rash. "A 1957 study by a physician found it effective (in 2-3 days) in treating 108 of 115 patients." This book also suggests freezing the plant and juices after harvesting prior to bloom.

Of course, one should realize that seed set is important to the continued life of these populations, so one should never decimate a population, but leave plenty for seed set. When the seeds are ripe, it behaves much like the old-fashioned flower, "touch me not," (also an impatiens) in that the capsules explode when you touch them, and the seeds are shot out in all directions.

I am affected by poison ivy nearly every year, sometimes several times a year. I never have it so bad that I need to see a doctor, but those of us who weed gardens in the Ozarks or handle firewood in the winter without gloves, know the itch and annoyances of getting it. So, with many of my home remedies, I started growing and harvesting jewelweed to address my own needs. I soak it in alcohol, along with witchhazel and echinacea and market it under the name, Ivy Rinse. This last year I started bottling it in spray bottles in 2 different sizes: 2 and 4 oz. bottles. The spray application is less messy and stops the itching, while speeding up the healing process. Scratching inflames the area and the body's histamine reaction makes it worse. Whatever you do, don't scratch!! Good advice, but hard to follow.

I started growing it with one plant, transplanted when about an inch tall, growing in a pot and let it go to seed where I wanted my population to establish itself, right near my water hydrant where I keep other potted plants that need watering. In a couple years, it has expanded its territory on its own, and I hope to allow more patches to take over. When I see a far-flung individual whose seed has washed downhill, I leave it, hoping it'll become the parent of the next patch. I had to build a dog-proof fence around my jewelweed this winter to protect it. It's worth more than precious jewels to me.

1 comment: