Have you ever used jewelweed to relieve itchy skin from poison ivy and/or bug bites? This little plant is amazing and for the past 7 years or so, we’ve made batches of anti-itch spray and soothing salve from the jewelweed that grows near our home, using it often in the summer months, especially now that we live in the woods!
Jewelweed, or Impatiens capensis, is from the Touch-Me-Not family, like the Impatiens you have growing in your garden which shoot seeds out of their pods. It’s a wildflower that grows in damp, dappled sunlight locations, often sighted on the verges of paths and roadways and near water.
Jewelweed is probably thusly named because of it’s pendulous, jewel-like flowers which bloom in mid to late summer. (Some are yellow, but I’ve read that the orange-flowered type is better for anti-itch treatments.) The leaves are water repellant, so when placed under water appear to be made of silver. That could be another reason why this plant is called jewelweed. You be the judge!
What makes jewelweed so special are the chemicals within the leaves, stems and roots that act as anti-inflammatories and antihistamines. This is a fantastic article which gets more into that subject. Jewelweed often grows right beside poison ivy, which is something to watch out for if you’re harvesting it! I like to think of it this way: The Curse and the Cure grow side-by-side. Anyways, if you’re out in the woods and get a bug bite or step in poison ivy, find some jewelweed, slice open the stem with your fingernail, scrape out the pulp-y inside and use it as a poultice. Instant relief. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this while on walks with Jesse & Eva, and he teases me that I’m like a sylvan elf–which I secretly kind of love.
Full disclosure: That’s just water in the spray bottle above since it looks prettier in the photo, ha! The actual liquid will be a darker color.
To have some of the wonderful benefits of jewelweed on hand throughout the year, I concoct a spray and a salve. It’s super easy. Here are the steps:
STEP 1: HARVEST YOUR JEWELWEED
Remember, this plant often grows right in the thick of poison ivy clumps so be careful. Is there a best time of year to harvest? I think so. I find that you want the plants to be nice and tall with thick stems (it’s the sap that you’re after), but not in flower. When they get to flowering stage, the stems become more dry and woody. So, sometime in mid-summer is best. If the weather has been hot, I like to wait until the morning, after it’s had a cool evening with which to rehydrate, to pick my stems. In this photo above, you can see the stems that I harvested. Note that I de-leaf in the field. I’m sure the leaves also have their benefits, but it’s the sappy stems I’m after. Most importantly, I find that de-leafing while outside will keep me from bringing home any insects that might be still attached. Poor little dears.
STEP 2: CHOP STEMS. SEPARATE INTO TWO HALVES FOR SPRAY AND SALVE.
Best way to do this is cut into smaller pieces and use your food processer to chop. (Please excuse our cherry-red counterops. The kitchen is next on the list of rooms to renovate.) Once your stems are chopped into inch-sized pieces, transfer half into a glass container for the spray and the other half into a glass container for the salve. Leave room in each container to fill up with more ingredients. Make sure to get all the plant juice that is in your food processor, too. That’s the good stuff.
STEP 3: ADD NEXT INGREDIENTS
• For the spray, I fill the jar to just above the surface with witch hazel extract. Not all witch hazel is created equal. The best I’ve found is that on Mountain Rose Herbs.
• For the salve, I add other botanicals such as calendula and comfrey and fill with extra virgin olive oil. Ideally, you want the oil to be about an inch above your botanicals to help prevent it from getting moldy. I didn’t have enough room in this jar seen in the photo above. Whoopsidaises.
The jar of jewelweed and witch hazel is closed up and placed in a dark, cool location to steep for about 2 weeks. The sealed jar with the jewelweed, other botanicals and carrier oil is placed in a sunny location to steep for about 2-3 weeks. Oh, and if you live in bear country like we do, make sure to bring your oil in at night. Turns out, bears like olive oil.
STEP 4: DECANT AND MAKE SALVE.
• For the spray, I simply decant the liquid that’s been steeping in the jar into spray bottles. A funnel with a strainer to separate the liquid from the jewelweed stems is helpful. You’ll note that the liquid is now an amber color. That’s normal! Store your spray in the refrigerator and it will last you until next year when you make a new batch. I guess it goes without saying that you should always do a patch test to make sure your skin doesn’t freak out. Also, the spray may stain clothing so keep that in mind. But seriously, this stuff is amazing.
• For the salve, strain out the botanicals so you are left with the oil. Take a look at the photo above: See the plant extracts from the jewelweed settled in the bottom? That’s good! Just make sure you give your oil a shake before you use it so they recombine. I use a standard ratio of 1:4 beeswax:oil when I make my salve, adding a bit of lavender essential oil at the end. If I’ve had a particularly bad bug bite, I first spray with the anti-itch, let that dry and then put a little of this salve on it. There are so many tutorials on making salve, and chances are good you already know how to do this, so I’ll skip that bit.
By the way, if you have any of this oil left over, keep it in a sealed container in a dark, cool location, and use it directly on the skin if you’d like. It’s a wonderful moisturizer. Quite soothing. I mix this jewelweed-infused oil in a 1:1 or a 1:2 ratio with pure aloe vera extract which feels wonderful on skin that’s been in the sun too long.
Hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Happy potion making!