Jewelweed: A “Top Ten” Wilderness First Aid Herb
Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is a very valuable wilderness first aid herb. I have used it on weekend trips into the mountains to my great relief. It has been used by Native American herbalists for hundreds of years for skin irritation from poison ivy, poison oak, stinging nettle and the like. The juices of the fresh leaves and stems are the medicinal parts.
Jewelweed to the Rescue!
Most recently, I was bushwhacking Rusk Mountain in the Catskills of New York with my son. Some uncovered skin contacted a serious patch of stinging nettle, and the burning itch was immediate. Fortunately my son is very knowledgeable in the area of wild medicinals. He helped me gather some jewelweed that was growing in the same area as the nettles. I crushed some of the leaves up and rubbed the juices directly onto my skin, and the relief was powerful and instant!
Finding the Jewel
When gathering herbs on your own, it is incredibly important to properly identify plants. Bring someone with you who already knows how to identify the plant so that they can show you, and help you avoid possibly harmful imposters. A few tips to get you started:
- Two to Five feet in height
- Generally grows in dense clusters
- Likes moist, shady soil (e.g. floodplains and close to creek beds and marshy areas)
- It is very common in the northern and eastern regions of North America
- Flowers are orange with red-orange flecks from mid-summer until frost
- Leaves are oval shaped with toothed edges
- It forms a seed pod that is elongated, and bursts open when ripe at the slightest touch
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