How to Forage for Jewelweed + Uses

Learn how to identify and forage for jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), then how to use it to make a soothing poison ivy salve, and a jewelweed itch remedy with witch hazel or vinegar.

detail of a jewelweed plant
jewelweed identification tips

Jewelweed’s always a fun plant to go hunting for! Loved by children for the explosion of seeds that burst forth at the gentlest contact and much appreciated by those woodland hikers who’ve had a run-in with poison ivy or nettles, this cheerful plant is a good one to know!

About

Jewelweed is a self-seeding annual in the Balsaminaceae family. Its botanical name is Impatiens capensis, but you’re most likely to hear it being called “Touch-me-not”, or “Spotted touch-me-not”: named for the seedpod’s habits for bursting open when touched!

The flowers are attractive to pollinators – bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds can all be seen dropping by for visits – and to people, too, making it a good plant for moist woodland shade gardens.

The stems and leaves contain compounds, including lawsone – an anti-inflammatory agent, which help relieve skin that’s itchy or irritated from poison ivy, poison oak, stinging nettles, or bug/mosquito bites.

While jewelweed flowers are technically edible, jewelweed in general isn’t recommended for internal consumption because of the high oxalic acid content. Some however do eat the young greens, but first cook them with several changes of water to leech out the oxalates. We personally don’t eat jewelweed or recommend doing so, but we do nibble a nutty-tasting seed here and there, in moderation!

Where to Find

Jewelweed grows naturally in shaded wetlands. You’ll find it growing along creek banks, in ditches, around bogs and springs.

It’s a native plant to northern and eastern North America, so if you live within that range, you have a good chance of finding it if you poke around anywhere that stays moist and shady!

jewelweed growing by creek with a snake in the leaves below

Identification

When identifying wild plants, always make sure to closely inspect every part of the plant, and never harvest or use any plant that you’re not absolutely 100% sure of the identity of.

It’s helpful to use a plant identification app for preliminary research (we like the PictureThis – Plant Identifier app), then double check your initial finding with foraging books that are local to your region.

Related Species/Look-alikes

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) looks very similar to another plant in the same family – the Pale Touch-Me-Not, or Impatiens pallida, sometimes called yellow jewelweed. You can tell it apart by its flowers, pale touch-me-not has yellow blooms. Pale touch-me-not has similar properties as orange jewelweed and is used in the same way, so don’t worry if that’s all you have available.

yellow jewelweed flower or pale touch-me-not
image of Pale Touch-Me-Not flower by Gerry Bishop, Shutterstock

Flowers

Jewelweed’s distinctive flowers can be identified easily with a good close look: the flowers are about an inch long, bright orange, and have dark orange-red spots. Each flower is attached by a fragile, thin stalk (pedicel) to the main plant, almost making them appear to float above the foliage.

The shape of the flower itself is rather trumpet-like, with a curling tail end (the nectar spur). The flowers bloom between July and October, usually standing out quite vividly from their surroundings!

details of jewelweed flowers
jewelweed flower details

Foliage & Stem

The leaves are oval and blue-green in color, with slightly toothed margins that have a tiny bristle tip coming out from under each rounded tooth. The lower leaves grow in an opposite pattern, while the upper leaves are alternate.

The stem can be red or pink-tinted, but this becomes less noticeable the higher up the plant you go. Swollen nodes grow along the stem, they contain the highly desirable juice that we use for itchy skin, while the rest of the stem is more hollow. The entire plant can grow as big as 4-5 feet.

young jewelweed plant, before blooming
young jewelweed plant, before blooming

Seeds

The seeds are slender ribbed capsules that burst open when they’re touched – giving the plant one of its common names, touch-me-not. Walking through a patch of jewelweed once its seedpods are mature means you’ll set off a shower of tiny seeds with every step!

The seeds have a slightly nutty taste and are enjoyed by a variety of birds and other critters, but should only be eaten sparingly by humans.

jewelweed seedpods
jewelweed seed pods – before and after releasing seeds

Harvesting & Uses

Jewelweed is best used fresh, so don’t harvest more than you’ll think you’ll use, with the thought of drying some for future use. Once dried, jewelweed doesn’t have much potency.

Fresh is best with jewelweed!

details of jewelweed stem and node
Swollen nodes on jewelweed stems are a rich source of the beneficial juice used to treat poison ivy, poison oak, stinging nettles, and mosquito/bug bites.

For field use:

You’ll notice several swollen nodes along each stem – these spots are particularly juicy. Break open or cut a stem at this point and apply the juice to bug bites, poison ivy, and other itchy skin conditions. You should feel fast relief!

You can also mash a fresh leaf, working it with your fingers to release its juices (add a little clean water or saliva if needed), and apply to itchy spots.

To harvest for projects:

Cut the aerial portions of the plant – this includes leaves, stems, and flowers. Most of the good stuff we want is in the stem and leaves, so the flowers aren’t necessary to collect, however, they make identifying jewelweed much easier, so you can definitely include the flowers if they’re in bloom.

Never pick or harvest an area clean, or pull up a whole plant by its roots; leave at least 3/4 of the plant behind so it can continue growing and reproducing in that area.

jar of chopped jewelweed and apple cider vinegar
jar of chopped fresh jewelweed and apple cider vinegar

Jewelweed Itch Remedy Recipe

This liquid itch remedy is super easy to make and offers quick relief from poison ivy, poison oak, chigger and mosquito bites, and other itchy/inflamed skin woes. You need to use fresh jewelweed for this project. Dried jewelweed just doesn’t have the potency.

(If this is your first time using jewelweed, it’s recommended to do a small spot test first on your inner arm, then wait 6 to 12 hours to see how your skin reacts. A rare few with sensitive skin have the potential to react to jewelweed, rather than be soothed by it.)

To make:

  1. Fill a glass canning jar about halfway with fresh chopped jewelweed stems and leaves. (And flowers too, if you’d like.)
  2. Pour apple cider vinegar or witch hazel over the plant matter, until the jar is almost filled, leaving a little room at top for expansion.
  3. Cover with a plastic cap (metal lids will eventually corrode if using vinegar.)
  4. Tuck in a cool dark place for about 2 to 3 weeks.
  5. Strain into a new jar, cap, and label.
  6. Store the finished Itch Remedy in a cool dark spot, or your fridge, for about 3 months if using witch hazel, or 6 to 9 months for vinegar.

To use: Apply to itchy skin as needed with a cotton ball or small rag. Allow to air dry. Use as often as needed.

jar of jewelweed salve with fresh jewelweed

Jewelweed Salve Recipe

This is a simple salve to make and only requires a few ingredients! It works well to first treat a poison ivy or poison oak area with fresh jewelweed juice, if possible, then later follow up with applications of jewelweed salve. You can also use the salve on mosquito, chigger, and other various bug bites.

jar of salve and fresh jewelweed

Jewelweed Salve Recipe

This simple salve captures the itch fighting powers of fresh jewelweed. Use it for poison ivy, poison oak, stinging nettles, or chigger and mosquito bites.
5 from 1 vote
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Keyword: foraged, jewelweed, salve
Prep Time: 3 hours
Making the Salve: 1 hour
Servings: 4 ounces

Equipment

  • scissors, to chop the jewelweed
  • 2 pint canning jars, for the infused oil
  • small saucepan, to use as a double boiler of sorts, for infusing oil and melting salve
  • Canning jar or empty tin can, for melting the salve
  • kitchen scale, for weighing the ingredients
  • a tablespoon, to measure the clay if using

Ingredients

To Make the Infused Oil

  • 1 cup oil (olive and/or jojoba are nice)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh jewelweed allowed to wilt for a few hours

For the Salve

  • 3.5 oz infused jewelweed oil
  • 0.5 oz beeswax pastilles
  • 1 tbsp white kaolin clay (optional)

Instructions

To Make the Infused Oil

  • Fill a glass jar half-way with chopped, fresh jewelweed, that's been allowed to wilt for a few hours.
  • Pour the oil into the jar, adding more if necessary to completely cover the plant matter.
  • Set the jar down into a small saucepan containing several inches of water.
  • Heat the pan over medium low heat for 2 to 3 hours, indirectly heating the oil and speeding up the infusing process.
  • Remove from heat and strain through a fine mesh sieve into a new heatproof jar.
  • Return the jar of infused oil to the small saucepan, adding more water to the pan if needed.
  • Heat the pan (still filled with a few inches of water in the bottom and containing the jar of strained oil), over medium-low heat for an additional hour to help evaporate out excess water content.

To Make the Salve

  • Combine the infused oil and beeswax pastilles into a heatproof jar or empty tin can.
  • Place the jar/can into a small saucepan containing a few inches of water.
  • Heat over a medium burner until the beeswax is melted, monitoring carefully.
  • Remove from heat.
  • Stir in the kaolin clay if using.
  • If you added clay: Frequently stir the salve as it cools, which will help the clay incorporate into the salve better.
  • If you didn't add clay: Pour the hot mixture directly into salve tins or a jar.
  • Store the finished salve in a cool place, avoid hot areas and direct sunlight.
  • Shelf life of salves is about 9 months to a year.

References & Further Reading

Cech, Richo. Making Plant Medicine. Williams, OR: Horizon Herbs, 2000. Print.

Foster, Steven and Duke, James A. Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2014. Print.

Howell, Patricia Kyritsi. Medicinal Plants of the Southern Appalachians. Mountain City, GA: Botanologos Books, 2006. Print.

Warren, Mark. Wild Plants & Survival Lore. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2020. Print.

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