If you’re allergic to poison ivy and you don’t know about jewelweed, you need to discover this plant! Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) grows in many of the same habitats where poison ivy is found. It especially likes moist, shady sites and can be found along streamsides, in ditches and by ponds. It is an annual plant with delicate, succulent stems, orange flowers, and soft leaves. If you’ve had a brush with poison ivy, pick some jewelweed leaves and rub them on the unfortunate patch of skin. But it’s fall, you say, and although poison ivy roots remain toxic all year long, jewelweed dies back and isn’t there to help you year round. So this is the time to make a supply of jewelweed elixir to get you through until the plant returns in the spring. It’s also handy to have this stuff on hikes and other times when jewelweed might not be there when you need it.
So before it’s gone for the year, pick a bunch of jewelweed, including the leaves and stems. Try to shake out the little spiders and other insects inhabiting it, and then cut it into pieces so it will fit in a big stew pot. Cover it with boiling water and cook it for a while. Euell Gibbons, in Stalking the Healthful Herbs, recommends cooking it down until the water is reduced by about half. Others simply recommend to boil the stew for a half hour or so. Either way, after cooking it, let it cool and squeeze the plant material so you don’t lose too much liquid when you compost the plants. Then strain the liquid and bottle it for immediate use.
To preserve it for year-round use, freeze some of the liquid in ice cube trays. You can take a cube out of the freezer and rub it on affected skin when needed.
How does it work? The toxic organic compound in poison ivy is urushiol, which penetrates the skin and causes contact dermatitis. Although some websites suggest that the compound lawsone in jewelweed counteracts urushiol, some research suggests that it is saponins that prevent the rash. Even if you don’t apply this remedy in time to prevent a rash, it can help relieve the itching that ensues.