Tuesday, July 03, 2012

jewel weed: natural poison ivy treatment




I have been using jewel weed to treat poison ivy since I was a child. I learned about the plant at summer camp as a Native American folk remedy, and it quickly became one of my favorite plants to identify because of its tell-tale leaves that look silver when placed in water.




I looked into jewel weed online when researching for this post, and it was very interesting to learn more about the plant. Jewel weed, or jewelweed, is in the Impatiens family (Impatiens biflora to be exact), and when flowering they are called "touch-me-nots" because their seed pods explode when touched. I have never actually seen a flowering jewel weed plant, but then I also usually look for it in summer rather than spring. I'll be on the look-out next spring to see if I can find an exploding pod in action.



Jewel weed can be found all over North America. It typically grows in some of the same places you find poison ivy (i.e. in wooded areas) and always in moist soil or close to a water source, if not actually in the creek/swamp itself. It has a shallow root system, allowing for easy extraction. Take the whole plant, as you need the juice from the main stalk and will usually need at least one plant to get enough juice to treat the rash, called allergic contact dermatitis. According to traditional folklore, jewel weed can also be used to treat insect bites and eczema; I have no personal experience with these uses.

To apply jewel weed to your poison ivy reaction, cut a 3-4 inch piece of stem off the plant and slice it open (as though it was meant solely for this purpose, it is again very easy to do this part with your hands). You will notice it immediately begins oozing water-like liquid. Simply brush the plant over the rash. If you treat the rash as soon as you see the first bumps form, you will probably only need to use it once. If, however, you wait a few days (like I did with Charlotte's rash, thinking it was diaper rash), you will need several applications over 1-4 days.


One of my most intriguing findings is that jewel weed has not proven effective in a few double-blind studies (see examples here and here). Being in the public health field, I typically look on such studies as the final word; however, I can assure you that when I personally have used jewel weed on myself and my kids, it works! With this latest use, I put it on Charlotte's rash over one day, and the next day it was nearly gone. I left my camping trip that day and didn't think I needed it any more since I had calamine lotion. Boy was I wrong. Within a few days, the rash was back with a vengeance, so I gathered more jewel weed at home. Just like before, one day's application was all it took to appear much reduced in size.

Although I don't know the details of the studies in question, I wonder if the researchers simply waited too long between opening the jewel weed plant and applying it to the rash. Some pointed to use of "jewel weed extract," which sounds to me like they removed it and bottled it days before use. I never open the plant ahead of time, instead waiting until right at the moment I want to use it.

As I mentioned above, I tried using calamine lotion on Charlotte's poison ivy too. I bought Caladryl because it contains Benedryl, but I since learned that the purported effects of calamine in treating poison ivy are disputed at best. Anecdotally, I can tell you it didn't work a bit on Charlotte and actually seemed to make the rash worse.

Of course, the best way to treat poison ivy is to stay away from it in the first place! While I did put Charlotte in long pants on the particular hike in which I believe she contracted it, I forgot to change her immediately when we got home, meaning at each diaper change I was pulling her pants down and up again, exposing and re-exposing her to the oil that causes dermatitis. A nearly foolproof method of avoiding poison ivy is to either wash your exposed areas with soap and water after contact or change clothes if you were wearing long sleeves and pants. Good luck!

Leaves of three? Let it be!
Editor's note: This post is part of LHITS DIY LinkySeasonal Celebration SundayThe Homestead Barn HopTeach Me TuesdayFrugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Your Green Resource, and Simple Lives Thursday.

13 comments:

Emily Sefcik said...

Very interesting! Thanks for teaching me something today : )

Kathryn Arnold said...

Good thing to know -- the domesticated landscaping plant impatiens is a milder form of jewelweed! Milder, but easier to get your hands on in a hurry!

Tasterspoon said...

Love your blog and thanks for the tip. We have poison oak in our yard; I wonder if this is something we should try to grow or if poison oak is a totally different animal, as it were. There's actually poison oak all over our neighborhood. I recently read an amendment to your "leaves of three" rhyme posted as part of a poison oak warning at our local park: "Leaves of three, let them be…except if it’s hairy, ‘cause then it’s a berry!”

The Lone Home Ranger said...

Thanks. I love that extended version! Going to borrow that next time we're in the woods. We have quite a few wild raspberry and blackberry plants nearby, so it certainly applies here. :)

Anonymous said...

Can you grow jewelweed at home and if so can you get it at a nursery?

Joan said...

does jewel weed have an orange flower? We have TONS of PI here in Northern NJ and also lots of a plant that looks like this but has an orange flower.

TreeintheWoods said...

Yes, that is the plant. I grew up in New Jersey, my Grandfather taught me about jewel weed for poison ivy and mosquito bites.

Sara said...

I just learned this about jewel weed, when I was seeking to identify a lovely orange flower I photographed at the New River in NC. The NC wildflower guide mentioned it. It's neat to read how you actually used it, and of its effectiveness! I have a photo of the flower on my post about the New River.

Anonymous said...

Funny thing, when I was a kid, my buddies and I would play in the woods all day and be right in the PI. My mother said to rub 'silverweed' or as I just found out the real name, Jewelweed on the affected area. It did work well. But whats more funny is the Jewelweed grows right in with the PI.

Afriendofnature said...

When I was a kid, my sister and I had the misfortune of making bows and arrows out of poison sumac. My best friend's grandfather, took a walk in the field and brought back some Jewel weed.It was almost an instant cure that I have never forgotten.

Impatiens for ivy said...

It's interesting that the remedy for poison ivy grows right beside the itchy ivy.

Boone's Becky said...

My son began treating his poison ivy rashes with the fresh Jewel Weed juice this summer and our results are PHENOMENAL! The itching starts to subdue within 10" and the JW application need only be once! Contrast this with our former need for big-guns, Rx topical steroids (Triamcinolone 0.1%), which needed applications 4x daily for > 3 weeks, and the application rate wasn't enough to prohibit the intense break through itching! Btw, he also prefers to use the sap from the thickest part of the stem, near its base, as it's more plentiful.

Our tender Creator gave us everything we need in a Fallen World to help one another. Eg: the cure is usually found growing near the curse, as in Jewel Weed near Poison Ivy. Poison Ivy also grows in meadows, but it has usually spread into the meadow from the parent plant in the nearby forest.

Thank you for this detailed post. Since my background is biomedical research, I loved reading that you searched the lit. for JW in double blind studies. Additionally, your logic for these studies' findings' failure to show JW works being due to their lack of testing for and demonstrating fresh juice efficacy, is excellent.

Jewel said...

You are so right. God put thing here for u to us for ailments.

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