by Katelyn “Katie” Coyle, Children’s Garden Educator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
I found out about jewelweed soap when I was doing research on medicinal plants for a family workshop I held in July called “Pick Your Poison.” The workshop talked about identifying harmful plants such as poison ivy, and finding common backyard plants that could be used in folk medicine. Jewelweed often grows near areas where poison ivy will grow, so it is particularly convenient. Jewelweed gets its name because of the glittering appearance of the leaves when placed in water. The plant has another nickname, Touch-me-not, because of the seed pods it grows in the fall. The pods will actually burst when touched! It a really fun thing to show kids on a field trip.
This is the recipe that I used for my soap. I am not an experienced soap maker, so I looked for the one that was the simplest and most cost effective.
2 cups soap base (I just bought a bag of glycerin soap cubes)
1/2 cup jewelweed maceration* (gather blooming jewelweed, and combine in a blender with 1 cup water). Use all parts of the plant in the maceration – leaves, stem, and flower.
Melt soap in a double boiler or in the oven (on low heat between the setting called warm and 200F).
Add jewelweed maceration, stir until slightly cooled. Stir to combine. Pour into molds. Cool and let cure until hard and dry.
It’s folk medicine, so this is not a proven cure. Many people say that the soap helps wash away the oils of poison ivy, and can help relieve the itchiness of the rash.
Garden volunteer Barb Sawyer, who’s been a loyal volunteer since the Children’s Garden opened in 2005, recently was exposed to poison ivy while pulling weeds during one of her shifts at the Garden. She says, “…. tiny blisters quickly began forming on my left hand. [Children's Garden Staff] Heather Veneziano, Kristi Orcutt and Katie Coyle came to my rescue with several suggestions. I washed again with hand soap, then with dish washing liquid, and then with some jewelweed soap that Katie had made. By the time I arrived at my car, the blisters were gone and they never returned.”
For more help in identifying jewelweed, Virginia Tech Weed Identification Guide has some good photos and descriptions.