Sep 9th, 2013

Jewelweed to the Rescue!

by Katelyn “Katie” Coyle, Children’s Garden Educator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Jewelweed <em>Impatiens capensis <em>

Jewelweed; Impatiens capensis — helpful & pretty too!

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.

Homemade jewelweed soap

Homemade jewelweed soap

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.

Jewelweed plant & soap.

Jewelweed plant & soap.

Jonah Holland is PR & Marketing Coordinator at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, specializing in social media. She's been known to go for a walk, and come back completely inspired to write a blog post on her newest found adventure.

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  • I have tried using this plant for poison ivy and have not found it to be terribly effective. That being said, I get poison ivy really badly. A wash down with jewelweed soap after being around poison ivy is sure to make me feel better. I have found that jewelweed is of great help with fungal infections though. I would also use this soap all the time if I were (and I am) prone to some forms of skin fungal infections.

    Thanks for the great read.

    • Great tip Brendan. Thank you. Glad you found our information useful.

  • Amethyst Gypsy

    I have used jewel-weed to cure my poison ivy since 2007 and I will always be amazed by it. But I never thought to put it in soap so you bet your bottom I’ll be doing that this year when its in bloom! In the area I live in Ohio, poison Ivy is starting to come out and Jewel-weed hasn’t yet, and go figure, I’m suffering from poison ivy right now because my indoor out door cat decided to Trojan horse me with it lol. This might be the first year since I was a teen that I’ll have to go get the steroid shot to calm it down.