If I could pick only a few herbs that I know and use regularly, jewelweed would be chief among them. “Wildman” Steve Brill (a well known and respected herbalist) calls it the “forager’s American Express” of herbs, since he wouldn’t leave home without it!
The plant blooms throughout summer into early fall and is prevalent throughout much of the United States – especially in moist woods and on the edge of creek beds from Southern Canada to the northern part of Florida. It is often found near poison ivy or stinging nettle, although jewelweed does not grow in dry places or in direct sunlight the way poison ivy can.
Another unique characteristic of jewelweed that can help you to identify it is that the seeds will ‘pop’ when touched – leading to the popular nickname of “Touch-Me-Nots”. There is a good reason that jewelweed works so well: It contains two methoxy-1, four napthoquinine. This is the same anti-inflammatory and fungicide that’s the active ingredient of Preparation H. The Spotted Jewelweed variety pictured above is the variety most commonly used for treating poison ivy rashes although pale jewelweed may also have medicinal properties .
Jewelweed’s potency is greatest when it is flowering, and it can be used fresh by simply breaking the stem and squeezing the fresh juice inside onto irritated skin. If you accidentally touch poison ivy and apply jewelweed juice to the affected area before the rash appears, the rash probably will not develop. Jewelweed is one plant that does not dry well, and whose medicinal properties are lost in the dried version. It is best used fresh, and the fresh plant lasts about a week in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
Many herbalists also squeeze the juice into ice cube trays to make “jewelweed cubes” that can be used year round or thawed and used in lye water to make jewelweed soap. It is also easy to tincture jewelweed into high proof alcohol or into commercial witchhazel solution for later use.