Medicinal Herbs: Gentian and Jewelweed Uses

In this seasonal guide to herbal medicine, learn to identify, harvest, and use two members of the natural medicine cabinet : jewelweed, a traditional poison ivy remedy; and gentian, a digestive aid and anti-inflammatory.

| October/November 1992

  • Gentiana Flowers in Alps
    Gentian's primary medicinal use is as an herbal bitter: it stimulates the digestive juices.
    FOTOLIA/PAUL
  • Jewelweed
    Jewelweed helps control the itching of a variety of irritations and is a traditional remedy for poison ivy.
    PHOTO: FOTOLIA/ALEKSANDER BOLBOT

  • Gentiana Flowers in Alps
  • Jewelweed

Jewelweed often stands in full bloom, carrying its odd-shaped, speckly blossoms. This herb is a wonderful poison ivy remedy, and I always gather a large bunch to keep in my medicine cabinet. I also break off a few of the pretty plants for my plant press—the shock of orange blossoms is beautiful against the ivory pages of my notebook. 

Medicinal Jewelweed Uses

Jewelweed has a fairly specific and limited medicinal use, but is effective and good to know about in survival situations. Freshly crushed and rubbed onto the skin, the plant helps control the itching of a variety of irritations and is a traditional remedy for poison ivy. If rubbed immediately onto the affected areas, or used as a strong wash after exposure to poison ivy, jewelweed can prevent or alleviate the allergic reaction. A poultice or strong wash (used separately or together) can also heal a rash that has developed. Because jewelweed, in addition to its other attributes, has fungicidal properties, it can help repel an itchy and uncomfortable case of athlete's foot.

Jewelweed Plant Description

The jewelweed is a tall, pretty plant that thrives in wet woods, shady meadows, and along stream banks. Commonly known as the "touch-me-not," the two species of jewelweed can be used interchangeably for many medicinal purposes. In both species, the flower is attractive, though oddly shaped, and some people plant this herb solely for its ornamental attributes. The leaves grow along a pale green stem, are softly toothed, and repel water. In fact, jewelweed got its name because drops of rain or dew bead up like tiny crystal droplets on the plant's leaves. These oval- or egg-shaped leaves have pale undersides and grow up to three inches in length. The entire plant height can grow up to six feet tall.

In the spotted touch-me-not, Impatiens capensis, blossoms are vibrant orange with reddish-brown spots. The one-inch long flower dangles from a long stalk, and each flower has a sharply curved spur at the rear. In the pale touch-me-not, Impatiens pallida, the blossom is similar in shape, but is bright to pale yellow with only a few pale brownish spots in its throat. This blossom gets a bit larger, up to 1 1/2 inches long and is about as wide as it is as long. However, the rear spur is somewhat shorter than in the Impatiens capensis. In both species, flowers blossom from early summer through fall. They also bear a fruit that looks like a swollen capsule and explodes audibly when touched—hence the name "touch-me-not." The capsule splits into two tight spirals, then flings the seed onto the ground.



Harvesting Jewelweed

All of the above-ground plant can be used. Gather any time it is flowering. If using jewelweed in the wild, simply crush and apply it to the affected area. If using it at home, pour a small amount of boiling water over the fresh plant soon after gathering, let it steep for half an hour, and apply the liquid as a wash several times a day. If not using the plant immediately, purée it in a blender with a little water, and then freeze in ice-cube trays for later use.

Jewelweed Dosages

Crush a fresh plant and apply to affected skin as a poultice, changing it several times daily. Or make a strong tea, pour it over a cloth, and apply directly to the skin. Hold the poultice in place with gauze. If large areas of skin are irritated, use a large container to make a strong tea and pour into a bathtub. Soak for 15 to 20 minutes, several times a day in the jewelweed bathwater.

SwamperTom
7/2/2012 10:15:11 PM

Obviously you guys don't know about Sedum, it works very well at relieving itches from most any source including wasps, mosquitoes, sweat bees, and yes, even poison plants. I always have it around, and it's saved me many many times.


Roland St. Germain
8/17/2008 7:43:36 PM

Jewelweed article: Could anyone Please tell me how to harvest this plant 1: for replanting or growing. 2: to use in soaps or salve. Do I use the whole plant except root, or only the young tnder areas at top of plant? Chop up the plant to use or mill it or what? 3: Does anyone have a recipe for jewelweed soap or any soap for that matter and directions how to make? Any help would be greatly appreciated.







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