The Jewelweed Plant Is a Jewel of a Weed

The jewelweed plant can provide a mouthwatering wild food delicacy for your dinner fare and add a welcome remedy to your medicine cabinet!

| March/April 1981

If you've ever wandered in the woodlands during a damp spring morning — when the dew is still heavy and ol' Sol is just beginning to peek over the horizon — chances are you've caught a glimpse of a jewelweed display. The leaves of this succulent annual (a member of the Impatiens genus) are unwettable, and dew "beads" on their surfaces. So when light strikes the tiny water spots, the sun's rays are refracted into every hue of the spectrum ... providing a sight that's a match for any array of costly jewels.

Later in the summer — if you happen to stroll through a patch of the wide-ranging herb — you may suddenly find yourself in the midst of what appears to be a miniature mine field ... as the ripened, slipper-shaped seed pods of the jewelweed plant actually catapult their contents when they are disturbed.

But that's about all most folks know about the slender succulent. Here in the hills of West Virginia, though, some people have long gathered jewelweed (also called balsam, snapweed, touch-me-not, or quick-in-the-hand) as a wild food delicacy and medicinal plant.

Pick It Pale or Speckled

There are two common species of jewelweed, and they're easily distinguished from one another, although they are equally tasty and identical in their medicinal capabilities. You'll find Impatiens pallida — often called the "woodland species" — along forested stream banks and in other wet, shady retreats. The pale lemon-yellow flowers characteristic of this strain bloom from July to October.

The spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis ) has a slightly stronger affinity for light than does its sun-shirking cousin, so look for its mottled butter-yellow and reddish brown blossoms in shady or sunny moist locations along brooks and roadsides, or in damp meadows. And — since this species also sprouts a bit earlier than the paler variety — you can begin foraging for capensis sprigs in early June and continue hunting the plant through late September.

A Forager's Feast

Once you spy the slender shoots poking up through the forest debris or waving among the meadow grasses, you're ready to reap the first jewelweed harvest. The tender stems — which should be collected when they're only four to six inches high — can be prepared in a variety of ways. I like them best cut into bite-sized morsels ... boiled for a total of 10 to 15 minutes in two changes of slightly salted water ... then drained and served up with butter, plus a dash of salt and black pepper or a sprinkle of vinegar.

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