Touch the ripe fruits of this North American orange-flowered annual and they will burst open, releasing seeds in all directions. Also known as “touch-me-not,” jewelweed grows along creek beds, in moist woods, and in other locations where there is plenty of moisture. It has a beautiful translucent, succulent green stem, which is all the more apparent when held up to the light.
The name jewelweed comes from the way rain forms silvery beads — reminiscent of jewels — on the plant’s leaves. The species is related to garden impatiens, and it bears bright orange trumpet-shaped blooms that are highly attractive to hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies.
Jewelweed is a very important medicinal plant that’s been used by Native Americans for a variety of purposes, both internal and external. It grows in the same environments as poison ivy, which is helpful, because jewelweed can be used to treat rashes and hives caused by contact with skin irritants such as poison ivy and poison oak, as well as stinging nettles.
Common Names: Impatiens, Jewelweed, Touch-Me-Not
Description: Annual, 3 to 5 feet tall, with oval, toothed leaves; trumpet-shaped 1-inch orange flowers with red spots; long seedpods pop open when touched
Hardiness: To Zone 2
Flowering: July to October
Parts Used: Entire plant
Range/Habitat: Native throughout most of North America; found in moist woodland areas
The most common traditional Native American use for this plant was as a dermatological aid, applied as a poultice, ointment, or wash. The people of various groups used the crushed plant or its parts to treat burns, cuts, bruises, skin rashes, eczema, poison ivy, nettle stings, sprains, and sore limbs. Some tribes also used infusions of this plant to ease childbirth, as a diuretic, or to treat fevers.
Native Americans used this plant to make an orange-yellow dye for cloth. The whole plant was chopped and then boiled together with the cloth in water; rusty nails were sometimes added to the pot.
How to grow it
Considered a weed in some areas, jewelweed grows easily in moist, fertile soil and partial shade. The seeds need light to germinate, so sow them directly on the soil surface (without covering them). For best results, plant fresh seeds of jewel-weed outdoors in late fall for germination the following spring. Or give the seed 4 weeks of cool stratification before you sow it outdoors in spring. Keep the soil moist until plants become established. The plants self-seed freely.