Last spring, with the landscaping prowess of Small Spade Gardening, I transformed my front yard into a stunning display of medicinal plants indigenous to Ontario. Once everything was planned and planted, I realized I had forgotten to include one of my favourite native botanicals, jewelweed. A relative of the popular impatiens commonly found in annual flower beds, Impatiens capensis has a smaller more delicate flower on long succulent translucent stems.
A couple of months later, as I was weeding and admiring the garden, I noticed my old friend jewelweed had found its place in my yard, filling in the spaces between the eastern hemlock bushes. Although it wasn’t the first time that I’ve invited a plant into my environment only to have it magically appear, it was still a welcome surprise.
I first fell in love with jewelweed through its ingenious method of seed dispersal. Also called spotted touch-me-not, its seed pods explode under the least bit of pressure. The elation you feel when you unexpectedly pop open a pod for the first time helped me woo my now-husband on one of our first dates. It also makes for a great late summer / early fall outdoor party trick.
Not only is it fun, but it’s also extremely practical. Frequently growing in wet soils near stands of poison ivy and stinging nettle, jewelweed has long been used topically to relieve the painful rashes induced by these neighbours. Years ago I got to personally test out this medicinal property while working with a friend at a property ravaged by poison ivy. After a long day’s work, and even with pants tucked into socks, we knew we’d been affected. On our drive home, I insisted we stop to harvest the aerial parts of jewelweed, leaving more than enough plants in the area to self-seed. Once home, I put the jewelweed into a food processor, making a paste. Applied as a poultice and left to dry in place over the rash, the burning and itching sensation quickly subsided, and with daily applications the rash healed in a couple of days.
I’m very glad that jewelweed heard my call and has made a home alongside mine. Nowadays, I can’t imagine my garden without it.