Early one morning I went outside to admire my garden (as I often do) and I noticed how much jewelweed (Impatiens capensis is the native to Ontario species) had taken over and was choking out the lady’s mantle. My kids had clearly done a great job last year of popping the seed pods. Possibly too good a job. There was a lot of jewelweed blocking my view of the lady’s mantle plants which had just started to flower. A little thinning out was needed, so I got to work weeding out the extra jewelweed plants.
Naturally, I wasn’t about to waste all that jewelweed. Thankfully, I had a little time before my first patient of the day. In the past I’ve harvested jewelweed and created a mash or juice for immediate use on rashes, stings, bug bites, and especially poison ivy. Conveniently, it often grows right next to poison ivy on riverbanks and wet ground. But since I hadn’t recently been exposed to poison ivy, I decided to make a succus.
In essence, a succus is a juice preserved with alcohol. I made mine by putting the whole plant in a food processor until it created a thick mash. Then I strained the juice through cheesecloth and added 1/3 the total volume of juice in grain alcohol (94%, available in Ontario only with a special license). For example, if you have 300 mL of juice, add 100 mL grain alcohol. You want the end product to contain 25% alcohol. Once preserved, the succus can be applied directly to rashes, bites, and to prevent the onset of poison ivy dermatitis.
Research on jewelweed is sparse. Only a handful of studies have attempted to evaluate the effectiveness of jewelweed for poison ivy rashes, and two of those were published before 1960. What little research has been conducted shows mixed results.
Guin and Reynolds (1980) report that Impatiens biflora sap was no more effective than water in preventing poison ivy rash when they tested it on themselves.(1) Long et al. (1997) tested an Impatiens biflora extract made by boiling equal parts jewelweed stem and distilled water for 30 minutes on 10 volunteers. They found no difference between the jewelweed extract and distilled water alone. (2) In a more recent study however, Abrams Motz et al. (2012) concluded that I. capensis mash significantly reduced poison ivy rashes compared to water alone, though not as much as soap. (3) This study supports traditional First Nations ethnobotanical use in North America.
In my personal and clinical experience, fresh jewelweed mash is effective in relieving the symptoms associated with poison ivy rashes, bug bites, and stings. More research is needed to support the traditional use of jewelweed. In the meantime, grab whatever is closest at hand immediately after exposure to poison ivy whether that is fresh jewelweed mash or plain old dish soap. Read more about my personal experience with jewelweed in this article.
(1) Guin JD, Reynolds R. Jewelweed treatment and poison ivy dermatitis. Contact Dermatitis. 1980 Jun;6(4):287-8.
(2) Long D, Ballentine NH, Marks JG Jr. Treatment of poison ivy/oak contact dermatitis with an extract of jewelweed. Am J Contact Dermat. 1997 Sep;8(3):150-3.
(3) Abrams Motz V, Bowers CP, Mull Young L, Kinder DH. The effectiveness of jewelweed, Impatiens capensis, the related cultivar I. balsamina and the component, lawsone in preventing post poison ivy exposure contact dermatitis. J Ethnopharmacol. 2012 Aug 30;143(1):314-8.