(NaturalNews) The single most effective remedy for exposure to poison ivy or poison oak may be a plant closely related to the popular garden plants known as impatiens.
Jewelweed, or Impatiens capensis, has long been used as a remedy for skin disorders by indigenous North Americans. It apparently contains chemicals that neutralize the components responsible for the skin-irritating effects of poison oak, poison ivy and other irritants including stinging nettle, insect bites and ringworm. Folk remedies also recommend jewelweed poultices as treatment for minor injuries such as bruises, cuts, burns, sores, sprains and warts.
According to Varro Tyler in his book Herbs of Choice, a 1958 study compared jewelweed to "standard poison ivy dermatitis treatments," including corticosteroids. The researchers found that the plant was effective in treating 108 out of 115 patients, leading to complete symptom relief within two to three days.
Jewelweed is a short, three to five foot tall annual plant with oval leaves and trumpet-shaped flowers that hang down from the plant like jewels on a necklace. The flowers on the variety known as Pale Jewelweed are yellow, while those of the Spotted Touch-Me-Not are orange, with dark red dots. All Jewelweed seeds "pop" when touched.
Jewelweed grows best in humid woodlands, often in the same places as stinging nettle or poison ivy, both of which it can help protect against. Yet in spite of a folk tradition that says you will find jewelweed growing anywhere there is poison ivy, the plant is actually much less robust and has more specific needs than poison ivy. For example, poison ivy can thrive in either sunny or shady conditions, while Jewelweed needs damp, darker microclimates. Jewelweed especially flourishes along creek beds. It can be found most often along North America's east coast, from northern Florida to southern Canada, and blooms from May through October.
Spotted Jewelweed is the variety most widely used in treatment of skin irritation, particularly due to poison ivy, but Pale Jewelweed is also believed to be effective. Anecdotal evidence suggests that garden-variety impatiens may be almost as effective at treating skin conditions as their wild relatives. Any lessened effectiveness may be outweighed by greater ease of cultivation.
When exposed to poison ivy, poison oak or stinging nettle, the best thing to do is to immediately take a jewelweed plant, slice the stem open, and rub it directly on the exposed parts of the skin. This prompt action will often be enough to prevent a reaction entirely, and at the very least will offer significant symptom relief.
Chopped jewelweed can be brewed in boiling water to produce a dark orange infusion, which can then be stored for later use. This liquid can be frozen into ice cubes, which can then be rubbed directly onto skin rashes for healing relief. Alternately, the liquid can be canned in a pressure cooker. Frozen jewelweed infusions remain potent for up to a year, while canned infusions remain potent until opened.
Note that Yellow Jewelweed is not known to be as effective as other varieties in infusion form, and does not produce the characteristic orange liquid. Jewelweed should not be made into alcoholic tinctures, as the combination of jewelweed and alcohol has been known to produce adverse reactions. Likewise, the high moisture and oil content of jewelweed means the plant does not hold up well when dried. This means that jewelweed cannot be preserved as an active healing agent in dry form.