My Dirt Time The Adventures of Tom Sciacca

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Jewelweed

"Here's a great plant to know. Not the few larger leaves at the top of the pic, but the rest of the leaves. Do you know what it is and how you can use it?"

Answer: Jewelweed

Facts as borrowed from Wildman Steve Brill:

It's common, widespread, easy to recognize, and invaluable to anyone venturing out-of-doors, because it's a virtual panacea for skin irritation.

This herbaceous native plant has distinctive succulent, translucent, hollow, stem, powdered with a pale blue-green, waxy bloom and partitioned by nodes, making the plant easy to identify. Jewelweed grows up to five feet tall, branching toward the top, and toughening with age. Thereís a clear, watery liquid inside, especially in the nodes.

The delicate, long-oval, long-stalked, leaves are 1/4 to 1/2" long, with a few rounded teeth. The upper leaves are alternate, the lower ones opposite. They're water-repellent, so they look like they're covered with tiny jewels (raindrops) after it rains, accounting for the name jewelweed.

If you submerge the leaves in water, their undersides will turn silvery, delighting children of all ages.

The trumpet-shaped flowers, which bloom from early summer to fall, are under 1 inch long, with three petals, one which curls, to form a long slipper- or sack-shaped spur.

Spotted touch-me-not has orange-yellow flowers spotted with red, yellow or white. They're usually in pairs, so the scientific name is Impatiens biflora.

The seeds will pop into your hand, and you can eat them, discarding the coiled "springs." They're very tasty—walnut flavored, but too small for more than a trail nibble. Children, who seek out fun over efficiency, love learning to catch and eat jewelweed seeds.

Caution: Don't grab the seed pods loosely, or the seeds will pop away—especially important if you're Catholic—you're not supposed to spill your seeds!

If you accidentally touch poison ivy and apply jewelweed juice to the affected area before the rash appears, you probably won't get the rash. One of my best strawberry patches is also infested with poison ivy. You can't avoid touching it as you collect the irresistible fruit. I have everyone apply jewelweed to all exposed areas when we leave, and nobody ever gets a rash.

The Indians treat already-developed poison ivy rash by rubbing jewelweedís broken stem on the rash until it draws some blood. The rash then dries out, a scab forms, and healing occurs.

There are many ways to capture jewelweed's medicinal properties: The fresh plant lasts a week in a sealed container in the refrigerator. 1960s foraging guru and author Ewell Gibbons reported the jewelweed tincture he extracted in alcohol went moldy, but I've soaked fresh jewelweed in commercial witch hazel extract for a few weeks, and the extract of the two herbs works well and doesn't perish.

You can also make jewelweed ointment by simmering a small amount of jewelweed in light vegetable oil (any vegetable oil except olive oil, which burns) 10-15 minutes. Use only a small handful of jewelweed stems per quart of oil, or bubbles of jewelweed juice will form in the ointment and go moldy. Strain out the herb, add a handful of beeswax to thicken it, and heat until melted. Take out a spoonful and let it cool to test the thickness, and add more oil or beeswax as needed. Add the contents of one oil-soluble vitamin E capsule, a natural preservative, and let it cool. Refrigerated, it lasts for months.

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