Jewelweed & Poison Ivy Salve
Poison Ivy has become prolific across the country and especially so in our East TN landscape. It's hard to walk a trail in the woods without encountering it all over. Although for many this plant can be quite the nemesis, causing very serious allergic reactions, I like to think of Poison Ivy in a different light. To me, Poison Ivy is a fierce incarnation of mother nature reminding us humans that we do not own the earth but are here as stewards to humbly care for and sustain it. She is a remediator and a healer, often the first plant to appear in disturbed soils. She also thrives on carbon dioxide and studies have shown that climate change and it's increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is resulting in stronger and more prolific Poison Ivy plants. It's as if she is saying, "Proceed with caution, respect, and reverence as you enter this landscape- or I may have to get your attention in other ways!"
That being said, putting my own views aside, Poison Ivy can be a serious nuisance for those highly allergic to it. Fortunately, we do have some herbal options to the traditional steroid treatments (which I do not recommend unless all other options have been exhausted). Jewelweed is by far the best herbal remedy for a poison ivy outbreak and fortunately for us, it is fairly prolific in this region. When applied topically, it can neutralize the urushiol oil in poison ivy, which causes allergic reactions. If applied early enough after exposure, it can prevent a reaction from even happening. In addition to being a great remedy for poison ivy and poison oak, jewelweed can also be used to alleviate other skin irritations, such as insect bites.
Where to find: Jewelweed tends to like humid woodland climates, so you will often find it growing along creek beds. You will often find it growing near poison ivy, although this is not always the case. Jewelweed can grow as tall as five feet and can be easily identified by its yellow trumpet-shaped flowers (which bloom in early summer to fall), as well as by its leaves. Jewelweed leaves are oval shaped and water repellant, so after it rains, the leaves are covered in little beads of water (or jewels). When you submerge the leaves in water, their undersides appear to be silvery. Jewelweed is ready to harvest for medicine once it has started flowering. For those of us in East TN, this usually occurs in July and continues into late summer/early fall.
How to Use: There are a few ways to utilize this amazing plant. If you are out in the woods and end up coming into contact with poison ivy, you can slice open a jewelweed stem as well as crush the leaves and apply the liquid that comes out of the stem directly on any areas where poison ivy oil has been. The sooner the better. You can also make a strong tea out of the leaves and stems and freeze it in ice cube trays for later use throughout the year. Just rub an ice cube on any affected areas as needed. These ice cubes will stay potent for up to a year. Other folks choose to extract jewelweed in oil and make a salve for later use. This is my favorite method, as it creates a shelf stable remedy I can sell to clients and give to friends throughout the year as needed. Below is my recipe for making Jewelweed Oil and salve.
1) To make a jewelweed salve, you must first make a jewelweed infused oil. Unlike other infused herbal oils, such as Calendula, Plantain, etc., which can be made from fresh or dry herb, it is essential to make your jewelweed oil with fresh plant material. Once jewelweed is dry, it loses most of its medicinal properties. Harvest the aerial parts of jewelweed (leaves, flower, and stems) once it has started blooming. Jewelweed likes water and the woods, so I encourage folks to do some woods walking if you don't already know of a patch. Chances are, if you find a creek or stream in a wooded area, you will also find Jewelweed. It also likes to grow near Poison Ivy.
2) Chop up your fresh jewelweed coarsely. For every 3 cups of fresh jewelweed, you will want to add 1 cup of organic olive oil. Place plant material and oil in a pot and place directly on the stovetop. If you can fashion yourself a double boiler or have one on hand, this is an even better option, as it will keep the plant material off of direct heat and avoid overheating it. With the lid off, gently heat the jewelweed and olive oil for 1 hr on very low heat, stirring occasionally.
3) Once your oil has been infusing for about an hour, you will notice that the jewelweed has lost most of its color. At this point, remove the pot from heat and strain the oil.
4) If you are not ready to make a salve right away, pour strained jewelweed oil into a mason jar and refrigerate it until you are ready to use. To make a salve, you will want to pour your jewelweed oil into a pot. Add beeswax to the oil at a 4: 1 ratio. This means if you have 8 oz of oil (liquid volume), you will want to add 2 oz of beeswax (weight in oz). Place the pot with oil and beeswax on the stove and gently heat, stirring until the beeswax has completely dissolved.
5) Pour liquid into salve containers of choice and allow them to cool and harden. Presto! You are done and your salve is now ready to use. I will often add Plantain oil to my Jewelweed Salve as well to incorporate its wonderful anti-itching, wound healing, and astringing properties. I usually use a ratio of 2:1 (Jewelweed:Plantain) for my salve recipe.