In Ojibwe, omakakiibag sometimes refers to Jewelweed, the snappiest edible and medicinal herb.  It’s handy to have around if you like clumsily rooting through wild plants like me, and end up grazing yourself with stinging nettle or worse – poison ivy.

Jewelweed is so named because of the way the dew beads on it. Sometimes its called wild touch-me-not and snapweed, due to the ripe seedpods exploding when touched. Cow vetch is the only other local plant I can think of that also has exploding seedpods.

Jewelweed - Impatiens Capensis
Jewelweed – Impatiens Capensis

Edible Uses of Jewelweed

The young shoots are edible but should be double-boiled as with other bitter plants.

The seeds taste something like walnut or butternut.

Medicinal Uses of Jewelweed

Jewelweed is primarily said to support this body system:

  • Integumentary

Medicinal tags include Antimicrobial, Diuretic, Emetic, and Laxative.
See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Black Bear Eating Jewelweed
Black Bear Eating Jewelweed

This is my black bear friend eating jewelweed after an apple binge. (Here’s a link to the video version!) His mother must have taught him about the laxative effect of the leaves. He’s not alone in the animal kingdom. Its other allies include the snowshoe hare, white-footed mouse, and ruffed grouse.

Common uses of jewelweed include the raw or boiled concentrated juice of the crushed stems and leaves being used to treat poison ivy and stinging nettle rashes.

The juice freezes well and is worth an ice tray full kept in the freezer if you’re active in the bush.

Containing one of the most active antifungal ingredients in the plant world (2-methoxy-1, 4-naphthoquinone) it’s also commonly used for fungal dermatitis.

Alternative Uses of “Snapweed”

The flowers make an orangey-yellow dye.

Growing

Sow it indoors and plant in the summer. Or just snap all those seeds out in the autumn where you’d like it to grow.

Snapweed prefers moist, well-drained, and shady spots. Around here I find it mostly along waterside shady trails, and of course around my compost pile which is on a sandy loam and in the shade even though compost ought to be roasting in the sun (I suspect the seed arrived there via a ruffed grouse named Gerry).

Warnings

It’s a diuretic.

Take heed that it often grows near its dreaded counterpart, poison ivy, and stinging nettle.

Some people have an allergy to jewelweed.

It’s high in oxalates, which can cause kidney stones. And that also makes for caution if you have rheumatism, arthritis, gout or hyperacidity.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored. Herbalists do not have an official certification yet, but that may be in the works.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

REFERENCES

Stalking The Wild Asparagus

Stalking the Healthful Herbs (Field Guide Edition)

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants

Forest Plants of Central Ontario

Makwa the Black Bear

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