Jewelweed is a common weed, marked by its bright orange flowers, often found growing along the edges of creek beds and lawn borders. This plant has long been recognized as a natural remedy for dermatitis: Poison Ivy, Oak, Sumac, bug bites, and eczema. The juice from Jewelweed has been used by Native Americans in the Appalachian region for hundreds of years as both a remedy and prophylactic for skin irritation. The plant smoothes the itching, burning rash that is caused by plant induced dermatitis.
Jewelweed and Poison Ivy are often found growing together, perhaps because they’re both prolific weeds that grow everywhere, or because Nature may be providing a nearby antidote?
Why do those pesky plants make us break out in itchy rashes? The culprit is Urushiol, a chemical found in the leaves and stems of the plants. Urushiol is one of the most potent toxins; a mere one billionth of a gram is enough to affect a sensitive individual. Direct contact with Urushiol causes skin irritation in about 90% of the population, and the chemical can remain active on any surface for up to 5 years. If you think you’ve been in contact with the plant, it’s important to wash everything that the chemical could have touched.
Several years ago, Jewelweed was tested in a small clinical study at Rutgers University. Jewelweed’s healing properties were off the charts. The active ingredient in Jewelweed is a chemical called Lawsone. As a side note, this is also the chemical in Henna that stains ones skin orange. Hence, the vibrant orange flowers on a Jewelweed plant in bloom. Lawsone binds to the same molecular sites in the skin that the Urushiol attacks. If Jewelweed is applied quickly enough, it can beat the Urushiol to those sites and lock it out. If applied later, the Lawsone works to block the action of the allergic resin in the skin.
Unless you live in the Appalachian region and it’s late summer, when the plant is potent and in bloom, harnessing the plant’s healing properties on your case of dermatitis can be difficult. There aren’t many Jewelweed-based products on the market, and the few that I’ve found are typically glycerin based. Steer clear of these, as the glycerin in these products keeps Poison Ivy’s rash moist and lengthens the healing time. One product that works wonders is a tincture called Jewelweed Lotion. It’s made by a
small business nestled right in the heart of the Appalachian mountains, Rustic Remedies. They’ve been making the Jewelweed based product for almost 30 years and the lotion can be found in many health food stores nation-wide. Their particular blend uses Isopropyl alcohol which works to both keep the plant base stable and to dry out the plant-induced rash.
When in doubt, steer clear of Poison Ivy. Remember: Leaves of three, leave them be.
Photo by vikisuzan