Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is a beautiful plant. It is a succulent annual that grows 2-4 feet tall and self seeds freely. It is found growing in cool wet places, and we found it growing in Mountain City, GA where we were staying for our herbal classes. I harvested some during our last herbal weekend where we went wildcrafting at foxfire.
The leaves are scalloped and the flowers hang down like pendants. When the plant is crushed it releases a gel that is very soothing to the skin.
Patricia Howell is my herb teacher and she wrote a book filled with information about plant identification, harvesting and use of many herbs native to the Southern Appalachians. According to her book, Jewelweed is one of the most effective remedies to relieve skin inflammation, rash and itching caused by poison ivy as well as insect bites, abrasions, and other irritations.
Our herbal weekend in September was the last time we would be able to harvest jewelweed, so I harvested a 1/2 bag full. Jewelweed loses all of its action after it is dried, so I had to make my preparations as soon as I got home the day I harvested it. I wanted to try 2 different preparations. First I made a succus with half of the jewelweed, and with the other half I made a fresh jewelweed infused oil to put into salves.
A succus, according to Merriam-Webster is an expressed juice for medicinal use. To make the succus, I chopped up a bunch of jewelweed, stuck it in the food processor and blended it. I added just enough water so the blades could break down the plant and make it into a thick mash.
Once it was blended up really well and liquified as much as possible, I lined a bowl with a flour sack towel (or cheesecloth) and poured the contents of the food processor into the bowl.
I gathered up the corners and squeezed out as much juice as possible. It was tough work, but I was happy with how much I got out of the crushed plant. I experienced first hand the gel-like substance coming out of the plant as I was pressing the juice through the towel. I can see why it is so effective at soothing skin irritations!
Then I added alcohol to the juice to preserve it. I added 1/3 of the total volume of alcohol to my plant juice. I ended up with 300 ml of plant juice so I added 100ml of 180 proof organic cane sugar alcohol. You want to end up with at least 25% alcohol in the final solution to keep it preserved.
Now I can use my Jewelweed succus directly on bug bites, or poison ivy rashes. I can’t remember the last time I got poison ivy, but I know my brother gets it all the time, so I will have to take some to him next time I visit.
After I finished with the succus, I started my infused oil. This was also really simple. I finely chopped the rest of my jewelweed and layered it in a baking dish. I decided to use olive oil for the infusion so I poured in the olive oil, just enough to cover the plant material.
I baked it in a 175 degree F oven for 2 1/2 hours.
Once it was cool enough to handle without getting burned, I did the same thing and filtered out the plant material through a flour sack towel.
Since I infused the oil with a fresh plant, during the baking process some water came out of the plant into the oil. Water is a breeding ground for bacteria, so it important to separate the oil from the water to prevent spoilage. To do this I let the strained oil sit covered overnight. By the next day the water separated from the oil.
Then I decanted or poured off the separated oil into a clean glass jar, being careful not to let any water get into the jar. I had a little oil left in the bottom of the jar with the water that was difficult to separate. So, I just took the last little bit that I couldn’t separate out and used it as a moisturizer.
Now I have a jar of Jewelweed infused oil that I can use in a salve, and a jar of preserved Jewelweed juice. Both will be very helpful the next time I or someone I know gets poison ivy! The process is the same for any fresh plant material that you want to infuse into oil. A friend of mine just made a fresh plantain infused oil. Now that you have the steps you can infuse away with any plant you like. Coming soon I will talk about how to make salves with infused oils!