Jewelweed’s antifungal and antimicrobial properties serve as a natural remedy for poison ivy

A bee hovering near a yellow jewelweed flower

The jewelweed flower’s cornucopia-like shape is especially attractive to wildlife like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, allowing easy access to nectar. (Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

When spending your day outdoors, you never know what to expect. Especially in the spring and summer when poisonous plants such as poison ivy are most active (remember, hydrocortisone is an essential addition to your first aid kit!) But what happens if you forget your kit at home? Don’t panic! Look around for an orange, spotted, cornucopia-shaped flower—it might just save the day.

Growing anywhere from two to five feet tall, jewelweed is a natural remedy to poison ivy—if you can catch it quickly enough. To use its medicinal properties to prevent a rash, you must apply jewelweed to the infected areas before your immune system can recognize the urushiol oil (what causes the poison ivy rash). This varies by person but can take as little as 10 minutes.

Lucky for you, jewelweed is native to northern and eastern North America and can be found all throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This plant thrives in moist, semi-shady areas, floodplain forests and around forested edges of marshes and bogs—the same areas where poison ivy grows.

The name jewelweed is likely sourced from sparkling droplets of rain or dew that bead on the smooth, green leaves like “jewels.” (Photo courtesy of Steven B. Biggers/iNaturalist CC BY-NC)

If you fear you may have come in contact, here’s what you do:

  1. Locate a jewelweed plant (with its bright orange flowers and unique shape, you can’t miss it).
  2. Once found, remove a few leaves from the plant and begin crushing them in your hand.
  3. When you feel the jewelweed sap release from the leaves, rub the leaves on the affected area.

Apart from their functionality, jewelweed is fun too! Commonly referred to as “touch-me-nots” and “poppers,” jewelweed seed pods are known to explode when one encounters them, releasing tiny, green seeds everywhere.

This feature is why jewelweed is considered a self-seeding plant. These plants do not require pollination to reproduce and instead form these seed pods on their own once matured. Jewelweed seedlings sprout in early spring and reach maximum size by August. Flowering begins around mid-summer and continues until the first frost.

These little green seeds explode from the jewelweed’s seed pods, soon to grow into plants of their own. (Photo courtesy of Douglas Goldman/iNaturalist CC BY-NC)

With many invasive plants causing problems for native species, jewelweed is known to hold its own. When fighting for its favored habitat, this plant has successfully competed against some of North America’s most troublesome invasives like garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata).

This collection of favorable traits makes jewelweed the perfect addition to any garden. Between its vibrant color and abundance of nectar, this plant attracts a variety of pollinators and wildlife like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Additionally, jewelweed flowers contain a sticky substance that can trap grubs, aphids and any other little pest that may disturb your garden.

The key to a thriving jewelweed plant is to make sure it is planted in a location that receives at least six hours of sunlight each day. While companion plants—such as lavender and sage—can help your garden flourish, planting them too closely to jewelweed could disrupt the plant’s growth. Finish it off with well-kept soil and a regular watering schedule and you will have jewelweed blooming in no time!

By Alexis Myers, Communications Intern, Chesapeake Bay Program