Classic Bells > Soapy stuff > Jewelweed Soap

Jewelweed Soap

The sap of the North American jewelweed (also called Wild Celandine and other names) is a long-standing folk remedy for removing the oil of poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac from the skin and also for treating dermatitis from exposure to these plants. (I am just going to say "poison ivy" from here on.) The scientific name of North American jewelweed is Impatiens pallida (yellow or pale jewelweed) or Impatiens capensis (common, spotted, or orange jewelweed). (5,6)

I have yet to see this specific herb being sold on the market in dried or extract form, because dried North American jewelweed loses its efficacy when dried. Oil infusions of the fresh leaves and stems don't work well either -- fresh herbs make a moldy mess in oil. It is the wet sap of North American jewelweed that works.

Most people who use jewelweed make a water-based extract of jewelweed made with water or witch hazel. The extract is perishable so it is important to refrigerate the extract for short term preservation. Others mince or blend the stems and leaves of the plant and freeze as ice cubes for cleaning skin after poison ivy exposure and for soothing the itching if a poison ivy rash should develop.

Jewelweed sap contains saponins, soap-like chemicals that can emulsify oils on the skin so the oils can be washed and rinsed off. If I was out in the field and not have any soap or other cleansers to help emulsify and clean my skin, I certainly would use jewelweed sap in a pinch.

There is no particular magic about using jewelweed sap to remove poison ivy oils, however. A study compared mashed jewelweed plant, jewelweed extract, soap made with jewelweed extract, and Dawn dishwashing detergent. (4) The authors reported --

"...Jewelweed mash was effective in reducing poison ivy dermatitis, supporting ethnobotanical use. However, jewelweed extracts were not effective; and soaps made of these extracts were [no more] effective [than] jewelweed-free soaps....

"Jewelweed is an efficacious plant for preventing development of dermatitis following poison ivy contact, but soap is more effective.... Perhaps saponins, the soapy component of jewelweed, are the effective agents."

(Bolding and comments in brackets [] are mine.)

Cleaning the skin promptly and thoroughly is the essential key, whether you use a cleanser with jewelweed or without it to cleanse the skin. Jim Brauker, scientist and wild habitat restorer, demonstrates an effective method in his video. (3) Here are his key points --

Wash the skin thoroughly within 2-8 hours after exposure to poison ivy.

When cleaning the skin, wash three times with a loofa, sponge or washcloth and any good cleanser. He found Dawn dishwashing detergent worked best in his test comparing how well regular soap, Tecnu cleanser, and Dawn detergent removed oily residue on skin.

Be extra careful to wash between the fingers and around the fingernails, the back of the arms, behind the ears, wasteband and groin areas, and other hard-to-wash places.

Watch out for imposters -- There are other herbs sold as "jewelweed" that are not North American jewelweed. An herb also called jewelweed and commonly sold as a dried herb is Impatiens balsamica, a plant native to Asia. It has a long history of use in folk medicine as well, but more for digestive ailments and injuries. (1)

Another herb mistaken for North American jewelweed is Greater Celandine, Chelidonium majus. It is sourced from Hungary and native to Europe. It is a member of the Papaveraceae (poppy) family. According to the references I found, it is poisonous if ingested, and it can be irritating to the eyes and skin, although it was used traditionally to remove warts. (2)

 

References

(1) Wikipedia. Impatiens balsamina. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impatiens_balsamina

(2) Wikipedia. Celidonium. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chelidonium

(3) Jim Brauker. How to never have a serious poison ivy rash again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oyoDRHpQK0

Excerpt from the introduction to this video: "Jim Brauker, Ph.D., spent 25 years as a biomedical scientist studying skin inflammation.... Because he has high poison ivy sensitivity, he has tried many poison ivy treatments, poison ivy soaps, poison ivy creams, and other poison ivy products.... Poison ivy prevention was key, but poison ivy removal, actually urushiol removal was key to preventing poison ivy rash. This video shows the remarkable results of his investigation into how to prevent poison ivy reactions...."

(4) Abrams Motz V, Bowers CP, Mull Young L, Kinder DH. The effectiveness of jewelweed, Impatiens capensis, the related cultivar I. balsamina and the component, lawsone in preventing post poison ivy exposure contact dermatitis. J Ethnopharmacol. 2012 Aug 30;143(1):314-8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22766473/

(5) Wikipedia. Impatiens pallida. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impatiens_pallida

(6) Wikipedia. Impatiens capensis. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impatiens_capensis