Jewelweed, or Touch-Me-Not, as I’ve always called it, is a native North American wildflower (Impatiens capensis) with many uses. The beautiful little spotted orange fairy hat-like flowers are favored by hummingbirds. I allow a large patch of jewelweed to grow in an uneven, partially-shaded part of my yard, just for the hummingbirds.
When the jewelweed begins to bloom, the tiny birds abandon the sugar water feeder for the flowers. Nectar is a better source of hummingbird nutrition than anything humans create. The nectar gathers in the curled receptacle at the far end of the flower where long-tonged creatures like butterflies and hummingbirds can reach. Other insects nibble a hole in the curl to get at the nectar.
Beyond feeding birds, this plant has many uses. It is recognized as an anti-inflammatory for topical use. The stem juice of the succulent annual can be rubbed on insect stings and rashes to bring relief. The seeds are also edible and are reported to have a walnut-like flavor. I’ve never tried any.
The reason this plant is called Touch-Me-Not is due to the seed cases. The plant has two types of flowers, one with petals and one that is rounded and doesn’t open petals. When this round flower matures, it produces a long case resembling a pea pod. A light touch causes the case to explode, its sections curling tightly and at the same time spraying the seeds for distribution. When I was small I delighted in popping the seed pods. Still do, actually.
The name Jewelweed is attributed to either the jewel-like colors of the flower or the water-repellent quality of the plant. Water beads on the surfaces and when the sun shines, the droplets glimmer like diamonds. I took some photos after a rain to demonstrate the water repellency.
This unassuming little plant has been embraced by the natural remedies crowd. It apparently contains a chemical that is the active ingredient in Preparation H. The anti-inflammatory and anti-pruritic qualities of the plant juice are captured in salves, tinctures and soaps. Reportedly, the Native Americans depended on this plant, a natural pharmacy growing in the woods.
****UPDATE: I have since written an update to this blog (Aug 23, 2014) and believe the information in this article about how the plant produces seeds is incorrect. The round flowers are the buds and they develop into full flowers. The seed pods form at the end of the stem after the flower drops.****