Common Jewelweed is an herbaceous annual plant with translucent succulent stems and interesting orange flowers. Common throughout Illinois in shady, wet areas, the plant can be found in varying habitats from stream banks, bottom woods, and disturbed areas with moderate soil moisture where a shallow fragile root system can dig into soft sediment and organic material. There is one other Impatiens species in Illinois, Impatiens pallida, or Pale Jewelweed. It is very similar to Common Jewelweed but has yellow flowers instead of orange and appears to be more tolerant of dry soils.
Aside from the unique two-part flower, Jewelweed flowers exhibit a trait known as ‘cleistogamy’ where self-pollination takes place inside a small, closed flower without the need for external factors. This trait means less energy is spent on producing large showy flowers, pollen, or nectar, that would otherwise take away from seed production or general plant growth. Another interesting feature is seed dispersal. Once flowers are pollinated and die back, the seed pod grows into a narrow green pod, which then bursts open on contact, hurling seeds in every direction as shown in the below slow-motion video.
While all of this may be fascinating in and of itself, the best part about Jewelweed is its anti-itch properties. Frequently the number one active ingredient in poison ivy cream and some bug bite medication, jewelweed is a fantastic natural remedy for things like mosquito bites, poison ivy, and stinging nettle (which coincidentally all happen to grow in similar locations). Simply tear off a leaf and crush it up in your fingers to release the plant’s sap and rub it on the affected areas. Of course, the first time you apply or try any foraged ingredients, sample a small amount and wait to see if any adverse reactions occur before applying more.