What do you do when you end up with a bad case of poison oak in the middle of winter, especially when your go-to poison ivy plant, jewelweed, is no where to be found?
I’ve been there, and trust me, it’s no fun. Sure there are other plants and natural products you can use to soothe the skin and reduce inflammation, but in my experience, nothing beats good ole’ jewelweed when it comes to poison oak or ivy.
If you don’t want to find yourself in the above situation, then I have just the thing for you.
Today, I’m going to share how I preserve jewelweed when it’s growing abundantly in the summer months so I always have it on hand during the cold, winter days when it’s no longer available outside. I’m going to share how I take those lovely, juicy stalks of jewelweed and turn them into jewelweed ice cubes.
Jewelweed ice cubes are easy to store and easy to use when you need… you know, just in case you do find yourself with a poison oak rash in the dead of winter.
Yes, You Can Get Poison Oak In Winter
Poison oak is a vine that often climbs trees. In the spring and summer it has leaves to distinguish it, but when cold weather comes and the leaves die, all that is left is the vine. Unfortunately, the vine part of the plant still contains an oleoresin called “urushiol” that binds to receptors on the surface of the skin, stimulating an immune response and eventual rash, even in the dead of winter. If you touch the vine, the oils transfer to your hand and then anywhere else your hands touch. A couple days later, depending on how strongly your immune system responds to the oils, a rash will appear.
How Jewelweed Helps Soothe Itchy Skin
It’s not entirely known how jewelweed helps to soothe skin and reduce inflammation, but when it comes to jewelweeds actions on plants like poison oak and ivy, a couple thoughts exist.
One thought is that the plant chemical “lawsone” is responsible for jewelweed’s ability to prevent and/or minimize the itchy rash. This chemical is thought to bind to the same receptor sites on the skin’s surface that urushiol binds to (Duke, 1998). This is how jewelweed, when used before or soon after exposure to these plants, can prevent or minimize the chance of a rash forming. Once these receptor sites bind with lawsone instead of urushiol, the immune system doesn’t sense a threat, therefore, no immune response is needed and no rash forms.
The next thought is that the saponins found in jewelweed prevent the urushiol from binding to receptor sites much like soap does. In fact, a 2012 study showed that washing the skin with plain soap after contact with poison ivy was most effective at removing the oils, therefore, preventing a rash from forming and that using a mash of fresh jewelweed was a close second (Motz et. al., 2012).
Preserving Jewelweed For Winter
I’m not sure how many times I ended up with a poison oak rash during the winter months before I learned to preserve jewelweed in order to have it one hand the next time it happened, but I finally figured out what to do with it.
Seeing how the juice of jewelweed is what is needed to soothe itchy rashes, I decided I needed a way to extract that fresh juice and then preserve it. Making jewelweed ice cubes seemed like the perfect answer.
When it comes to preserving jewelweed for winter by making jewelweed ice cubes, there are two different ways to do it. One method results in a stronger, more concentrated ice cube, and the other results in a weaker, more diluted ice cube. The concentrated jewelweed ice cubes take more time and work to make whereas the diluted ice cubes are quicker and easier. So, the choice is up to you.
I will say, if you harvest smaller jewelweed plants in late spring or early summer, when they’re at their juiciest, it makes it much easier to make the concentrated jewelweed ice cubes. If you wait until later in the summer, when the jewelweed has grown tall and flowered, it’s a bit more difficult to make the concentrated ice cubes so you may want to go with the diluted version instead.
Concentrated Jewelweed Ice Cubes
To make the concentrated jewelweed ice cubes, you’ll need a juicer (this is the one I have) and a lot of small jewelweed plants. Now, when I say “small” jewelweed plants, I don’t necessarily mean short… I mean the stem should be no thicker than your pinky finger. The thicker they are, the more fibrous they are, and that’s going to make the juicing process longer and harder.
To make your ice cubes, simply run the jewelweed plants through the juicer, and collect the green slime that comes out, tossing the fibrous parts into the compost bin or use it as plant mulch. Next, that the green slime, put it in an ice cube tray, and freeze it for 24 hours. After 24 hours, remove the jewelweed ice cubes from the tray, and store them in a container in the freezer until you need them.
To use them, simply let one or two dethaw in the refrigerator, and use like you would fresh jewelweed.
Diluted Jewelweed Ice Cubes
To make diluted jewelweed ice cubes, you’ll need water, a saucepan, and jewelweed plants.
Simply chop your jewelweed plants into small pieces, place it in a saucepan and cover it with water, and decoct it over low heat until it’s reduced in half (it should turn a nice orange color due to the lawsone coming out). Next, strain the plant pieces from the liquid and compost them before freezing the liquid in an ice cube try for 24 hours. If you’d like to see a detailed tutorial of this process, Canadian herbalist Aryn Mahood has a beautiful post on this process (as well as an amazing jewelweed monograph too).
To use your diluted jewelweed ice cubes, simply let them melt in a bowl and dab this on the poison oak/ivy as often as you can remember.
It Pays To Be Prepared
I’ve had the most success keeping itchy rashes away using the concentrated jewelweed ice cubes, but the diluted ones work too. I make both, depending on what time of the year I harvest the jewelweed. These ice cubes can stay frozen for up to a year, and it’s a good idea to make a fresh batch each year.
So here’s your to-do for the day. If you can identify jewelweed and you’ve found some growing in your area, collect some and make your jewelweed ice cubes this week. Come winter and the possibility of a poison oak rash (or some other itchy, weepy rash), you’ll be prepared! Then, share a photo of it with me on Instagram by tagging #growingupherbal so I can check it out!
Duke, J. A. (1998). The green pharmacy: the ultimate compendium of natural remedies from the worlds foremost authority on healing herbs. New York, NY: St. Martins Press.
Motz, V. A., Bowers, C. P., Young, L. M., & Kinder, D. H. (2012). The effectiveness of jewelweed, Impatiens capensis, the related cultivar I. balsamina and the component, lawsone in preventing post poison ivy exposure contact dermatitis. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 143(1), 314-318. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2012.06.038