Herbalists know jewelweed (impatiens capensis) as a powerful anti-itch remedy that is safe and effective for mosquito bites and poison ivy, but when you’re out foraging for your summertime anti-itch medicine there’s also another tasty part of the plant to consider: the seeds.
The leaves and stalks are of questionable edibility, but the seedpods are a particularly special treat. Eaten carefully right off the plant, they pop in your mouth (which the kids love) and taste just like English walnuts. Seriously. Straight up, full on, walnut. Eyes closed you’d never know the difference.
It takes considerable care to harvest the seed pods from jewelweed without popping them, so Vermont farm kids raised in the 50’s and 60’s made a game of hunting down seedpods and carefully extracting them without popping them until they got them to their mouths.
Jewelweed reproduces by launching it’s seeds out in all directions when the pods are touched, much like the flowerbed impatiens that I grew up hunting down and popping for fun. Thus, their other name, “touch me not plant.”
The flowers are also edible and make a colorful salad, but they lack the excitement and flavor of the seed pods. Ben Harrison Charles, the author of Eat the Weeds, warns that you should eat jewelweed in moderation because it’s so rich in minerals that it can cause digestive upset. If you’re not used to eating nutrient-rich foods, watch how many you eat in a day until your body has gotten used to it.
In reality, the excess nutrients are not really a practical problem. Even the most devoted child can’t really consume that many jewelweed seeds. They take a good bit of time and patience to hunt down, even in a dense patch. It’s good to know that in a survival situation, jewelweed seeds are not only tasty, but nutrient rich.