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(Balsam family)


• Medicinal / Folk-medicinal aspects: Certain Impatiens L. species in geographically-diverse regions of the world are used topically as remedies for eczema and other skin conditions including poison ivy dermatitis. •
• Adverse effects: Weak irritancy and contact allergenicity of Impatiens L. species may be related to their naphthoquinone content. •
• Veterinary aspects: •

The family as currently conceived comprises just 2 genera, namely Impatiens L. and Hydrocera Blume ex Wight & Arn., and about 1000 species; the latter genus is monotypic (Mabberley 2008). The plants are to be found in Eurasia, Africa, and North America. These plants were in the past classified in the Geraniaceae. Earlier classifications also recognised two further monotypic genera, namely Impatientella H.Perrier, and Semeiocardium Zoll., which are now both subsumed into Impatiens L.

A few species of Impatiens L., or more usually hybrids or cultivars derived from them, are commonly grown in Britain and elsewhere as house and greenhouse plants. They are known as busy lizzies (Hunt 1968/70).

Impatiens L.
[syn. Balsamina Mill.]

Two of five patch tests to an unspecified member of this genus produced positive reactions (Hjorth 1968).

Lawsone and related naphthoquinones have been isolated from several species of Impatiens L. (Thomson 1971). See also Lawsonia inermis L., fam. Lythraceae.

[Further information available but not yet included in database]


Impatiens balsamina L.
[syn. Balsamina balsamina Huth]
Balsam, Garden Balsam, Rose Balsam, Spotted Snapweed, Touch-Me-Not

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Impatiens capensis Meerb.
[syns Impatiens biflora Walter, Impatiens fulva Nutt., Impatiens noli-tangere L. subsp. biflora Hultén, Impatiens nortonii Rydb.]
Jewelweed, Orange Jewelweed, Spotted Touch-Me-Not

Jewelweed has a long-established reputation as a herbal remedy for poison ivy dermatitis [see Toxicodendron Mill., fam Anacardiaceae]. The succulent stems are crushed and their juices applied directly to lesions. Additionally, the plant is an ingredient of numerous commercial remedies sold for this purpose (Senchina 2005). However, Guin & Reynolds (1980) reported that the sap applied to areas of skin pre-exposed to poison ivy oleoresin was ineffective when tested on themselves. Indeed, their results showed that the water used as a control seemingly had a greater effect than the plant sap. Zink et al. (1991) applied jewelweed juice under occlusion to areas of skin pre-exposed to poison ivy leaves, but found the juice to be no more effective than normal saline. Long et al. (1997) later demonstrated that an extract of jewelweed, prepared by boiling the fresh herb in water for 30 minutes, applied in 1-2 drop quantities four times a day to test sites pretreated with a 1 in 50 dilution of urushiol resin in ethyl alcohol, had no effect on the contact allergic reaction so produced. The possibility remains that in those studies that failed to show efficacy, the chosen methodology did not adequately model the frictional or chemical aspects that come into play when crushed fresh plant material is rubbed on the skin.

Impatiens chinensis L.
[syns Impatiens cosmia Hook.f., Impatiens crassicornu Hook.f.]
Chinese Balsam

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Impatiens hochstetteri Warb. subsp. hochstetteri
[syns Impatiens capensis Thunb., Impatiens duthieae L.Bolus, Impatiens gilgii T.C.E.Fr., Impatiens marlothiana G.M.Schulze, Impatiens micrantha Hochst., Impatiens tenella R.Br.]
Wild Balsam

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Impatiens mooreana Schltr.

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Impatiens noli-tangere L.
[syn. Impatiens occidentalis Rydb.]
Codded Arsmart, Touch-Me-Not, Western Touch-Me-Not

Pammel (1911) lists this species as having irritant properties, possibly by extension from the common name arsmart. The common name touch-me-not and the specific epithet refer to the explosive release of seeds from the seed pods when touched (Lyons 1907), rather than to any irritant properties of the plant.

Impatiens pallida Nutt.
Jewelweed, Pale Snapdragon, Pale Touch-Me-Not, Yellow Jewelweed, Yellow Touch-Me-Not

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Impatiens platypetala Lindl.
New Guinea Impatiens

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Impatiens walleriana Hook.f.
[syns Impatiens holstii Engl. & Warb., Impatiens sultanii Hook.f.]
Busy-Lizzie, Patient Lucy, Zanzibar Balsam

[Information available but not yet included in database]


  • Guin JD, Reynolds R (1980) Jewelweed treatment of poison ivy dermatitis. Contact Dermatitis 6(4): 287-288 [doi] [url] [url-2] [pmid]
  • Hjorth N (1968) Personal communication to Mitchell JC. In: Mitchell J, Rook A (1979). Vancouver: Greengrass, p. 129 [WorldCat]
  • Hunt P (Ed.) (1968/70) The Marshall Cavendish Encyclopedia of Gardening. London: Marshall Cavendish [WorldCat]
  • Long D, Ballentine NH, Marks JG (1997) Treatment of poison ivy/oak allergic contact dermatitis with an extract of jewelweed. American Journal of Contact Dermatitis 8(3): 150-153 [doi] [doi-2] [url] [url-2] [pmid]
  • Lyons AB (1907) Plant Names Scientific and Popular, 2nd edn. Detroit, MI: Nelson, Baker & Co. [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Mabberley DJ (2008) Mabberley's Plant-Book. A portable dictionary of plants, their classification and uses, 3rd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [WorldCat]
  • Pammel LH (1911) A Manual of Poisonous Plants. Chiefly of North America, with Brief Notes on Economic and Medicinal Plants, and Numerous Illustrations. Cedar Rapids, IA: Torch Press [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Senchina DS (2005) A critical review of herbal remedies for poison ivy dermatitis. HerbalGram (66): 35-48 [url]
  • Thomson RH (1971) Naturally Occurring Quinones, 2nd edn. London: Academic Press [doi] [WorldCat] [url]
  • Zink BJ, Otten EJ, Rosenthal M, Singal B (1991) The effect of jewel weed in preventing poison ivy dermatitis. Journal of Wilderness Medicine 2(3): 178-182 [doi] [url]
  • [ + 16 further references not yet included in database]

Richard J. Schmidt

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