Himalayan Balsam - Impatiens glandulifera

Main features

  • Grows  along the banks of rivers, brooks, streams, canals, ditches and other damp areas

  • Pink or white flowers resembling a Persian slipper

  • Up to 2m tall with thick hollow stems

  • Forms dense stands

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Himalayan Balsam - Impatiens glandulifera

Edible plant with caution - novice

Other common names: Indian Balsam, Nuns, Jumping Jacks, Bobby Tops, Copper Tops, Gnome’s Hatstand, Jewelweed, Ornamental Jewelweed, Policeman’s Helmet, Kiss-me-on-the-Mountain

 

Scientific name meaning: Impatiens originates from Latin and means "impatient". This is in reference to the seed pods of Himilayan balsam readily bursting open. Glandulifera means to have have flowers with glands

Season Seedlings star emerging in springtime, and flowers are found from mid-summer to mid-autumn

Habitat - where will I find it? Himalayan Balsam is a non-native invasive. It was introduced to Britain from India in 1839, and promoted as an alternative to the orchids grown by those wealthy enough to have greenhouses. Its exploding seeds meant it quickly escaped gardens and it is now established as an invasive species across most of the world. It is most commonly found along waterways and very damp areas, but can grow in drier areas, too

Description - what does it look like? Himalayan Balsam grows in tight stands and forms a mat of roots. It has stalks reaching up to 2m in height that have a reddish tint. Its flowers are pink and shaped like helmets or Persian slippers, and the seed pods explode when very gently touched

Possible lookalikes The height of Himalyan Balsam combined with its very distinctive flowers mean it would be difficult to confuse it with other species

Use as a food The seedings, young shoots, leaves, flowers are all edible with caution - see Hazards. They can be eaten raw or cooked. The seeds have a lovely nutty texture and give a nice texture and crunch to salads. 

Because this is an invasive plant it doesn't want any help spreading, so great care if needed when harvesting the seeds. The pods explode and distribute the seeds up to 4m away from the parent plant. They are most often carried off along the watercourse on which they are growing.

So, to harvest, carefully place a carrier bag over the tops of the plants and close the neck of the bag with you hand. This action alone should be enough to cause the seed heads to explode. Give a shake keeping the bag tightly closed to catch all the seeds. Tip the bag right way up before removing your hand.

Use in herbal medicine One of the ingredients in Bach's Rescue Remedy/SOS Formula

If you are suffering from any ailment or need medical advice, please see your General Practitioner

Other uses The oil from the seeds has been used for cooking and in lamps

Hazards Himalayan Balsam contains high amounts of minerals, so should not be consumed in great quantities. In addition, it contains calcium oxalate, which is harmful in volume in its raw state. However, cooking thoroughly breaks this down. 

People who suffer from arthritis, kidney or bladder stones gout, hyperacidity and rheumatism are advised against consuming Himalayan Balsam

Importance to other species Provides a food source for pollinators, but means natives are not pollinated as a result

Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!