Himalayan Balsam

When a beekeeper opens the hive to see that many honeybee workers bear a strange white stripe, he knows that the colony has been foraging on Himalayan Balsam. 

The plant tempts the honeybee with its sweet nectar and provides a rich crop in summer. But as the insect crawls inside the flower, its sticky stamen leaves a white stripe on the bee’s thorax.

Often seen as an invasive species, Geoffrey Grigson generously describes the arrival of Himalayan Balsam in the UK:

Introduced in 1839, it was cultivated at first as a greenhouse annual by gardeners who never imagined the career ahead of it. 

Today, this native Indian plant may be a familiar sight along rivers and stream banks. 

Scientific Name

Impatiens glandulifera

Family

Balsaminaceae

Botanical Description

The prolific flowers of Himalayan balsam are displayed as pink to purple on thick, fleshy, red stems, with fruits later appearing as a capsule. The leaves are dark green and lance-shaped. 

Status

Annual. Introduced.

Habitat and Distribution

Himalayan Balsam is thoroughly naturalised in the UK and comfortably at home on borders, river and stream banks.

Parts Used for Food

Seeds.

Harvest Time

July, August.

Food Uses of Himalayan Balsam

The seeds can be eaten raw and taste like nuts.

Himalayan Balsam Recipes

Nutritional Profile

Not known.

Herbal Medicine Uses of Himalayan Balsam

The flowers have cooling properties, and the leaves have been used to soothe burns. In addition, the seeds are diuretic, and the root juice treats hematuria (blood in the urine).

Other Uses

A varnish can be made from the seeds.

Safety Note

The plant is exceptionally high in calcium oxalates.

References

Bennet, S. (1991) Food from Forests. Dehradun, India: Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education.

Mahajan, V. et al. (n.d.) Ethnobotanical inventory on medicinal plants of North Western Himalayas. Journal of Krishi Vigyan. 6.

National Institute of Science Communication (New Delhi, I. (2000) The Useful Plants of India. New Delhi: National Institute of Science Communication, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research.

Negi, P. S. & Subramani, S. P. (n.d.) Wild Edible Plant Genetic Resources for Sustainable Food Security and Livelihood of Kinnaur District, Himachal Pradesh, India. 12.

Quattrocchi, U. (2016) CRC World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants: Common Names, Scientific Names, Eponyms, Synonyms, and Etymology (5 Volume Set). CRC Press.

Szewczyk, K. et al. (2016) Polyphenols from Impatiens (Balsaminaceae) and their antioxidant and antimicrobial activities. Industrial Crops and Products.

Watt, G. & India. (1889) A Dictionary of the Economic Products of India. Calcutta: Printed by the Superintendent of Government Printing.

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  1. Perhaps harvesting by placing a net bag gently over the seedheads before “popping” them might help to curtail the spread in inappropriate places? I take the point about invasive non natives being part of adaptation. However, HB is not welcome in some sensitive environments, whatever your general beliefs. Perhaps careful seed harvest, curtailing explosive seed dispersal, could be a useful conservation tool where HB is just starting to appear in a sensitive habitat. Pulling earlier would be preferable, but harvesting any plants that have survived and gone to seed has to be if help

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