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Himalayan Balsam

Edible Edible Autumn Autumn Spring Spring Summer Summer

This non native plant, introduced by the Victorians,  is quickly becoming more common due to its seed dispersal and as it can grow from seed to two and a half metres in one season can crowd out native plants.

Hedgerow Type
Common Names Himalayan Balsam, Policemans Helmet, Bobby Tops, Copper Tops
Scientific Name Impatiens glandulifera
Season Start Mar
Season End Nov
Please note that each and every hedgerow item you come across may vary in appearance to these photos.


Lanceolate with red veins and serrated with a red tinge at the edges.


Different hues of white, pink and purple and very ornate with a hood like shape, hence the common names.

Seed Pods

The explosive seed pods are thinly kite shaped and green with red veins. The seeds start off white becoming black and eventually very hard.


Pale green to yellow, hollow, smooth and hairless with a red tinge.


Along riversides, streams, ponds, lakes and damp meadows or woodland.

Possible Confusion

Balsam is a distinctive plant and with its flowers and seed pods can be positively identified.


The young leaves have a neutral taste, the older leaves can be a bit bitter.

The seeds have a pleasant nutty taste and seem better when pale in colour before turning black and becoming quite hard.


Becoming more common alongside British waterways every year.


The young leaves are best for salads, the older leaves can be used in soups and stews.

The seeds can be collected by placing a bag over as many seed pods as possible and shaking.

The flowers can be used in salads.

Medicinal Uses

An extraction of this plant is used in homeopathy to treat anxiety.

Other Facts

When mature the seed pods are under a lot of tension and the slightest touch will cause them to jettison their seeds up to seven meters away from the parent plant making this a very successful coloniser of the British countryside.
It is not too difficult to eradicate Himalayan Balsam as it is very easy to pull up and the seeds only stay viable for a few years.
The hollow stem can be used as a straw.


9 comments for Himalayan Balsam

  1. Edward Hoare says:

    My Stepfather, still alive at over 100 now,. worked as a manager in a cotton factory in Rossendale, in Pennine Britain. He would (unwittingly) bring home seeds and even small creatures, – usually dead, which had hitched a lift on the raw cotton bales..
    As a youngster, I would often grow these seeds. Himalayan Balsam was one of my successes. Before, around 1978, I don’t remember these Balsam plants growing, but soon after, they had spread, using the numerous streams which fed the upper River Irwell. I found this plant Very interesting! – Especially the ripe seed pods! Best Regards. Eddie Hoare.

  2. Robert Hardy says:

    I have successfully used the seeds of Himalayan Balsam baked in with a ginger nut biscuit mixture.

  3. Graham King says:

    I’m delighted to learn this plant can be eaten, as it occasionally springs up as a weed on my allotment plot (near a stream).
    Thanks for the info!

  4. Tracy says:

    I’ve been looking for the name of this plant for ages! It grows on the property I’m renting on. Happy to see that it is edible. Thanks!

  5. Mike Amey says:

    Just made a magical himalayan balsam gin from it’s flowers from a recipe by craftinvaders. . Pleasant and refreshing drink with a floral taste when mixed with tonic. The magical bit is that the gin is a straw colour, but when you add tonic water to It the glass it immediately turns pink. A true pink gin.

  6. Mo says:

    I was shown this plant in 1968 on a field trip with a friends evening class. It must have been fairly uncommon then as I remember the lecturer telling us about it interesting seed propagation, rather than the invasive weed it is now regarded as.

  7. L Jones says:

    We live by a river. The Balsam has just about taken over all the hedgerows! It looks pretty at this time of the year, but it’s crowded out a lot of other plans. I’m glad to hear it’s edible – there’s so much of it, we’ll never starve!

  8. Anna M. says:

    Himalayan Balsalm is considered highly invasive and a serious problem. The insects love it, therefore it deprives many native plants of their pollinators. It takes up a lot of ground space and is tall, so it deprives other species of earth to grow in. It takes over vast areas especially by rivers. The river corridors spread it widely. I have been out on several tasks with conservation groups earlier this year, helping on several ‘balsam-bashing’ sessions as they are often named, pulling up the horrible (though beautiful in appearance) things. We pull loads up (shallow roots luckily) really thoroughly , and yet weeks later there are lots more which sprang up from the tiny seedlings which we missed. Each one has several hundred seeds so they are really difficult to keep to keep on top of: in fact it’s not possible to keep on top of them. There are just not enough land workers, conservation workers and volunteers to go around considering the plants are so prolific and efficient at spreading. An absolute nightmare plant!

  9. Kelvin Broad says:

    We came to a small valley in South Wales 18 years ago and there was no Himilayan Balsam. However, Natural Resources Wales have done a wonderful job of bringing it into the valley on excavation equipment and the plant has gradually spread from their initial excation point on a small tributary. it has now managed to spread up and down the waterways and along the hedgerows of pretty much the entire valley. Grazing animals don’t touch it so it is now out of control. Thanks NRW for your wonderful stewardship.

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