Holistic Treatment of Poison Ivy, Oak & Sumac Rash

Photo Credit: WebMD

If you live in the United States (or parts of Canada), there’s a good chance that you are all too familiar with the effects of a run in with poison ivy, oak, or sumac. These plants contain an oil called urushiol (you-ROO-shee-all) that causes an itchy, blistering rash when it comes in contact with the skin. This rash often goes away within a few weeks, but can cause a lot of misery in the meantime. Try the following suggestions to avoid getting poison ivy, oak, or sumac this summer.

Preventative Measures

If you live in an area where one or more of these plants grow, learning to identify them is an important first step to avoiding exposure in the first place. Once you know these plants, be careful to respect them and keep your distance.

Poison ivy, oak, and sumac grow prolifically and vigorously throughout the United States. The below images from poison-ivy.org map out specific areas where you can expect to find each of these plants.


This PDF from Michigan herbalist, jim mcdonald, is helpful for learning to ID poison ivy. Poison-ivy.org also offers information on identifying the different types of poison ivy, oak, and sumac.

You can sometimes prevent an outbreak of a urushiol rash by washing well with fels naphtha soap. (You can find it online or in grocery or drug stores.) Try this if you have been walking or working in an area where poison ivy, oak, or sumac grows. The sooner you do this after possible exposure the better. It takes about 12 to 72 hours for a rash to form after coming into contact with the plant, so you will want to wash off the urushiol oils long before then to avoid an outbreak.

If you do end up with a rash from exposure to poison ivy, oak, or sumac, the following holistic treatment plan can help speed recovery time and reduce symptoms, without the use of conventional medications, such as antihistamines and steroids.


Cleanse & Support the Liver

The liver plays an important role in cleansing the blood and ridding it of metabolic wastes and environmental toxins. An unhealthy liver that isn’t functioning properly can cause issues with kidney, heart, skin, respiratory, and glandular functions. Thus, when skin problems manifest, it is important to boost liver health as support therapy to help the body regain balance.

The following regime will help improve liver health:

Liver Cleansing Tea

  • 3 parts dandelion root
  • 2 parts burdock root
  • 2 parts cinnamon
  • 2 parts licorice root
  • 1 part pau du arco
  • 1/2 part yellow dock
  • 1/4 part echinacea

Combine about 3 tablespoons of the above herb mixture per quart of water in a saucepan. Bring the mixture slowly to a boil, then simmer gently for 20-45 minutes. Then remove from heat and strain the herbs from your tea. Drink 2-3 cups daily.

 

Liver Tonic Tea

  • 3 parts peppermint
  • 2 parts lemon balm
  • 2 parts red clover blossom
  • 2 parts nettle
  • 1 part alfalfa
  • 1/2 part parsley
  • 1/4 part stevia

Add 1-3 tablespoons of above herb mixture to a strainer or tea ball and place in a cup. Bring water to a boil. Pour hot water over herbs and cover. Let infuse 15 minutes to an hour and then strain out herbs. Drink 2-3 cups daily.

Switch to a Cleansing Diet

To support the body during flares of any skin related problems, the diet should be cleansing and eliminative in nature.

Eat light simple foods, including:

  • Miso
  • Vegetable broth
  • Millet
  • Brown rice
  • Tofu
  • Steamed veggies

Avoid:

  • Sweets, chocolate, and foods high in sugar (even fruit and juice)
  • Alcohol
  • Fatty foods
  • Large or complex meals
  • Processed or refined foods

 

Relieve Stress & Support the Nervous System 

Supporting the nervous system is especially important during flares of skin issues, like poison ivy, oak, or sumac, as the rash and itching can cause stress and increased inflammation.

Try one or more of the following to help soothe nerves and reduce irritation.

Peppermint-Valerian Tea

  • 2 parts peppermint
  • 1 part valerian
  • 1 part milky oats and/or oat straw
  • 1 part licorice root

Combine water and licorice root in a saucepan. Bring the mixture slowly to a boil, then simmer gently for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, add other herbs, and let infuse for 45 minutes. You’ll want to use about 3 tablespoons (total) of herbal blend per quart of water. Strain the herbs from your tea. Drink as often as needed throughout the day.

Nerve Soothing Tea

  • 3 parts chamomile
  • 2 parts lemon balm
  • 1 part milky oats and/or oat straw
  • 1 part lavender

Add 1-3 tablespoons of above herb mixture to a strainer or tea ball and place in a cup. Bring water to a boil. Pour hot water over herbs and cover. Let infuse 15 minutes to an hour and then strain out herbs. Drink as often as needed.

Valerian tincture

Take 1-2 teaspoons diluted in water or tea 3 times daily or as often as needed.

Skullcap tincture

Take 1/4 tsp diluted in water or tea 3 times daily.

Reduce Further Irritation

Dealing with poison ivy, oak, and sumac rashes can be pretty miserable. Do yourself a favor and don’t make things worse! Try the following suggestions to avoid further exacerbation.

  • Avoid hot showers, water, & heat. For a relieving soak, add baking soda to lukewarm bath water.
  • Avoid oil based treatments, like salves and ointments.


Internal & External Treatment

The following natural treatments will help to dry up poison ivy, oak, or sumac rashes, relieve itching, and speed recovery.

  • Drink drying, astringent teas of mugwort, oak bark, or witch hazel.
  • Mix clay with enough apple cider vinegar to form a paste. Spread into the affected area and let dry. Rinse with cool water.
  • Apply yogurt to affected areas. It is slightly astringent and drying. It is also a good option for topical treatment for the skin around the eyes, as other treatments may be too harsh.
  • Dilute the below linament with a little cool water and apply to affected area.

The following recipe is adapted from Back to Eden by Jethro Kloss.
Jethro Kloss’ Herbal Linament

  • 1 oz golden seal root
  • 1 oz myrrh gum
  • 1/4 oz cayenne
  • 1 pint rubbing alcohol

Combine ingredients in a glass jar with a lid that fits tightly. Cover and let sit in a warm place for 2 weeks or more, shaking daily. After 2 weeks, strain well and store in a glass jar.

  • Mix green clay, sea salt, & water till a paste forms. Stir in a few drops of pure peppermint essential oil. Apply to affected area as needed. Store in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid.
  • Apply the following tincture to affected areas frequently.

Poison Ivy/Oak Tincture
Fill a jar with wilted fresh mugwort and cover with apple cider vinegar. Cover jar and put in a warm place, out of direct sunlight for 14 days. Then strain and add 2 tablespoons of salt per pint of tincture.

To use: dilute a small amount with water and apply as needed.

 

The consequences of a too close encounter with poison ivy, oak, or sumac can certainly be uncomfortable, however, hopefully with increased care and awareness when working or walking in areas where these plants grow can help to reduce these types of run ins for you in the future. And if you do end up with a poison ivy, oak, or sumac rash, it is nice to know that there are natural options for treatments, as antihistamine and steroid medications can often have unpleasant side effects.

If you’re struggling with why “pesky” plants like poison ivy even exist, you may want to check out this short video featuring jim mcdonald. He offers a more positive point of view on poison ivy that may be helpful to you. Best of luck this season as you share the woods and fields with these powerful plants!

Have a favorite natural remedy for poison ivy, oak, or sumac that I didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments below!

 

[RESOURCES]
Gladstar, Rosemary. “Herbal First Aide: Skin Problems and What to Do About Them.”

Gladstar, Rosemary. “Herbal Therapeutics for the Liver.”

Kloss, Jethro. Back to Eden.

Poison ivy, oak, and sumac.” American Academy of Dermatology. 6/21/2017.

Tierra, Michael. The Way of Herbs.

Make Your Own Herbal First Aid Kit

We all know that life is extremely unpredictable. One minute you’re happily cutting food for your rabbits and the next thing you know you’re staring dazed at your finger thats now dripping with blood after a too close encounter with your pruning shears.

Even if you aren’t quite as accident prone as I am, things happen and its nice to be prepared when they do. Having a well stocked first aid kit in your home and with you when you travel is a great way to be ready for whatever issues may arise. If you get anxious when you travel, knowing that you are well prepared in case of illness or injury can be a good way to relieve some of your stress.

The following is a list of things in my personal first aid kit. Feel free to make substitutions or omit things based on what is available and makes the most sense for your needs. Some of these remedies are somewhat specific for travelers, so you may choose not to include them in your home medicine cabinet.

Tinctures

Tinctures are a really handy on-the-go herbal preparation, especially if you store them in dropper bottles. I like to store all of my tincture bottles in a small ziplock bag in case of spills. If you’re traveling with glass bottles, you’ll want to pad them somehow to prevent them from breaking.

These are the herbal tinctures in my first aid kit:

Echinacea – This cleansing, immune boosting, antibiotic, and antiviral herb is a great addition to any medicine cabinet. The tincture can be used topically to disinfect cuts and scrapes. It can be taken internally to help treat colds, flus, food poisoning, and bacterial infections. Herbalist, Rosemary Gladstar, recommends taking a dropperful of tincture every 3-4 hours at the first sign of illness (sore throat, cough, fatigue, etc.) until symptoms subside.

Echinacea can also be used preventatively prior to leaving home to prevent illness if you tend to get sick when traveling. Gladstar recommends taking a dropperful 2-3 times daily for three days before traveling and three days after arriving at your destination to boost and support immune function.

Digestive Bitters – This tincture is an invaluable remedy to have on hand for a wide variety of stomach issues. Digestive bitters tincture aids digestion, relieves gas & bloating, and can be helpful for nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

You’ll find more information about bitters and how to make your own tincture in my post, Digestive Bitters.

Valerian – This is one of my favorite herbs for a variety of issues that may arise during travel. It is sedative, pain relieving, and soothing to the nervous system. It’s a valuable sleep aid, helps relieve muscle spasms, calms overexcitement, and is good for general pain relief.

While many people find valerian to be relaxing, a small percentage of people actually experience a stimulating effect from this herb. If you haven’t taken valerian before, try a small dose to see how it will affect you.

Typical dosing: 10 drops to 1 tsp for insomnia, stress, pain, menstrual cramps, aching muscles.

St. John’s wort – This herb is helpful in with general pain relief. It has properties that aids wounded tissues in their recovery. It is an anti-inflammatory. It also aids in recovery of mental/emotional balance after suffering trauma.

Typical dosing: 10-30 drops for nerve pain, depression, anxiety, or burns.

Ginkgo-Hawthorne – This herbal combination can ease the symptoms of jet lag and can also help treat altitude sickness. Gladstar recommends taking 1/2 to 1 tsp of tincture 3 times daily for several days before and after traveling to help prevent jet lag. Avoid taking ginkgo if you take blood thinning medications.

Capsules

Capsules are another herbal preparation that is very convenient for travel. You can often find herbal capsules in health food stores and even some pharmacies. Mountain Rose Herbs is another great source.

If you’re going to be using a lot of capsules, it’s probably worth it to buy your own capsule machine and empty capsules so you can fill them with your own powdered herbs. This will save you money and also allows you to make customized herbal blends to fill your capsules with.

If you’re not assembling this first aid kit for travel and just want to have a well stocked medicine cabinet at your home, you may want to keep loose dried herbs on hand instead of capsules. It can be cheaper and it’s really not that inconvenient to make a cup of tea when you’re at home. Do whatever works best for you and your family.

The following capsules are in my first aid kit:

Ginger – This herb is helpful for cases of nausea, motion sickness, and helps to calm stomach issues caused by stress and anxiety. It’s warming properties also make it helpful for several other issues travelers might find themselves dealing with, like menstrual issues (especially cramps), coughs, sore throats, and colds.

Activated charcoal – Internally, this powder helps to absorb a variety of toxins from the digestive tract, including many chemicals, poisons, and pathogens that cause food and water bourne illnesses.

It also can be used externally to treat spider bites or help to draw out splinters. Just break open a capsule and mix the contents with a very small amount of water to make a paste. Smooth the paste over the affected area and let dry. Remove with a cloth dipped in warm water.

White willow bark – Willow is a natural source of salicin, the active ingredient in aspirin. It is useful as an anti-inflammatory and all-purpose pain reliever. It can also be useful for treatment of occasional headaches. Standard dosing: 2 capsules with food.

Cranberry – Cranberry capsules are an invaluable remedy to have on hand if you’re prone to bladder or urinary tract infections. Start taking capsules in large doses at the first sign of infection. This can help stop a bladder infection that is just starting.

Essential Oils

Lavender essential oil – Lavender has a wide variety of uses and is very gentle. It’s antiseptic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and calming.

Dab a drop of essential oil on your finger and rub on temples and behind ears to soothe headaches caused by stress and tension or to help calm nerves in stressful situations. This method is also helpful for cases of insomnia.

Lavender EO can also be used topically to promote healing and reduce pain or itching in bruises, burns, wounds, and insect bites. Apply a few drops to affected area to soothe and help prevent infection. For burns, mix a few drops of oil with a tablespoon of honey to make a healing, antiseptic dressing.

Peppermint essential oil – This stimulating essential oil is uplifting, energizing and has a variety of first aid uses.

For upset stomach and digestive issues, add 3 to 4 drops of pure essential oil to a cup of warm water and drink.

For headaches caused by fatigue, put a few drops on a towel or cloth and inhale deeply. Or mix 6-10 drops of peppermint oil with a carrier oil (like olive, sunflower, or coconut oil) and massage onto back of the neck.

For relief from painful insect bites or stings, apply a drop or 2 of essential oil directly onto the affected area.

For burns, mix a few drops with a tablespoon of honey to make an antiseptic, anti-inflammatory dressing.

Tea tree essential oil – Tea tree is a powerful antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal. The essential oil of this herb is very versatile and can be used to treat a variety of issues that may arise on your travels.

To relieve symptoms of sinus & bronchial infections, and colds, put 10-15 drops in a bowl or pot of hot water. Drape a towel over your head and the bowl and steam for 8-10 minutes. Or if an herbal steam isn’t practical, try put a few drops of tea tree essential oil on a cloth or towel, hold over your nose and breathe in deeply.

For fungal infections and rashes, apply a few drops directly to the affected area.

To ease tooth and gum infections, mix 2 drops of tea tree essential oil with 1/4 teaspoon of goldenseal powder and apply to infected area. Do not ingest tea tree oil.

To remove embedded ticks, put a drop of tea tree EO on the butt of the tick.

For wounds, cuts, or insect bites, apply to affected area to prevent infection.

Other

Kloss linament – This traditional remedy is helpful for topical treatment of muscle inflammation, insect bites, scratches, wounds, boils, pimples, infected rashes, splinters, and poison oak/ivy. It should be used only externally.

The following recipe is adapted from Back to Eden by Jethro Kloss.

Jethro Kloss’ Herbal Linament

  • 1 oz golden seal root
  • 1 oz myrrh gum
  • 1/4 oz cayenne
  • 1 pint rubbing alcohol

Combine ingredients in a glass jar with a lid that fits tightly. Cover and let sit in a warm place for 2 weeks or more, shaking daily.

After 2 weeks, strain well and store in a glass jar. Apply to affected area to relieve any of conditions listed above. This remedy will sting when applied to broken skin. Dilute with water for use on animals and children.

Lipbalm 

Sunscreen

Insect Repellent 

Supplies

Every good first aid kit will also include the following items to help sanitize and bandage wounds or stabilize injuries.

  • Tweezers
  • Scissors
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Gauze
  • Band aids
  • Steri-Strips
  • Cotton swabs
  • Cotton pads
  • Ace wrap
  • Athletic tape
  • Moleskin

Enjoy putting together your own herbal first aid kit. Being prepared for injury and illness can help relieve some of the stress of travel and will help your trip go smoother if an accident occurs or if you fall ill away from home.

Have a favorite first aid herb I didn’t mention? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
[RESOURCES:]

7Song. “Wilderness Herbal First Aid.” http://www.7song.com.

7Song. “Herbal First Aid: Protocols, Pain remedies, Wound care and Street Medicine.” http://www.7song.com.

7Song. “Herbal First Aid: Wound Care.” http://www.7song.com.

Gladstar, Rosemary. Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. 

Gladstar, Rosemary. “Herbs for the Traveler.”

Hoffman, David. Medical Herbalism.

Kloss, Jethro. Back to Eden.

Tierra, Michael. The Way of Herbs.

Weed, Susan. Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year.