- 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.
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:
- Vegetable broth
- Brown rice
- Steamed veggies
- Sweets, chocolate, and foods high in sugar (even fruit and juice)
- 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.
- 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.
Take 1-2 teaspoons diluted in water or tea 3 times daily or as often as needed.
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!
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.