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.

Black Currant, Blueberry & Wild Bergamot Syrup

Summer is in full swing in Michigan, which means fresh berries and herbs are available in abundance. I love to make various preserves throughout the season so that I have a few jars to give as gifts to friends & family and some wonderful treats to enjoy myself during the long winter months when nothing is growing.

This delicious, unique simple syrup combines some of my favorite flavors of these lovely summer months. Blueberries are a familiar favorite and the addition of black currants and wild bergamot gives this syrup a tasty twist.

Black currants are not extremely popular, at least in this area, and can be a bit tricky to find. If you’re lucky, you might be able to get them at a farmer’s market or find a fruit farm that will let you pick them yourself. We are fortunate enough to have a great orchard nearby where we can pick these tasty berries. If possible, growing your own is a great option. If you can’t find black currants and still want to make this recipe, just substitute an equal amount of blueberries. The currants add a lovely flavor, but blueberry-bergamot syrup is also wonderful.

Freshly picked black currants

When eaten fresh, black currants have a sweet, earthy flavor that some people don’t enjoy. I personally think they’re wonderful, but they are definitely different. Most people do like black currants when they are added to syrups, jellies, and wines as they have a delicious flavor that is similar blackberries, though it is a bit richer and more concentrated.

Wild Bergamot is a lovely plant that can be found flowering in the fields, meadows, and roadsides in our area right now. I love its strong, spicy, oregano-like flavor. It’s definitely not what you would expect from such a delicate and pretty flower! It is wonderful as a cooking spice, garnish for salads, and to flavor syrups and jellies. The below graphic – excerpted from Dina Falconi’s book, Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook – provides lots of wonderful information about how to wildcraft and use wild bergamot. This is one of my favorite books on foraging wild edibles as it has very thorough plant profiles, amazing recipes, and is beautifully illustrated. Click here to get a copy of your own.  Continue reading

Curry Ketchup Recipe

This homemade ketchup is quick and easy to make and is definitely worth the effort. Whip up a batch before your next cookout to impress your friends. After all, nothing screams gourmet like handcrafted condiments.

The best homemade ketchup is made by cooking down ripe, fresh tomatoes for 10-12 hours until they turn into a thick sauce. But, most of time tomatoes aren’t in season (at least here in Michigan!) and sometimes you don’t have half a day to make ketchup. So, in those cases, you cheat a little and use organic tomato paste. The flavor will be just as rich and tomatoey and this little trick will definitely save you a lot of time!

Because you don’t have to wait for this ketchup to cook down, you can make a batch in about 15 minutes, meaning you can spend less time in the kitchen and more time enjoying the wonderful summer weather.

The curry in this recipe compliments the tomatoes in delightful way and lends some interesting flavor to a classic condiment.

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz organic tomato paste
  • 4 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp molasses
  • 5 Tbsp water
  • 2 Tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • A pinch of chipotle powder, I use just the tip of a spoon
  • Salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Directions:

Combine tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, water, and molasses in a sauce pan and whisk together til well combined. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk well to get rid of clumps.

Simmer on low for about 10 minutes to let the flavors meld. Add more water if needed as the sauce is cooking and before serving if the ketchup is too thick.

Serve with hot dogs, burgers, or potatoes.

Making your own condiments is a wonderful way to reduce your intake of highly processed foods and honestly, they just taste better! Enjoy making this handcrafted ketchup for your next cook out this summer. This tasty twist on an old favorite is sure to be a hit!

Grilled Tempeh Sliders

Summer is just around the corner, which means it’s a perfect time for some outdoor cooking. We love spending warm evenings on the deck or by the fire pit cooking our dinner and enjoying the weather. Not heating up the house with the oven or stove is an added bonus!

When many people think of grilling, they think meat – hog dogs, hamburgers, steak, chicken, etc – but there are many tasty meatless ways to enjoy cooking on the grill this summer. Tempeh, tofu, and many fruits and veggies are delicious grilled. There are also some very tasty  veggie “hot dogs” available at the natural food stores near us that are made from real vegetable not weird “meat like” ingredients. They are worth trying if you can find them.

This easy tempeh burger recipe is a favorite warm weather recipe around our house. Grilled veggies make a simple, delicious side dish. We use whatever’s in season. Asparagus, corn, zucchini, sweet potatoes, leeks, beets, and peppers are just a few tasty options. Be creative!

This recipe makes enough for 4 slider size tempeh burgers. This is enough to feed 2-4 people, depending on how hungry people are and what your side dish options are like. You could easily double the recipe to make more burgers if you are feeding more people.

 

Ingredients:

Sliders –

  • 8 oz tempeh patty
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1/2 cup liquid aminos
  • 1 Tbsp molasses
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 small, “dinner roll” sized buns, sliced in half

Toppings –

  • 2 slices onion, diced
  • A handful of fresh arugula leaves
  • Condiments of your choosing. Some great options are: homemade pickles, slaw, ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce (click here to find out how to make your own!), or mayo

Directions:

Cut tempeh patty into 4 equal pieces.

Combine liquid aminos, molasses, and diced garlic together in a wide dish. The dish does not need to be very deep, but ideally will be wide enough for the 4 tempeh pieces to sit in the bottom next to each other.

Add tempeh to liquid and spoon marinade over the pieces so they are drenched. Let marinate for about 30 minutes, occasionally flipping the tempeh so that each side has soaked for a bit in the liquid.

Start your grill. Once it is hot, add your tempeh patties. Cook for about 15-20 minutes or until both sides look nice and brown. As the tempeh cooks, spoon some marinade over it occasionally to keep it from drying out and to add more flavor.

When the patties are nearly done, add your buns to the grill, sliced side down and cook them just a few minutes, until toasted. Then take everything off the grill and assemble your sliders using the arugula greens, onions, and condiments of your choosing. We like topping our sliders with things like ketchup, mustard, diced olives, assorted veggie pickles, and barbeque sauce.

homemade veggie pickles – asparagus, kohlrabi, & beets
We make our own super tasty pickles and condiments. It’s a lot easier than you think and it’s more than worth the effort. Some of the best condiment and assorted veggie pickle recipes come from my favorite canning cookbook, Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff. We especially love her recipes for zucchini pickles and ketchup. So tasty! I would definitely recommend picking up this book if you like preserving your own food.

 

Enjoy crafting your own tasty tempeh sliders this summer. We’d love to hear about any awesome variations you come up with!

Easy Summer Pesto Recipe

Zucchini Pesto Pizza
zucchini, pesto & tomato pizza

Pesto is one of my favorite things to make in the summer. Its a great way to use up the bounty of fresh produce I have on hand, its super easy to make, and you can use it a million different ways. I follow this basic recipe using whatever greens/herbs I have on hand from the garden or farmers market.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 2 cups fresh greens of choice,* roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh herbs of choice (use one kind or a blend of several)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder (or less if you don’t like a lot of garlic)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • salt and pepper to taste

*If you don’t want to use any greens in your pesto, you can just use 2&1/2 cups of fresh herbs.

Directions:

Blend seeds and nuts together in a food processor until they are finely ground.

Add the greens, herbs, olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper to the food processor and blend until smooth. You may have to scrape things down with a spatula as you go to make sure everything gets mixed in.

Use your pesto on pizza or a sandwich, stir into scrambled eggs or pasta, or serve with crusty bread for a delicious appetizer.

Not sure what kinds of herbs and greens to use in your pesto? Here’s a few ideas:

Greens:

  • turnip greens
  • radish greens
  • beet greens
  • collards
  • kale
  • chard
  • Spinach

Herbs:

  • Basil
  • Sage
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Oregano

Feel free to use whatever greens or herbs you have on hand to make a unique and tasty pesto that’s all your own. Enjoy!