Summer always brings about joyous occasions like barbeques with friends and family, hiking trips, evening strolls, abundant gardens- aaand the not so joyous things like poison ivy, poison oak, bee stings, and bug bites.
You may be surprised to hear me say that I’d rather get stung by a bee than get poison ivy. The reason? I’m incredibly allergic to poison ivy so when I get it I go hide under a rock because it’s really ugly business.
As a child I learned very quickly how to pick out the poison ivy and poison oak from the rest. One touch of these seamlessly harmless plants on my skin and I would break out in the worst rashes and I don’t mean the typical poison ivy rash. No. ohhh no. I’m talking about a rash that cracks open, blisters everywhere, and oozes for days with ceaseless itching before it goes away. Not pleasant. Not pleasant at all.
Oh, and let’s not forget that I grew up in the middle of nowhere too, so it wasn’t like I could go to the store and pick up anything for it at the pharmacy. Suffice to say I became quit the expert on natural poison ivy treatments and various home remedies to stop the itch and dry up the blisters.
Now, I’m sure no one in their right mind would willingly tromp through or reach out and touch poison ivy, but the unknowing outdoorsy adventurer or most often, our children, are the ones who tend to fall victim this time of year.
The best treatment is of course prevention and to do that you will need to familiarize yourself with how poison ivy looks, so be sure to check out these poison ivy pictures for reference. You may also like a book on poisonous plants to keep on hand. I like this one. You can also read Toxicodendron radicans plant profile here.
How do You Get Poison Ivy Anyway?
There is a neat little chemical in poison ivy sap called urushiol. This same chemical is also found in poison oak and poison sumac and it’s what causes an itchy blistery rash. After coming in contact with poison ivy, you have about a 15 minute window to wash it off before it gets absorbed into the skin.
The only way to get urushiol on your skin is if the poison ivy plant is injured in some way. Unfortunately for us, this plant can be damaged just by brushing against it. The heavy sap resides in all parts of the plant and can easily stick to tools, pet fur, clothing, and skin. Urushiol is also known to remain reactive on different surfaces for quite some time. In some instances, even years!
Contact with urushiol can occur a number of different ways:
• Direct contact with the poison ivy plant
• Contact with urushiol that is left on your shoes and clothing
• From touching pets that have been in contact with poison ivy
• Even from the air if the plant is burned or if dust from injures area of the plant become airborne
How to Prevent Poison Ivy
The best way to prevent poison ivy is to avoid it or at least get the urushiol washed off before it can cause an allergic reaction. Again, familiarize yourself with pictures of poison ivy at the very least. It isn’t hard to identify once you’ve seen it… or run through it and suffered the consequences like I have.
It’s interesting to note that 7 out of 10 people are allergic to poison ivy in varying degrees (I happen to be VERY allergic). The remaining 30% of people who are lucky enough not to have a reaction to poison ivy could probably roll around in it and not be affected at all. Must be nice!
If you know that you have come in contact with poison ivy, the best thing to do is wash the affected area immediately with a drying soap and cold water. Some good soaps to use are Burt’s Bees Poison Ivy Soap and Fels-Naptha. If possible, have someone else turn on the faucet and pump some soap into your hands if you know your hands are contaminated. You do not want to get the urushiol on anything else if you can avoid it. Remember, you have a 15 minute window to get it off as best you can to limit a reaction.
If you don’t have soap handy, you can use alcohol wipes or even a beverage that contains a fair amount of alcohol in it to dissolve the urushiol.
The next thing to do is wash all of the items you’re wearing in the washing machine. Set the water level to high, add a nice amount of soap, and avoid touching anything but the inside of the washer with affected clothing. Don’t forget that urushiol can last for a long time on different surfaces so messily throwing your clothes in the wash would be a bad idea. It’s also important to wash the clothing in cold water.
Homemade Poison Ivy Treatments
That 15 minute window isn’t very forgiving, so if you do come into contact with poison ivy and develop a reaction, fear not! There are many tried and true homemade poison ivy treatments available that you can make at home. These remedies will neutralize the irritant caused by urushiol, draw out the toxin, help block your inflammatory response, and even minimize the communication between your nerves and your brain that say “This stuff is itchy and irritating!!”
One of the best things to do first after you’ve developed a rash is to stay cool and calm. Blood rising to the skin’s surface will only make you feel itchier so avoid spicy meals, hot showers/baths, and direct sunlight. Feel free to sip some chilled chamomile tea if you’re feeling frazzled by the itching.
• Turmeric Poultice
One of the most effective poison ivy remedies that most people have in their pantry is turmeric powder. This is such a great remedy! Turmeric is known to be a strong antibacterial and anti-inflammatory and will help bring down swelling and irritation as well as help stop the itch. You can get fantastic turmeric powder here and here.
Simply mix about 1TB of turmeric powder with just enough fresh lemon juice to form a spreadable paste. You can also use rubbing alcohol or vodka to if lemons are not available. Be sure to mix the paste carefully because turmeric will stain most everything yellow.
For some more oomf, add some essential oils like lavender, peppermint, or tea tree (about 5 drops) to enhance healing and help stop the itching. You can get my favorite essential oils HERE.
Apply the paste evenly to the affected area and leave it on for 20 minutes or until it dries. You can repeat this process as often as necessary but if you’re using the rubbing alcohol option I would only do this 3 times a day max.
• Apple Cider Vinegar
You had to see this one coming, because let’s face it, ACV is good for everything (you can read about more apple cider vinegar benefits and uses here).
This remedy is really easy to use. Simply apply it full strength to the affected area as often as needed. I like to keep it in a small spritzer bottle in the fridge for a cool and refreshing remedy that will quickly staunch itching. You can get my favorite ACV here.
• Clay Poultice
This one is very similar to turmeric paste except you use bentonite clay instead of turmeric powder and ACV instead of lemon juice to make a paste. I really recommend bentonite over other clays for its ability to pull toxins from the skin better than other clays. Perhaps the next best clay would be green clay if you don’t have bentonite on hand. I like this brand of bentonite clay and this brand of green clay.
Simply mix 1TB of bentonite or green clay with apple cider vinegar, colloidal silver (this decreases the chance of infection), or water to form a paste. You can add lavender, peppermint, tea tree, or even geranium essential oil (about 5 drops total) to increase effectiveness. You can get essential oils HERE for 24%off.
Apply to affected area until dry and rinse off completely. Apply as often as you like.
• Herbal Tea Rinse
If you know your herbs, this should be an easy fix for poison ivy.
Make a very strong infusion (you can learn how to make herbal infusions here) of plantain, comfrey, burdock root (this is easily found in most grocery stores), or jewelweed. You can also get these herbs minus the jewelweed here.
Dip a cloth in the infusion and soak the affected area for 10 minutes. Let the tea dry on the skin and then reapply as needed. You can get these great herbs here.
• Fresh Aloe Gel
This also works very well! All you need to do is filet a fresh aloe leave and blend up the gel in a small blender.
Liberally apply the gel to affected area (it’s really nice chilled!) and let it dry. This will speed up healing, soothe blisters, and help stop itching. Don’t have fresh aloe? You can get it here.
• Witch Hazel
This is an old remedy for poison ivy but it works just as well now as it did long ago.
Simply spray the rash liberally and let the witch hazel dry completely. This remedy is especially good for drying out the blisters. (This is the witch hazel I use).
Everyone should be able to utilize this awesome remedy for poison ivy. Oatmeal is able to pull the urushiol straight from the skin so that the rash doesn’t spread.
There are two great ways to use oatmeal. The first is to cook up a big soupy pot of it and then strain it into cool running bath water (you never want to soak in a hot bath when you have poison ivy because you will aggravate the itching). Put the remaining oatmeal from the strainer into a nut milk bag or a sock and use it to gently wash the affected areas. Soak in the bath for at least 20 minutes.
The second way to use oatmeal for poison ivy is to blend up cooked oatmeal until smooth and apply it in an even layer to the rash. As it dries, the oatmeal will pull out the irritant and offer great relief. Apply as often as necessary.
• Jewelweed Ice Cubes
This is the mother of all poison ivy treatments! In fact, this amazing herb contains precise compounds that cancel out urushiol; the irritant present in poison ivy that causes an allergic reaction. Jewelweed has been used for all stages of poison ivy with staggering effectiveness throughout history and interestingly enough, this plant happens to frequent the areas where poison ivy likes to grow. Here is what jewelweed looks like.
If you happen to come across the fresh plant, pick it whole, chop it up, and boil it covered for 30 minutes until the infusion is a brilliant orange hue.
Once cool, pour the infusion into ice cube trays and pop it in the freezer. When needed, simply rub the ice cube on affected areas for fast relief! This method is described by Susun Weed.
Other Simple Poison Ivy Treatments
This one is really effective for itching. Just mix 1TB of baking soda with enough water to form a paste. Apply it to affected areas and leave on till dry. Rinse with cool water. Repeat as often as necessary.
Sounds weird but apparently it works pretty well. Just squeeze the juice from green tomatoes and apply it to the area as soon as you can after coming in contact with poison ivy.
Soak in a cool bath with 1-2 cups of epsom salts for 20 minutes to relieve itching.
Blend up some cucumber and apply it to affected areas. The cucumber is cooling and soothing on inflamed and itchy skin.
Cold Black Coffee
Some have reported that this remedy works due to coffee’s ability to bring down inflammation.
Wipe the inside of a banana peel on affected areas for quick relief.
Blend up raw potato and apply it in an even layer to affected areas.
What About the Blisters?
There is a myth going around that if you pop the blisters the liquid inside them will cause the rash to spread. This is not true. If you do happen to pop a blister on accident clean it with soap and water and apply a disinfecting salve for the first day, then let it air dry after that. I wouldn’t recommend popping the blisters on purpose as this can lead to secondary infection, so be sure to avoid it as best you can. Should you really need to pop one, use a disinfected needle to pierce the blister in order to drain it. Be sure not to remove the skin covering the blister and then apply salve.
What have been your best tried and true remedies for poison ivy?
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