I don’t think anyone would knowingly touch poison ivy, oak, or sumac.
Yet there are many of us — and especially our children — who wander into the outdoors this time of year and pick up the torturous rash.
The best treatment is prevention! But the good news is…there are many homemade and natural remedies that work to What Causes Poison Ivy?
The rash that forms on our skin from exposure to poison ivy, oak, and sumac is caused by a chemical in the sap of the plant called urushiol. This chemical quickly starts working to penetrate our skin — on average, we have about 15 minutes to get rid of the urushiol in order to prevent an allergic reaction.
Myth: As a child I remember my mother telling my sister and I not to touch the fluid filled blister that formed on our skin after coming in contact with these poisonous plants. She said that the fluid was contagious and would cause the rash to spread. I have since learned that is untrue and merely an old wives’ tale. This fluid is harmless. Only contact with the oil of urushiol causes the rash to spread. However, it’s still a good idea not to touch the blisters…it reduces the risk of infection.
How to Prevent It
Avoiding the plant — and our exposure to urushiol — is the best way to prevent the development of poison ivy. Here are a few tips that may help to that end:
- It’s important to note that not all people will get a rash after exposure to poison ivy (approximately 7 out of 10 of us are allergic). However, if your body’s immune system doesn’t induce an allergic reaction, then you could probably take a bath in urushiol and you’d be unharmed.
- Contact with urushiol can come from the plant itself, from the air, from touching your shoes or clothing, and from the fur of your dog or cat if they happen to walk through a patch of poison ivy…so take care in all situations.
- But if you know that you have come in contact with poison ivy, washing the affected area immediately with soap and water will limit your body’s reaction to it. Remember: You have 15 minutes to wash it off before any significant penetration occurs.
- After washing with soap and water, clean your skin again with rubbing alcohol (or any type of beverage that contains alcohol). This will certainly breakdown and dissolve the urushiol.
Homemade and Natural Remedies
This summer — should you have the misfortune of coming in contact with any one of these poisons plant — the good news is that you can stop the itch and quickly dry up the blistery rash with these simple homemade and natural remedies (listed in no particular order of effectiveness):
1. Apple Cider Vinegar. Load this wonder liquid into a spray bottle and chill it in the refrigerator to keep it cool and refreshing. Spray on the rash, as needed, to reduce to the itch.
2. Banana Peel. Take the inside of a banana peel and rub it on the infected area. The itch should be gone in a few hours.
3. Drying paste. In the palm of your hand, make a paste with a tablespoon of bentonite clay, essential oils (10 drops total of either lavender, tea tree, chamomile, or geranium), and just enough water to moisten into a paste. Apply to rash and allow to dry before rinsing off. Use as often as needed. Find bentonite clay and essential oils here…
4. Baking soda paste. Mix enough baking soda and water to make a paste. Apply the paste liberally to the affected area and allow to dry.
5. Turmeric paste. This is an amazing remedy! Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory and contains strong antibacterial properties. Mix one tablespoon of turmeric root powder with enough rubbing alcohol or lemon juice to form a thick paste. Note: If you have it on hand, feel free to add a tablespoon of Goldenseal root or Oregon grape root powder. You may also like to add 5-10 drops of tea tree or lavender essential oils. Again, these are not at all necessary — just great add-in options. Very carefully apply the turmeric root paste to the afflicted areas. Take care, turmeric will stain everything yellow — even your skin! Let it sit on your skin for approximately 15 minutes before wiping off. Repeat as often as necessary. Purchase organic turmeric root powder here…
6. Herbal compress. Make a strong tea using either burdock root, plantain, comfrey, or jewelweed — or any combination of these herbs. Apply to the skin by soaking a clean cloth in the tea and then placing the cloth on the affected areas. Let it dry and re-apply as often as needed. It should relieve the itching immediately.
7. Potato poultice. In a blender, blend a raw potato until it forms into a paste. Put the paste on plastic wrap or a clean cloth and wrap it around the affected area. Leave it on for up to a couple hours before removing the poultice and washing it off.
8. Oatmeal bath. In a blender, blend 2 cups of oatmeal until powder in form. Then add to a bath filled with warm water. Soak in the tub for upto 20 minutes. Repeat as needed for itch relief.
9. Epsom Salts bath. Add 2 cups of Epsom salt to a bath of warm water and soak in the tub for 15-20 minutes. Get good quality epsom salts at a great price here…
10. Colloidal Silver. Spray colloidal silver to the affected areas and to your fingers and hands in order to prevent the risk of infection.
11. Witch hazel: Spraying the affected area with witch hazel will help to ease the itch and dry the blisters. Find organic witch hazel in bulk quanties here…
12. Aloe Vera. Slice open a piece of fresh aloe vera leaf, scoop out the gel, and apply it directly to the rash. Simple…amazing! Don’t have it growing fresh? Purchase it in bulk here…
13. Jewelweed. This is possibly the greatest natural remedies for the treatment of poison ivy, oak, or sumac given to us by the Earth. It contains chemical compounds that neutralize the effects of urushiol. From my study of the Jewelweed, I have come into mixed reviews on the efficacy of the plants when used other than fresh-picked. Therefore, I suggest that when you are exposed to poison ivy, oak or sumac the best thing to do is to immediately find a jewelweed plant, slice a fresh stem open, and rub it’s sap directly onto the skin. Likewise this can be done post-exposure on the areas of the rash as well. Looking for Jewelweed? Read more here to see some great pictures of the plant and learn where it grows…
Grow it Yourself!
My most favorite way to learn how to identify herbs in the wild is to try and grow them myself! I purchase about 95% all of my medicinal herb seeds — like Jewelweed seeds — from Horizon Herbs through Mountain Rose Herbs.
I know you all probably have experience with treating this type of thing 🙂 Please share with us your tips for how you treat poison ivy naturally!
Sonja Stone says
I just cured my poison ivy with four topical applications of an infusion of red willow bark. You pare off a few saplings’ worth of bark (both inner and outer), stick the bark in a jar, fill with boiling water, and put on a sealing cap for at least four hours. Then strain out and bathe the affected area!! It’s a cure!!
Oh, you forgot the BEST natural cure! Boiron makes a homeopathic called “Rhus Tox” which is derived directly from the poison ivy plant. If you buy the vial and throw in 2-3 pellets per 1/3 cup of water, you can make a spray that will easy the itch completely in 24 hours and cut healing time in half. Just spray it on as needed, which is more often at first, but less often as time goes by. I had a one-month bout with it, after repeated exposures during a pregnancy and thought I would going to die! But this was the last thing we tried, and it was amazing.
That is my go to remedy for poison ivy too. I’ve also used the Poison Ivy remedy from Highland that contains Rhus Tox and a couple other remedies. Takes the itch away in a couple of hours and clears it up in a day or two. Quick, easy and stores for ages without losing potency.
Opps, actually I think the company spells it Hyland.
Thank you so much for these great tips. I will share with ds2 who is so allergic, one needs merely mention poison ivy and he breaks out.
As a reminder:
1) If you suspect you have gotten into poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, wash the area thoroughly with hot soapy water. Wash all clothing that has been exposed on hot, preferably separately from other items.
2) Never burn wood that may have come in contact with one of the poisonous plants. (For example, after clearing brush and putting it all in a pile.) The plant need not be present for the oils to be on the item and transfer. If someone is allergic to one of those, the blisters can form on the inside of their airways.
3) Try to avoid eyes and other parts of your body if at all possible; however, if you are working in the heat clearing wood and so forth, as you perspire, you may find that you’ve just rubbed your forehead with your gloved hand that had come in contact with the oils from a poisonous plant, because, of course you were “trying to protect yourself.” In those instances, an internal antihistamine or steroid shot may be required since topical treatments may be difficult to apply satisfactorily or safely in sensitive areas. While natural remedies are optimal, these may be necessary to prevent serious complications from severe allergies and/or allergic reactions around highly sensitive organs.
The homeopathic remedies taken orally will address the areas where a topical application is unable to be done.
I’ve thankfully managed to avoid poison ivy/sumac/oak my entire life. Of course, I’m so worried that I will touch it accidentally that I refuse to touch any greenery in open areas. That little rhyme about leaves of 3 to let them be is also a cute reminder about the pesky plants and their effects.
[email protected] says
Unfortunately, I get poison ivy 3 to 4 times a year. Putting a leaf from an aloe vera plant in the fridge provides cool soothing relief when applied to the affected area.
I just don’t understand how a beautiful plant can be soooo mean! 🙁 I am highly allergic and I praise God that I no longer live in an area that is infested (now I have to avoid poison oak but I only encounter it on wilderness hikes).
We use tea tree oil.
Stacy @Stacy Makes Cents says
Thank you for posting this, my friend! We have discovered there is a bunch of this stuff on our new property so I am glad to have this information in case we need it.
Thanks also for de-bunking that myth – because I still believed it. LOL
Rhubarb works almost instantly also for easing itch. Just peel to expose some of the inside and rub affected area as needed.
My wife uses Fels-Naptha to wash with as soon as you realize you have come in contact with the stuff. She took a bunch of girl scouts out camping one weekend. They were playing a tree recognition game where you find a particular type of tree and hug it. They were all hugging trees with poison Ivy on them. When she realized what they were doing she washed them all with a bar of Fels-Naptha and none of them got poison ivy at all. The soap cuts through the oils and removes it from your skin before it has a chance to cause you to break out.
I was wondering if you could make a tincture or dry the jewelweed, or does it have to be fresh. I couldn’t find the plant on the link you gave. Even with a search.
I am very allergic to poison ivy. Once we had a friend who lived near a golf course and they allowed him to search and keep lost balls. Many of the new. We went with him one day and my husband got a very nice bucket of balls, but I got poison ivy! Many medications and Dr. visits later he stated, “THat free bucket of golf balls cost me over $200!”
Our compounding pharmacy carries something that comes in 3 small vial and is homopathic. You take one vial in Feb. I think, one in March and the last a month or two later. It is supposed to help you be immune to poison ivy or have at least a very very light case if exposed in the summer.
Thanks for all the information. Love your website!
I have found that white shoe polish will help dry it out and keep it from spreading from the ooz that comes from the blisters. Paint it on and leave it. It protects the surrounding skin. Also once you get it do not wear the same clothes two days in a row and wash your sheets and pillowcases everyday or at least change every day. This will also keep it from spreading. It might be a good Idea to put towels down where you sit too, especially if you get it on the back of your legs. You could share with others…. Or get recontaminated at a later date….. Nasty Stuff Poison Ivy, Oak or what ever. Hugs
ce kind says
and my fav remedy- an itch- relief actually, since it does nothing to speed healing, but wow! does it work… 30 sec. blast of hot (as hot as you can tolerate) water- causes all the area histamines to fire and deplete themselves which gives you at least 30 min of itch-free relief before they can build themselves up again!! 🙂
Adrienne @ Whole New Mom says
Great post. I do think I’m not allergic since I’ve never gotten it. Shared on my Facebook fan page.
Wendy Akers says
Great information! A friend of mine said all you need is Jewel Weed which grows right next to the poison ivy.
Kathy Knapp says
This is also a preventive, but it has the soap inherently available for washing off any contact. Lather up with Fels Naptha soap and let it dry. (kids like the weird feeling) It acts as a barrier to the skin, and then if you come in contact, use your water bottle or other water source to rinse off. This is great for the people who do not have on long pants and long sleeves. As a Girl Scout Leader and Trainer, I have used this for nearly 30 years with great success. Fels Naptha is the soap that we place half a bar into a leg of a panyhose and tie to the wash line. It is sometimes hard to find in the grocery store, but it is there. Officially, I now have to train with liquid soap for the wash line, but have the Fels Naptha specifically for poison ivy prevention.
When the rash is present, the juice of plantain also works, but it is really hard to easily mash up and looks strange, but it works. It is also a Native American Indian remedy. Plantain is found in dry sunny areas.
Megan @ Purple Dancing Dahlias says
We make a tea with the dried flowers of the sumac and it kept me poison ivy free for two years. Prior to that all I had to do was look at the stuff and I was covered in it. It is really bad here because we have had so much rain, it is everywhere, literally everywhere on our farm, growing in the grass in the middle of the yard. I am covered in it at the moment because I was in such a hurry to weed the potatoes I failed to notice the abundance of poison ivy. Need to find some sumac again.
Has anyone heard of/had any experience dealing with internalized poison ivy remedies? My in-laws have a lot of poison ivy through the bush on their property. My father-in-law burned a lot of brush 2 summers ago and broke out in a rash all over his body within hours. He couldn’t figure out what the rash was from. I asked if he had been touching the poison ivy and he said he had, but “obviously” hadn’t rolled around in it. I looked online and found out how toxic it is to burn it (and he admits he threw a lot of it in the fire). Poison ivy releases its oils into the air and I’m 99% sure he got the rash because he breathed the poison ivy oil into his lungs (thus transferring it’s effects through his body). Fast forward to now… he has been dealing with this same rash off and on since then. I think he needs to do some type of detox but haven’t been able to find a real solution. His doctor just keeps giving him creams for when it gets bad. He never had any skin issues before that “poison ivy fire”.
Megan @ Purple Dancing Dahlias says
The reason I started drinking the sumac tea was because I was breaking out all year round and it would get really bad in the spring without me being in contact with it (much like you FIL). I worked for two years and finally this year I got it again but I think the only reason I did was because it was in the potatoes and I touched it.
Nicole S says
Another thing, I did not learn until I was much older and after a few outbreaks is that Mangoes are in the same type of family as poison ivy. The skin of the mango is similar to poison ivy. It took a long time for drs to figure out what was causing me to break out. Now I use gloves to peel the fruit and wash my skin with a preventive anti-poison ivy wash afterwards, and am just fine. 🙂
trina patterson says
My husbands family are part native American and have been taught that flax oil, ingested will get rid of poision ivy. Our family get poision ivy just by looking at it (haha) so we start in the spring taken flax tablets once a day until summer is over. We haven’t gotten it since.
A friend told me how some students at the University of Hawaii got this skin rash. They eventually traced it to a plant that’s related to the poison oak and ivy family. Strangely enough, they noticed only the kids from the mainland got it. It seems that the Islanders were immune to it having grown up eating mangoes!
I am a mushroom forager, but rarely get poison oak even though we’re constantly tromping through it. Must be all those mangoes I’m constantly eating. Yes, I was born in Hawaii!
Justine @ The Lone Home Ranger says
Thanks for linking up to my jewelweed article! Thank you also for this wonderful list of remedies. My older daughter attended a camp that just ended, and she came home Friday with poison ivy. I alternated apple cider vinegar and witch hazel, and apart from complaining about the smell, she said she loved them to reduce her itching. They were so much more effective than store-bought calamine lotion!
Gypsy Jane says
Jewelweed did not work for me at all, nor anything else, when I first moved south and the local variety of Poison Ivy said “damn yankee” and jumped all over me. I had the rash covering both arms and both legs. Nothing worked until I cleaned up my spills from a painting project, using kerosene to wipe the paint off – and it wiped the poison ivy rash off too. Cleared it up amazingly quickly. Has done so every time since, too.
Can’t believe no one has mentioned the most common household preventative or way to dry it up. If you think you have been exposed then make a bath with a 1/8 -1/4 cup of bleach and add liquid soap. Wash well and most people will never breakout. If you do then was the affected area the same way. I add a couple of capfulls in a wash tub and wash the affected area several times a day. It will dry it up faster than anything else I have ever tried. My dad and children are highly allergic and they swear by this. Of course the kids prefer swimming in a chlorinated pool!
I use dawn dish soap to wash with as soon as I realize I have been in it. Must work because I have never had it until now and I didn’t have dawn dish soap in the house when I showered after weed wacking some this past weekend! Going to stock all my bathrooms with Dawn now!
Tea tree oil worked miraculously. On my first summer bout, I used tea tree oil pads from Trader Joe’s, hoping it would prevent the weeping. It not only lrevented weeping in bout one, ut alsipo alleviated itch and healed the skin up. Mon bout two, I tried multiple OTC chemicals, but I broke out and swelled up. I was on vacation and failed to bring my tea tree oil pads. Hpon returning, I immediately swiped the oozing ivy rash….and 1day later was scapping over and healing up. I also tried it on a sunburn. It is such an excellent skin product. I recommend it for anyone with a skin irritation. I use Trader Joes pads because they also have some softening ingredients and it is so much cheaper than buying anything else.
I have organic tea tree oil IN a bottle) – Can I put some on a cotton puff or cotton pad and place it on the affected area? Is that how you used it?
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