Natural Poison Ivy Remedies

For the first time in my life, I have poison-something. Oak. Ivy. Sumac? All three? Ah, the fun part of country livin’.

As a tween, I used to sit on the bathroom counter for hours to tweeze, pluck and pick at everything in sight. I could take a “nothing” and turn it into a “something” in a matter of seconds. As an adult, let’s just say that I have three different sets of tweezers. It’s less about aesthetics and more for the part of me that enjoys control. So, having a bubble-like itchy rash, is well, a bit of a character builder for me. I have to admit though, that it definitely could be worse (just Google poison ivy rash), and all in all, this discomfort is worth every insanelyitchtastical bump if it was a necessary part of the new yard transformation from a hot mess to manicured…

Before & After YumUniverse Garden

And overgrown/sad to inviting and happy.

YumUniverse Hammock

Now, what I have, and what hundreds of thousands of folks suffer from every year, is known as a urushiol induced rash. Urushiol is the oily allergen that is found in plants like poison ivy, poison sumac and poison oak. If you touch the vines, roots or leaves of a poison plant, or touch something that has touched it (like your clothing or your pet), even if you yank it out by the roots in winter, and you are not immune (note: some folks are immune, but immunity can change), you can get a rash. Blisters. Itching. Redness. Swelling.

If you suspect that any clothing, tools or pets have touched the oil (which I have read can keep potency for years) wash well. Wash your skin using cold water and soap to keep pores closed (keeps oil from spreading/wreaking more havoc). I even read that you should throw out any clothing that came into contact with the poisonous plants, if you can part with them. Eeek. I will take my chances with that one and keep my gardening gear since all evidence points to exposed areas for me.

What I thought were scratches on my arm, turned into itch-central in about 3 days. Instead of slathering myself with chemical solutions, I dove into research instead. And as usual, I used myself as a Guinea pig to see what works best.

I can now say that I can clean up a poisonous rash like I can an overgrown yard. In a snap, and naturally.

Here’s what I experimented with and what worked wonders…

Apple cider vinegar

Apple Cider Vinegar Natural Remedy Poison Ivy

Pros: Works quite well for immediate itch relief. Helps remove the poison from the pores.

Cons: Strong vinegar smell. Could be a bit of a sweetheart repellant. Itch relief doesn’t last as long as I’d like.

Instructions: Apply several times a day with a cotton swab or cotton ball to affected area. You could also fill a tiny spray/misting bottle and apply multiple times a day.

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Baking soda and Oatmeal paste

Oats Natural Remedy for Poison Ivy

I read a lot about the separate healing qualities of these two ingredients when it comes to poison ivy, so I made a healing paste out of both.

Pros: the warmth of the cooked oats is very soothing. Great itch relief (especially as it cools, takes a bit more time for relief to set in, but worth the wait) and the drying effect feels like it’s “working.” Stickier than I thought it would be so it does adhere well. Long lasting relief.

Cons: you may feel ridiculous with cereal spread on your body. Save this remedy for home—unless you work in a jokey kind of office. Then send me pics/video.

Instructions: Bring 1/4 cup rolled oats and 1/2 cup water to a boil. Reduce heat and cover until all water is absorbed. Stir in 1 tbsp baking soda. Apply warm (not hot) over rash. Sit down, read a magazine and let it dry out. Carefully peel/brush off dried paste. Repeat 1-2 times a day. You can save extra paste in an airtight glass container in the fridge—simply warm on the stovetop, adding 1 tsp water at a time until you reach a consistency you like.

You can also blend this paste in a high-powered blender until smooth and then apply, for a less chunky version (preferred)—it’s more like a thick lotion (add water to reach desired consistency) blended. It looks a little Walking Deadish when dry, but it’s easy to mix in some aloe vera, blended kombu and tea tree oil. Don’t add vinegar though—the baking soda and vinegar will create a chemical reaction.

I have read that you can also add plain oatmeal or oat flour to your bathtub for an itch-relieving soak (keep the baking soda out of the bath—it could burn nether regions). Didn’t try this one, but I bet it is lovely with a few drops of lavender oil and a handful of epsom salt before bed.

Best rinsed off in the shower once dried so you can easily rub off without adding to the itch-factor.

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Fresh Aloe Vera Gel

Aloe Natural Remedy for Poison Ivy

You want to use the gel scraped from a real aloe plant for maximum benefit. I highly recommend keeping an aloe plant at home for smoothies (aids digestion), cooking burns/sun burns/wounds (there is no better remedy around), face masks (hydrating) and even insect bites and stings (relieves pain and itching).

Pros: Helps prevent infection and heals the skin thanks to antibacterial properties that soothe/heal irritation, swelling and redness. Cooling, soothing feeling. I liked applying this at night and then watching every morning as the rash got smaller and smaller.

Cons: I didn’t really experience any except that it wasn’t the best itch reliever. Love me some aloe vera though.

Instructions: Slice 1″ fresh aloe leaf in half and using a spoon or butter knife, scrape out the gel and apply to rash. Store unused leaves in the fridge or add to a smoothie. Apply gel several times a day with a cotton swab or cotton ball to affected area. You could also fill a spray/misting bottle with a gel blend and apply multiple times a day. Simply mix fresh aloe gel and a bit of water in the blender until smooth.

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Tea Tree Oil

Pros: due to its antiseptic, antifungal and drying properties, Tea Tree oil helps to minimize rash after a few days of use.

Cons: Doesn’t immediately relieve itching. Strong smell.

Instructions: Apply with a cotton swab multiple times a day.

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Kombu Blend

Kombu poison ivy treatment

I read that “a swim in the ocean did wonders” for one man, so I got to thinkin’… what about a mineral/salt-rich kombu blend? Yes. Yes. YU know I love kombu. I use it to boost the nutrients and growth for plants in my garden, too.

Pros: drying to rash and very healing/soothing to skin. Excellent, quick itch relief.

Cons: Mild sea smell. A tad unsightly—looks like dirt dried—a remedy best used at home.

Instructions: Soak a 2″ piece of kombu in 1/2-3/4 cup water. Add to blender and mix until as smooth as possible (the blender will heat it up a bit which feels nice). Using a cotton swap or cotton ball, apply to affected area and allow to dry. Store extra in the fridge. Can be mixed in with Oatmeal and Baking Soda Paste.

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And while my city slicker behind now knows what to look for (I guess I forgot about the childhood “leaves of three, leave them be”), I imagine that poison ivy may strike again in my future.

So…

I am adding a sweet fern to my soon-to-be-mostly-edible yard. Sweet fern leaves can be boiled fresh (or dried) to create a “brew” that speeds recovery and relieves the itching from urushiol induced rashes. Sweet fern can also be tossed onto a campfire (or chiminea fire) to drive away pesky bugs without chemicals like DEET. And while it isn’t sweet in flavor, it smells like sweet hay and can be used to make tea. I will plant it with my strawberries (and next to my raspberry bush) since it is also known to keep berries fresh longer. More on sweet fern later…

I have added a homeopathic remedy called Rhus Tox to my life. Homeopathic remedies are prescribed on the principal that “like cures like,” in a tiny dilution, so Rhus Tox (short for Rhus toxicodendron) is actually made from distilling the oil from Poison Ivy. It’s used to cure the reaction (to many poisonous plants) and even prevents a Poison Ivy reaction for up to a full year if taken in regular doses. Rhus Tox is also known to help people with minor arthritis pain and swelling. It comes in a tincture and tablet form. I will be taking this and hopefully I won’t have another case of poison ivy to report. Ever. Again. I’ll let YU know.

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  1. Arlis

    I am surprised that plantain wasn’t one of the remedies! I understand that that works well, and usually grows nearby to poison ivy. I’ve never tried it because I’ve never had poison ivy. I think I must be immune because I go hiking in shorts all the time, and can’t imagine that I’ve never touched it.

    • Heather Crosby

      Yes, Arlis! I just heard about plantain skins applied directly to the rash can help, and plantain oil as well. Thanks for sharing that with us.

  2. Stacey

    Thank you for a well written article ! I have found that the wild growing jewel weed, which has stems that can be peeled/ broken open and the plant material inside rubbed directly onto the skin, is helpful in stopping the itch and quickening healing. And usually wherever poison ivy is growing, jewelweed is nearby as well, like Nature’s little rescue plant 🙂
    Thanks for sharing your tips here, I hope I won’t have cause to use them !
    Have a blessed Spring ,
    Stacey

  3. Thank you! We have a man in our Framily that is HYPER sensitive to urushiol in any state. Having a few new remedies in the queue for when he is suffering is VERY helpful. Thanks again.

  4. bobbie joh

    thanks for this heather – just a few more ideas to add to my arsenal. we live in poison oak country, and i have one kid that is very allergic, 2 that are mildly reactive. Here are some other things we do as well:
    *rhus diversiloba = homeopathic poison OAK. works better for us than rhus tox. probably has to be special ordered online. (we keep it around..)
    *urtica urens cream = stinging nettle homeopathic cream. Also good for other things like sunburn and bug bites. same thing – order online
    *a friend told me to make a homemade scrub of salt and dr. bronners peppermint soap. Use this as a soap in the shower – brings instant relief. some people don’t like this idea, saying it could spread the poison oil. And, it’s instant relief.. not continuous. The salt scrubs it off, the peppermint sort of “cools” the itch. my kids use it sometimes, depending on how miserable they are! it’s also a nice cooling scrub for a summer shower.
    *clay paste to dry the area. Just get good quality clay and make a paste with water.
    *some people really do get relief from duct tape. Has to be kept completely covering the spot until the tape falls off – a couple of weeks maybe. I find it is a pain, and not very practical especially if you have multiple spots
    *Technu, before and after possible exposure
    *Alfalfa, sassafras, manzanita all are supposed to help… can be purchased in various forms. Manzanita Magic is a spray we can get in California that helps a bit.
    *Finally, for my child who is highly allergic, the ONLY thing that works (out of your list and mine..) has been chinese herbs perscribed by an acupuncturist. Not very practical if you aren’t exposed often, but worth looking into if poison oak is a constant threat to your health.

    hope this is helpful! I know poison oak is a lousy way to spend a few days.. thanks for the ideas. i’m going to get the kombu going NOW – i have 2 kids who JUST got poison oak a couple of days ago so this is perfect timing (unfortunately).
    bobbie

  5. elaine gaudette

    my camping area has poison ivy growing. I am looking for a natural way to kill it.some thing I can put into a large spray container. how often it would have to be done?

    • Heather Crosby

      Hi there Elaine,
      I have a friend who swears by pouring organic white vinegar at the roots of a poison ivy plant and it will kill it in a few days time. I have yet to try it, but your comment just made me add it to my to do list to see if it works. I saw one in the backyard the other day… Stay tuned. H

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