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Finding a natural solution

Jewelweed Salve: Natural Treatment for Poison Ivy

For about 1 million years now getting poison ivy has been a drag. (Okay, maybe the very species, Toxicodendron radicans, hasn’t been creeping around that long, but you get the idea.)

Treatment For Poison Ivy
Toxicodendron radicans has itchy results. Treat its skin rash with a jewelweed salve.

My First Introduction to Poison Ivy

I remember twenty-something years ago the first time I got poison ivy. I’d just bought my beautiful log cabin atop a mountain in the Hudson Valley, and my woody acre abutted 3,000 acres of virgin forest owned by an art preserve (sigh). Oak trees, periwinkle and hostas waking up for spring, sassafras holding fast, and lovely little columbine bowing her head in. My calico kitten Ra had revved up her purring, hunting and exploring, helping me with the wild hydrangea and strong-willed wisteria, and I was sure we were both in heaven. (As soon as I planted the catnip, Ra was in cat heaven.)

So, being a tenacious gardener with shiny new gardening tools in my hot little hands, I started to clear my acre of all the riffraff. With visions of herb beds dancing in my head, I tore out old foliage like a new national policy was being enacted. Yeah, I’d seen a picture of poison ivy, but we’d never been formally introduced.  The poison ivy didn’t wait for the introduction.

About the third day of my gung ho gardening, I’d reached my sweaty and sooty quota for the afternoon and headed indoors. “Puffy pink stuff” starting appearing on my arm and let me tell you—only the devil creates that kind of itching.

I ran back outside to examine the pile of dug up leaves and vines I’d dumped in the compost pile. Lying low and hardly smiling, there lay some skimpy little vines with anonymous tri-leaf edges. Uh-oh. By now the itching was viciously creeping up my arm, so I ran back in the house and jumped into the shower. Thinking I was smart, I scrubbed my arm with a nice almond face scrub to "rub off” the ivy contact. BIG MISTAKE. Being a City Girl, I hadn’t grown up with a lifetime of folks spinning yarns and trading poultices to soothe this savage beast.

I wound up spreading it to both arms and my legs that night. Miserable doesn’t even come close to telling the tale of that summer. It hung on and on and on and on, all summer long as in all summer long. I was ready to drum up some sorcery but settled on meds from the doctor. The skin heals sooooo slowly from this infection. Poison ivy has some macho immune defense system itself (if I were scientist doing AIDS research, I’d have this species under my microscope lens, dissecting its hidden secrets). Over the years, I have had a few bouts of this rigorous skin rash.

Natural Treatment for Poison Ivy

So here we are again this summer, and this year poison ivy really decided to fool me. I was driving from where I live in the Hudson Valley to go out on Long Island. (Nice drive by the way.) I stopped at a rest stop and parked my car across from a big old maple tree and wrapped around this tree was a big old fat and sassy poison ivy vine staring at me. I stared back. I went to the ladies’ room, came back to my car, got in and started driving. I got an itch on my hand, scratched it, kept my eyes on the road and noticed a half hour later I was still scratching. Uh-oh. I looked down. The music from Jaws’ shark attack was playing in the background—p.i., 12 o’clock high.

When I reached the nearest health-food store I bought a bottle of tea tree oil to clean and dry it up. Next day, I got busy with my herbal self-defense. Here is the homemade poison ivy salve I prepared this time around to heal my rash.

Poison Ivy Salve

1. Simmer 1 cup jewelweed (my herbal antidote to poison ivy) in 1 1/2 cups olive oil and 2 tablespoons of beeswax for 2 hours; allow to congeal.

2. Ground up 4 Himalayan neem caplets and mix in 2 tablespoons powered myrrh.

3. Take a dollop of the jewelweed mixture on a Q-Tip and stir it into the neem-myrrh mixture. To use, slather it all over the affected area—perfect!

When I made this salve for myself, I would put an old towel in my lap and sat like this for 1 to 2 hours a few times a day. I’d wipe off the mixture, do some things in my house or in my home office, and then put the next dollop of the mixture on my arms again. The itching was gone and the skin began to heal. Whew! Close one!

Poison ivy is so not funny. I'm glad Mother Nature still provides, even for this one, because she really doesn’t want us to suffer; Mother Nature just wants us to learn.

You can find out more about jewelweed on the USDA's plant profile database.

May the jewelweed be with you.

Marguerite DunneMarguerite Dunne is a city girl and a traveler. Visit her website Herbs On Hudson or listen to her radio show, The Urban Herbalist.