Our Yankee readers are probably as confused by the title as I was when I first heard it phrased as a question. My boss asked me if I took poison a couple of years ago before sending me out to mow and weed-eat around the building. After a befuddled pause, I said the only thing I could think of. “Why would I take poison? After much confusion and a bit of yelling (on her part) I finally understood that she was asking if I’m allergic to poison ivy.
I’m writing this 3 years later because this week, I took poison, and lots of it. I took it on my legs, my arms, my stomach, and my face. Every 5 minutes or so I notice a new itchy place, so I’m sure I’ll be 99% covered before the ordeal is over. That’s probably a record, right?
The theory is that the body becomes more sensitive with recurring exposure. This theory certainly seems to be true for me. I learned many years ago to recognize poison ivy and avoid it when possible, but it isn’t always possible. This week we’ve been working in a field that I’m pretty sure used to belong to a poison ivy farmer. The porta-potty is on the far side of the field, through 100 yards of those horrible three leafed plants. That’s pretty much a lose-lose situation.
Since it’s hard to think of anything other than poison ivy when you’re covered in rashes, I thought I would write about natural remedies for poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, bug bites, and other itchy things.
First, learn to identify poison ivy, oak, and sumac. Avoidance is the simplest cure. There is quite a bit of variance in appearance, and some harmless plants look similar, so take the time to study the plants closely. The plants contain an oil called urushiol which is an allergen. The oil is released when the plants are disturbed, especially if they’re cut or crushed. The roots, stems, leaves, flowers, and berries all contain the oil.
Once you have urushiol on your clothes, skin, tools, or pet, it will spread to everything it comes in contact with. Even if your rash has healed and you haven’t been near poison ivy in weeks, you can get it again just by touching the oil residue left on clothing or shoes. It’s important to thoroughly wash everything that might have been contaminated. If you wash the affected skin immediately after contact, you may avoid a rash or at least lessen the severity. Wash thoroughly with soap and cool water.
If you aren’t able to avoid a rash, you can treat it with over the counter anti-itch creams like hydrocortisone, or calamine lotion. Doctors may prescribe corticosteroids or extra strength creams for severe cases.
If, like me, you dislike doctors, steroids, and things you can’t pronounce, you’ll probably prefer these natural options.
The itching will be much worse if you’re warm and sweating. Hot showers or rubbing with a towel will make is worse. Avoid heat and scratching as much as you can.
Touch-Me-Nots often grow close to poison ivy. Boil the stems and flowers in water to make a tea to soak the rash. Be sure to cool the tea first since heat will irritate the rash.
Tea Tree Oil from a Melaleuca Tree helps relieve itching, and many claim it also helps heal the rash quickly.
Boil Sweet Fern and rub the juice on the affected areas. It will relieve itching, dry the rash, and is believed to speed healing. Native Americans used both Sweet Fern and Touch-Me-Nots to treat skin irritations.
Rub rhubarb stems or fresh-cut Aloe Vera leaves on the rash to relieve itching.
A paste of 3 parts honeysuckle to 1 part water blended thoroughly relieves itching and helps dry the rash.
Milkweed sap rubbed on the rash will cause intense itching for 15-20 minutes, followed by several hours of relief.
A paste of baking soda and water rubbed on a rash will stop the itching.
Vinegar irritates the rash when first applied, but helps it dry out and begin healing.
Rubbing the inside of a banana peel on the rash immediately stops the itching for 30 minutes to an hour.
Disclaimer: I’ve tried some of these remedies, but not many. Not all remedies will work all the time for everyone. Experiment, try a few, and let me know your results. If you’re feeling especially bold, I know where you can find some poison ivy. Any volunteers?