Poison ivy (Rhus toxicodendron, syn. Toxicodendron radicans)
~ Warning: Toxic – this profile is for botanical interest only. This plant is not recommended for self-administered medicinal or culinary use. ~
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Other names: Poison vine, Rhus radicans L., Rhus verrucosa.
Rubefacient, irritant, immuno-stimulant, sedative, antimicrobial.
As quoted from Wikipedia:
“The following four characteristics are sufficient to identify poison ivy in most situations: (a) clusters of three leaflets, (b) alternate leaf arrangement, (c) lack of thorns, and (d) each group of three leaflets grows on its own stem, which connects to the main vine.
The appearance of poison ivy can vary greatly between environments, and even within a single area. Identification by experienced people is often made difficult by leaf damage, the plant’s leafless condition during winter, and unusual growth forms due to environmental or genetic factors.”
There is an excellent site dedicated to this plant and its relatives, with maps and photographs to aid identification. I highly recommend checking out poison-ivy.org.
Don’t mistake it for: Virginia creeper, wild blackberry/raspberry bushes, box elder, fragrant sumac.
Those allergic to urushiol have a dermatitis reaction that can in extreme cases result in life-threatening anaphylaxis. Most commonly, the skin erupts with welts, and there is burning, pain, itching and swelling. Some people do not react to urushiol at all.
Contact can occur even indirectly, as animals playing outside can bring in urushiol on their fur and exposure can occur when we pet them. If you know your pet has been in contact with poison ivy, bathe them thoroughly.
Call 911/Poison Control if eaten.
If a skin reaction is occurring, wipe the area with rubbing alcohol immediately (provided the area is not too sensitive to be exposed to alcohol). Use common sense – if the reaction is severe, go to the ER or your physician as soon as possible. If the reaction is mild enough to treat at home, you can use oatmeal/baking soda baths, washes with apple cider vinegar, or apply a cold compress/poultice with anti-inflammatory plants like cucumber, witch hazel and aloe vera.
Part used: Fresh leaves
Constituents: Urushiol, toxicodendrol, fisetin, gallotannic acid, tannins, urushenol and others.
Desensitizing someone with allergy to urushiol (gradually, not without a health care practitioner’s guidance). Homeopathic preparations (known as Rhus tox.) can be used for sprains, aches, rheumatism, stiffness in the body, hives, shingles,red/swollen/itchy skin, and other hot, restless conditions.
Homeopathic use only – Rhus tox.
Using this plant in any form other than homeopathic can result in serious health repercussions, including severe rash and swelling (as can merely touching it, as most of us have discovered). Do not use this plant medicinally without the advice of a homeopathic practitioner.
I suggest consulting a pharmacist or physician before starting any herbal supplement if you are taking a prescription medication or have serious underlying health concerns.
Poison ivy was used centuries ago for immune system stimulation, and it was even taken as a remedy for the rash it induced (patients ate the leaves after contact with the plant – not a great idea, by the way).
First Nation tribes, including the Ojibwe and Chippewa, used the plant medicinally to speed healing and develop immunity.
Disclaimer: The information on this website is intended as general education on herbs and is not intended to take the place of medical care. Please consult a health care professional before embarking on any health regime.