I can’t tell you how many supposed “remedies” I’ve run across in the past while trying to find a home treatment for poison ivy. I’ve seen everything from rubbing alcohol to gasoline and trust me, if you’re guilty of trying gasoline as a remedy for anything but a bad breakup, home treatments just aren’t for you.
What you’ll treat poison ivy with depends on what you have at your disposal, so here are a few things that will give some relief.
Avoidance, Treatment, and Control Tips
Don’t Even Sit Close To It — Be mindful of where you sit. If it’s growing up a tree anywhere near you, you’re putting yourself at risk because when dust collects on the leaves, the dust absorbs the plant oil. When the wind blows and you breathe it, you’re in for a big surprise.
Immediate treatment – You have to get this stuff off of your skin pretty quick. Like, within about a half an hour after you’ve noticed a reaction. If you wait hours or until the next day to do anything about it, it’s too late.
Body coverage – Use some common sense. If you just got a little of it on your ankle or your arm, you’ll probably be okay with home remedies. If your drunk buddy pushed you into a bush of the stuff and you struggled to get out of it and your entire body is covered… go to the hospital. Then, get new friends. K?
Jewelweed – This plant grows best in moist woods, often near poison ivy and stinging nettles. The leaves and stems of it are crushed and rubbed onto the area as soon as you’ve been exposed. You can also make jewelweed leaves into a tea, freeze it in an ice cube tray, and use the ice cubes on affected areas. A good, non-DIY way to get some use out of jewelweed is to get Burt’s Bees Poison Ivy Soap.
Tecnu – This stuff is the best over-the-counter poison ivy/oak/sumac remedy that I’ve ever seen. They should carry it either at your local department store or pharmacy or you could just get it at Amazon. Get an Amazon Prime subscription for $80 a year and you can get lots of “emergency” items shipped overnight for $4 or 2nd day for free!
Anti-histamines – If you’ve been exposed, one of the best things that you can do is take an anti-histamine, like Benadryl, to lessen your body’s immune response to the plant oil while you’re trying to get it off of you.
Clay – Yes, clay. And no, I don’t mean “dirt”. If you’re the type that doesn’t like to use pharmaceuticals, clay poultices (especially green clays) are known to pull the oil off of your body and into the pack. For a good clay poultice recipe, go here.
Colloidal oatmeal – You can try an oatmeal bath for poison ivy, but colloidal oatmeal is better for this than the regular stuff. This is oatmeal that has been ground into a fine powder. Dump about a cup of it into a lukewarm bath (warm water aggravates poison ivy!) and just soak for a bit. Just regular old oatmeal may work for treating the itching that comes along with urushiol, but the colloidal stuff is best because it’s ground so fine that it takes it a while to settle to the bottom of the bath tub, leaving your skin feeling silky and much less itchy. Hint: you can make colloidal oatmeal by running regular oatmeal through a flour mill.
Wash EVERYTHING – Anything that you think may have come into contact with poison ivy, wash it. If you let something that touched poison ivy touch something else, wash it. If you’ve never had a case of poison ivy, then you don’t understand why all the fuss about washing things. But, if you don’t heed this advice, you’ll understand soon enough. Urushiol will stay on your stuff FOREVER if you don’t wash it off.
Wash Your Pets – “Everything” also means your pets, whether they were with you on the trip or not. If they rubbed up against your stuff when you got home, it could be on them. In fact, I’ll go further than that: nothing but humans have reactions to urushiol oil. Deer, rabbits, even goats love to eat it.
Things To Avoid
Calamine lotion – Everybody who’s had poison ivy at one point or another has been told to “put calamine lotion on it”. Calamine may help with the itchiness a little, but once the rashes are in full swing, it doesn’t work as well as some doctors would have you believe. Putting it on your skin immediately after exposure isn’t recommended, either, because you need to wash first; you need to get as much of the oil off of your skin as possible before putting any other kind of treatment on your skin.
Warm water – Water that’s anything past lukewarm will open the pores of your skin and let the urushiol oil in, making it much harder to get rid of. In fact, I’d actually recommend rinsing off with cold water before you do anything else at all to your skin.
Pulling up dead poison ivy – Even after the plant is dead, the oil responsible for the pain and suffering of thousands remains, even in the roots. So, don’t think that you’re going to cheat the system if you try to get rid of poison ivy in the winter by pulling it up by the roots.
Burning it – It might seem like a common sense solution to just burn all the poison ivy away, but there are a couple of problems with this. First, you don’t want to start a fire and it get out of control. Wildfires happen and a lot of times, they’re caused by people. Second of all, urushiol oil becomes airborne when you burn the plant material, so you’ll end up breathing it and getting the rash on your lungs. And you’ll probably die.
Self-immunization – If you’re a botanist or master herbalist or someone who similarly knows plants better than a good omnivore should and you really think you’re that smart, go ahead and try to self-immunize by eating a small nibble of poison ivy or oak every day to “build up your resistance” to it. But, unless you have an almost God-like understanding of what your body is capable of tolerating, don’t, because you’ll probably kill yourself. Eating poison ivy is just about one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard of and I don’t endorse it at all. You could do anything from swell your throat shut to swelling your other end shut. Seriously… don’t be a goof and eat poison ivy, oak, and especially poison sumac… you’ll die.
Check Your Ego At The Car
Almost 80% of the population has some kind of allergic reaction to poison ivy and even if you’ve practically bathed in the stuff and haven’t had a reaction yet, you can still have a reaction later. So, even if you’ve touched it and you know you’ve touched it and your skin didn’t react, don’t get cocky about it; it’ll get you later, when you least expect it. Not many people are “immune” to it forever.
Avoid poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac at all costs and just learn to deal with their existence as a fact of life. You can’t rip the plants out or eradicate them by burning them all away and you can’t gain permanent immunity by eating them (unless you count death as permanent immunity). They just there like they were 500 years ago and they’ll be here 500 years from now. You’re stuck with them, just like the rest of us are.
And if you really want to get rid of the poison ivy in your back yard… get a goat.