Treatment for Poison Ivy Rash

Jewelweed, Medical Means for Dealing With the Itch

A type of impatiens hardy in the North, jewelweed (image) is a poison ivy salve. Crush the leaves.
Jewelweed can help relieve poison-ivy itch. David Beaulieu

Did you know that you may have a treatment for poison ivy rash growing right in your own backyard?

You may feel cursed if you have poison ivy (Rhus radicans) growing on your property. But you are hardly alone. The dominion of this itch-causing menace is far-flung, making this notorious plant the best known of The Big Three: poison ivy, sumac, and oak. There was even a hit song by the same name in 1959 by The Coasters, as well as a female villain in the Batman comics.

Jewelweed: Natural Home Remedy for Poison Ivy Rash

The best "treatment" for poison ivy rash is actually prevention. That advice, however, will do you little good when you accidentally come into contact with it in your backyard. Fortunately, you just might have another weed in the backyard whose juice acts as a treatment for mild cases of poison ivy rash, relieving that awful itch. The weed is called "jewelweed" or "touch-me-not" (the latter name refers to the way its seed pods explode when touched). Its taxonomy, Impatiens capensis, classifies it as a wild version of the colorful impatiens plants sold so widely for shady annual beds. Jewelweed is an annual native to eastern North America. It likes wet areas and can attain a height of 6 feet in moist soil. Its flowers can be yellow or orange. But what really gives jewelweed away is its succulent, light-green stems. The plant looks juicy, and it is precisely its juice that you will want to access (by mashing the stems) to treat your rash.

However, for jewelweed to be effective as a treatment for poison ivy rash in severe cases, you really need to derive an extract from it. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands, purchasing a jewelweed extract is more feasible than making your own.

Another Rash, Another Weed Balm

Other examples of rash-causing plants may well coexist in your backyard right alongside plants that help counteract their effects. While not dreaded as much as Rhus radicans, stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is certainly a backyard nuisance. When pricked by its spines while working out in the garden, your skin will feel like it is on fire. Fortunately, this bane, too, has its natural balm: Rumex crispus, better known as "yellow dock." Just roll a dock leaf between your thumb and forefinger to crush it, then doctor your wound with the juicy pulp left over. Unlike when using jewelweed as a salve for poison ivy, the fresh juice should be sufficient, so there is no need to go out and buy an extract. Stinging nettle should not be confused with spotted dead nettle, which is one of the most desirable shade-loving plants (just another example of why we use scientific names when we wish to be clear about plants).

First Line of Defense: What to Do Immediately After Contact With Poison Ivy

The first thing you should do after your skin comes into contact with any part of a poison ivy plant, regardless of whether you intend a natural or a conventional treatment, is to take the following steps within 10 to 15 minutes of contact:

  1. Apply rubbing alcohol to the infected area.
  2. Rinse with water.
  3. Wash up with soap and warm water.

Medical Options (Conventional Ointments, Etc.)

Different people find different degrees of relief in the treatment of poison ivy rash through over-the-counter remedies, such as hydrocortisones, antihistamines, and Calamine Lotion. But some people have such a severe reaction to urushiol (the toxic substance that causes the rash, pronounced oo-ROO-shee-awl) that they need to visit a physician. It usually takes about 2 to 3 weeks to get rid of the rash. For severe reactions, prescription oral corticosteroids are sometimes used. Such medicine may be necessary if the rash covers the face or genitals, or if more than 1/3 of the body has broken out in a rash. The patient will be on oral corticosteroids for a period of two to three weeks. Diphenhydramine could also aid you in treating poison ivy rash.