My husband is miraculously immune to poison ivy. He can trounce through our heavily wooded property with shorts and flip-flops on and not end up with a spot of a rash (or a bug bite either, but that’s another topic for another time). I was desperately hoping that this particular genetic trait would pass along to our kid, but alas, she got stuck with my reacts-if-I-even-look-at-poison-ivy genes. I wish she never had to understand the torture that is poison ivy between your toes, but that ship has sailed.
Of course, I’m not about to stop my kid from exploring and adventuring—that’s the best part about raising a family on this much land—but we do take some steps to help reduce the impact poison ivy (and poison oak and poison sumac) has on our lives.
First up, we’ve worked hard to teach Juni how to identify poison ivy and avoid it (although admittedly, this is a bit of a fool’s errand– we have so much of it that it’s hard to avoid). If the weather isn’t too sweltering, we make sure to wear long pants, socks, and long sleeves when we are exploring. When we know we’ve been exposed, we immediately either take a shower/bath or hop into the pool. During my childhood, there were many bad poison ivy rashes thwarted by a quick dip in the pool.
And then, once we do have a rash, we know how to treat and what to use on it.
The standard medical treatment for a poison ivy rash is calamine lotion or, if things are really bad, an over-the-counter or prescription hydrocortisone cream. I’ve used all three options in my life, and for me personally, hydrocortisone cream (both the over-the-counter and prescription kinds) always created a rebound effect. It’d work great for a day or two, and then the itchiness and pain would come back worse than ever. If it works well for you—and your healthcare professional has okayed it—keep on keepin’ on!
Calamine lotion, on the other hand, tended to work a lot better for me (and was a more natural option for treatment). The first summer after we moved here (and I got my first real poison ivy rash since childhood), I went to the medicine cabinet to grab a bottle of calamine and—rut-roh—we didn’t have any. So I did what I always do when we’re out of something and live 30 minutes to the closest store—I Googled it! And Google taught me about two glorious “weeds” that are superstar medicinal herbs for all kinds of skin ailments, but particularly poison ivy rashes. Meet jewelweed and plantain.
I immediately ran out my door and gathered a few leaves of each, mashed them up and put them on my rash—ahhhh, immediate relief! And while making a poultice (grinding up fresh leaves and applying to the skin) works, I was hoping to land on an easier-to-use, less messy solution for poison ivy rashes. And that’s how I came up with my Homemade All-Natural Poison Ivy Salve featuring jewelweed and plantain. Bonus: this salve doesn’t leave you covered in pink patches like calamine lotion does!
Both jewelweed and plantain grow like gangbusters on our property and probably grow near you, too. Plantain (not related to the banana-like fruit) is a broadleaf green weed that is a rockstar for all kinds of skin ailments—it soothes the skin, reduces itchiness, and is a natural antimicrobial. You can find it growing among your grass. Go out and look, and you’ll probably have some.
Jewelweed is slightly trickier to find, but with a bit of detective work, you’ll find it! Jewelweed is the wild form of impatiens (yes, the same kind that you plant in your flower beds in the spring), and it’s the plant for poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac relief. In fact, if you’re out exploring and have accidentally touched some poison ivy, you can take a fresh jewelweed plant and rub the leaves or a cut stem on the exposed area to help stop a rash in its tracks.
Jewelweed grows in the woods or along the edge of the forest. The irony (or beauty) of jewelweed is that it’s almost always growing right next to poison ivy patches! Mother Nature grew the remedy right next to the ailment. The easiest way to identify jewelweed is to wait until mid-summer when it starts blooming. It puts out dainty little orange trumpet flowers. That also happens to be when the medicinal powers of the plant are most potent.
Both plantain and jewelweed are best used fresh, so I’m recommending only using the fresh herb in the recipe below. Some folks sell dried of both, but you just aren’t going to get the kind of results you want if you use dried. This is a remedy to make once a year when the herbs are fresh. Just make sure to make yourself enough to get through until the jewelweed blooms next year!
Only using fresh works out though, because if you’re living, working, or playing in a place that has enough poison ivy that you need this salve regularly, chances are you’ll also be able to find jewelweed and plantain there, too!
Aside from the herbal power of this poison ivy salve, I also worked hard to make sure it was drying. If you’ve ever had poison ivy, you know those little pus-filled blisters (blech) are torture until they’ve dried up and healed.
The bentonite clay and salt in the salve recipe below help to speed up the drying process of the blisters. I’m not saying this is a miracle cure (it isn’t), but instead of two weeks of painful, itchy torture, when I use this poison ivy salve, it’s closer to just a few days of itchiness. I’ll take it!