Herbalist vs. Poison Ivy
(originally published in the Pickens Progress newspaper May 2016)
ritten by Crystal Merrell, local herbalist
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When life gives you the worst poison ivy rash you’ve ever had, throw the herbal kitchen sink at it!
‘Life’ has a weird sense of humor at times. In January, I was offering the first in my series of free mini-class at the Natural Market Place with that month’s topic being Coughs and Colds: Your Herbal Toolbox. ‘Life’ had just in the weeks leading up provided my dear husband a very bad cold with lingering and stuck cough. Speaking as only an herbalist would - It was awesome! I was able to use my tried and true remedies along with new combinations that provided relief and support to my husband as he regained normalcy. Having a front row seat to the ailment, to stare it down, to get to know it, to gain a clear understanding of where the boundaries to care at home lie, and to see moment to moment how the individual responds to the herbs and care is something that is only available when you are the round-the-clock caregiver. To hear or read about an illness or remedy is one dimensional compared to being the one experiencing it. My husband and children have been the in-home test subjects for the past 10 years of my herbal path and I am a better community clinical herbalist because of it.
June’s free mini-class is Skin Soothers. I will be presenting my favorite natural remedies for common skin problems such as dry skin, acne, scrapes and scratches, sunburn, insect bites, and, yes, poison ivy rash. Little did I know back in December when I decided each month’s topics that I would have a very personal and in depth crash refresher course in poison ivy relief weeks before the Skin Soothers class.
My ‘bright’ idea was that even though I’ve had small reactions to poison ivy in the past and would probably have a bit of rash this time too, I would work hard and fast to remove the poison ivy that was creeping into the parking area and beside my house. It would be worth it, I thought, to reclaim this space without the use of pesticides as I use my yard to harvest medicinal and edible herbs and therefore avoid all poisonous chemicals for health and safety. I worked for about an hour with clipper, rake, and shovel, and then went directly to the washing machine with my clothes and the shower with myself. Ahh, what naive enthusiasm!
Not only was this the worst reaction I’ve ever experienced from poison ivy physically, but it took it’s toll emotionally and mentally as well. Big, red, weepy, rash on my right wrist and another in the bend of my elbow on the left arm. Smaller spots all along my arms, some itchy, some painful, the combined effect was quite distressing. But it was the weeping - the constant free flowing liquid from my wrist and elbow rashes that troubled me the most, and especially at night. I used my go-to poison ivy remedies, and although in some spots it offered great relief in others it did not. It was a constantly changing terrain on my arms - and keeping up with the appropriate remedy was a good challenge. Jewelweed, plantain, activated charcoal, calendula, hot water, cold water, oatmeal, chamomile, skullcap, passionflower, lavender, thyme… all were useful for my skin and my mind at different times during the two week rash and recovery.
Poison Ivy is a plant that everyone should learn to identify in all it’s forms. This plant loves to be a chameleon, as it can look like a vine, shrub, small tree, or single plant that is similar to the plants around it. The best visual explaination I’ve found it at http://www.poison-ivy.org/poison-ivy-quiz The oil (called urushiol) from the disturbed plant leaves, stems, or roots causes reaction in 50% of humans. The reaction severity can vary greatly, and the specific way our immune system reacts causes a lot of confusion and myths about poison ivy. I’ll cover these and more in the mini-class, along with herbal remedies I’ve used.
Learn more about herbs and home remedies for your skin during the free mini-class Skin Soothers on Tuesday, June 14th from 1:30PM-2:00PM OR Saturday, June 18th from 11:30AM-12:00PM at the Natural Market Place, 69 North Main Street, Jasper. The class will contain useful and interesting information on caring for poison ivy reactions at home (and when a trip to the doctor is called for), but also cover other common skin issues like dry skin, acne, insect bites, scratches, and more. Looking ahead, July’s topic is Cooling Herbal Teas and August’s is Summer Lovin’: 4 Herbs for the Heart.
- Crystal Merrell is a Pickens County native with a passion for helping her community. She is a clinical herbalist helping people through holistic consultations and community education. Visit www.crystaldawnherbs.com to learn more.
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Crystal Merrell is an herbalist, mother, and locavore.