Sunday, March 24, 2013

Jewelweed and Poison Ivy

Even though this will make me sound like my little brother, circa 1990: wanna see something gross?

Wait, wait! Don't be so quick to click. Sheesh. Let me explain.

A long, long time ago, when I was first learning to garden by taming the yard of the house I had purchased at the ripe old age of 22, knowing nothing whatsoever about plants of any kind (I'm still the only person I know who managed to kill a pet cactus), I discovered poison ivy. That is, I discovered the particular indignities related to it: an itch so bad I woke up already scratching my arms, an entire abdomen covered with cracked and oozing scabs, the way a steroid shot in the butt hurts a little when actually administered but becomes increasingly painful all day... the list goes on. I am so sensitive to poison ivy that the rash stays for more than a month, and sometimes leaves scars. I once went to a wedding and at the reception, when I mentioned how embarrassing it was to have to go to a social event while I had poison ivy on my face, a friend said, "Oh, we just thought you had the herp."

Wanted. to. die.

So obviously, when I heard about jewelweed, I was extremely interested. A natural remedy for poison ivy? No way. So I made myself some soap using oil that I had infused with dried jewelweed, and some of the actual dried plant that I had ground up. The next time I thought I had come into contact with poison ivy, I used the soap, and didn't get a rash. I figured I must not have had poison ivy at all. The next time I had poison ivy for sure, I used it again- and I got better surprisingly quickly. The most recent time that I had poison ivy (if you're wondering why I keep on getting poison ivy, it's partially because my yard is enormous and jungly, and partially because I won't listen to my husband and wear gloves. He gets to say, "I told you so," a lot) I did a little experiment. I used jewelweed soap on my face and neck, and made sure NOT to use it on my arm. Three weeks later, when I caved and went to the urgent care (which is especially embarrassing because the urgent care doctor is not only hot but is also a good friend of my boss'), the rash on my face and neck was healed to the point that he couldn't even see it, while my arm was so bad that I got not only a steroid shot in the butt, but oral steroids and antihistamines too.

So while I cannot make any health claims about my soap (it's a real labeling rule, believe it or not), jewelweed has been an herbal remedy for years, and though it may work differently on different people, I have proved to my own satisfaction that it works. Like magic. I've also been told that it works on other rashes and itchy-skin conditions, although I haven't tested for that, thankfully not having had occasion. You can read more about the plant and its history here:

All that being said, here is where the grossness comes in. I took a picture of myself after my doctor's visit, with both affected areas. The first photo is the untreated rash (try to ignore the foreshortening that makes me look like I have burly dude arms), and the second is the one I used the jewelweed soap on- you can just barely see where the rash was; it made a sort of horizontal line just under my chin and running up toward the back of my neck.


Keep in mind that this is the very same case of poison ivy, from a single day; before the rash developed fully, you could actually see the lines where the poison ivy stem had touched me running across my arm and up my neck. And yes, just the stem... this was in January. The oil is even more potent in the stem and roots, which is all that's there in the winter. It's a sneaky plant.

Anyway, if you should get some soap to use for yourself, here are instructions:

If you believe you've come into contact with poison ivy, wash the affected area right away with jewelweed soap and COLD water. Hot water opens up your pores and lets the oil affect you more strongly. Speaking of which, strip down and wash everything you've touched- the active part of poison ivy is an oil, and it can cover more territory than you would believe. A lot of people think that their rash is just spreading naturally, but really they're just coming into contact with the oil repeatedly, because they got it on their gloves or shoes or clothes or sheets or, heck, their dog. The rash itself, once you've washed the oil off, is not contagious and doesn't spread. It does develop gradually, though, and if you scratch it, can get infected, which also makes people think it's spreading.

If you wash immediately and thoroughly, you may never develop a rash at all (best-case scenario). If your rash is already developed, I've found that washing it a couple of times in a row, or lathering it up and letting it sit for a minute before rinsing, will make the rash scab over and heal far more quickly, and also scar less. If you've scratched enough that the rash is raw, it'll sting a little, but it's very effective. Repeat twice daily for the best results, and try hard not to scratch.

1 comment:

  1. It's funny that such an effective remedy grows right beside the plant.