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Poison Ivy

  • Toxicodendron radicans L.
  • Rhus toxicodendron
  • Poison Oak
  • Rhus radicans L.
  • Rhus diversilobs L.
  • Cashew family

Common Names

herbsKou-wen (Japanese name)
herbsPoison Oak


Poison Ivy is a climbing vine, Rhus toxicodendron, which on contact produces a severe form of dermatitis. Rhus species contain urushiol, and extremely irritating oily resin. Urushiol may also be a potent sensitizer since in many cases subsequent contacts produce increasingly severe reactions.

Poison Oak is a climbing vine, Rhus radicans or R diversiloba, closely related to poison ivy and containing he same active principle. The symptoms and treatment are identical with those for poison ivy.


The oily resin (sap) in the leaves, flowers, fruit, stem bark and roots of poison ivy or poison oak causes a dermatitis resulting from irritation or sensitization of the skin. There is no absolute immunity although susceptibility varies greatly even in the same individual.

The plant is poisonous even after long drying, but is particularly irritating in spring and early summer when it is full of sap.

The poisons can be conveyed to the skin in ways other than direct contact. Some have contracted the poison simply by petting an animal that has been in contact with the plant. Those that are highly sensitive to poison ivy or oak can be infected by inhaling smoke from a nearby brush fire where the plant is burning. Severe cases of mouth poisoning have been reported when children have eaten the leaves or grayish berries of the plant.

If you suspect that you have accidentally handled poison ivy or brushed against it, wash your skin immediately. Lather several times and rinse in running water after each sudsing. Wash clothing, gear, or pack material in plenty of soapy water. Stubborn cases that do not respond to proper treatment are often due to repeated contact with contaminated clothing.

Poison ivy or oak grows in many parts of the United States. In all, there are 60 varieties of poisonous plants indigenous to the United States. Apart from poison ivy, the most common are oak-leaf poison ivy, western poison oak, and poison sumac Rhus vernix). Other botanical skin irritants include: goldenrod, crabgrass, nettle, table grass, dog fennel, hollyhock, and Indian mallow.


An interval of time between skin contact of poison and first appearance of symptoms, varying from a few hours to several days and depending on sensitivity of the patient and possibly condition of the skin. Moderate burning and itching sensation soon followed by small blisters; later manifestations vary. Blisters usually rupture and are followed by oozing of serum and subsequent crusting.

Contact with uncovered skin produces redness, rash, swelling, blistering, and intense, persistent itching in sensitive people. Exposed areas such as the hands, arms, and face are most commonly the first to be affected. Scratching transmits the inflammation, via the hands, to other parts of the body.

Mild cases are signaled by a few small blisters that occur on the hands, arms, or legs. Treat mild cases by applying compresses of very hot, plain water for brief intervals. Also may apply compresses soaked in a dilute Burrow's solution (1 pint to 15 pints of cool water). Purchase Burrow's solution at the drugstore.

Severe cases of poison ivy or oak are signaled by many large blisters, acute inflammation, fever, or inflammation on the face or genitals. In severe cases, contact the doctor. He will be able to relieve the discomfort and guard against secondary infection until the attack subsides.

Wear protective clothing if trekking through heavy underbrush: trousers, long sleeves, shoes, socks and gloves. Once in contact with poison ivy, these are not safe to re-wear until they have been laundered or dry cleaned.


The best treatment for poison ivy or oak is prevention. Learn to recognize, and avoid, this harmful plant. Its leaves always grow in clusters of three, one at the end of the stalk, the other two opposite each other. Memorize the poison ivy rhyme: "Leaflets three, let it be".


Dosages here are for adults only. Adjust dosage for age and weight.

Vitamin C, 3,000-8,000 mg. per day, helps to prevent infection and spreading.

Calamine lotion, used as directed on the label, contains calamine, phenol, and zinc oxide and has a drying effect for faster healing.

Aloe vera gel, used as directed on the label, may relieve itching.

Vitamin A, 25,000 IU per day, is needed for healing of skin tissues and boost immune system.

Vitamin E or enzyme cream, as directed on the label, aids in healing and prevents scarring.

Zinc, 80 mg. per day, is needed for repair of skin tissues.


  • TB
    • Arnica
    • Beech, American
    • Bloodroot
    • Celandine
    • Cornstarch
    • Dock, common narrow-leaf
    • Echinacea
    • Fern, sweet
    • Figwort
    • Goldenseal
    • Gromwell
    • Gum plant
    • Heart's ease
    • Horse-nettle
    • Hyssop, yellow giant
    • Impatiens pallida or biflora
    • Jewelweed
    • Labrador tea
    • Lemon
    • Lettuce, wild
    • Lobelia
    • Mugwort
    • Myrrh
    • Oak, Northern red
    • Oak, white, bark (tea made with white oak and lime water. Apply a wet bandage of this and change as often as it dries)
    • Peppergrass
    • Soapwort
    • Solomon's seal
    • Thistle, Canada
    • Willow, white
    • Witch hazel


    See the doctor if fever occurs, or if a widespread rash involving the eyes, mouth, or genitals occurs.

    To kill poison ivy plants: make a spray solution with 3 lb. salt to 1 gallon of slightly soapy water. Sprinkle the plants; it may take 3 applications. If you pull out or cut the vines, avoid direct contact. Clean tools afterward and wash gloves.

    Remove all clothing and shoes, and immediately us laundry soap and water or alcohol to deter the attack. This procedure is useless if not done immediately. Poison ivy residue has been noted on clothing for up to 1 year unless washed thoroughly.


    Tepid water is used to provide symptomatic relief from itching and burning. In some cases the affected area is massaged with water as hot as can be tolerated for 1 or 2 minutes. The relief from itching is dramatic and may last several hours.

    Common narrow-leaf dock (Rumex crispus) is used medicinally for the itch. The leaves are boiled in vinegar until the fiber is softened and then combined with lard or petroleum jelly to make a simple ointment.


    Never ingest Poison Ivy.

    Contact with this plant may cause allergic reaction, rash.

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