Cure Poison Ivy’s Itch – Naturally

As a medical herbalist, I teach people about the wild edible and medicinal plants growing near us, and one of the requests I get most is for poison ivy remedies. The three-leaved vine persists in Island woods, and many people succumb at some point to the itching welts caused by dermal contact with the plant’s oils. I sell a popular poison ivy remedy, but it’s very easy for the do-it-yourselfer to prepare a safe and effective family remedy, simply by harvesting wild plants.

Most people living on the East Coast have access to two readily available weeds that alleviate the itch and help the infection go away. The first is plantain, often called Englishman’s foot and recognized as a wild spring edible (when the leaves are tender). You’ll notice two varieties in the shady places of your yard: Plantago major (common plantain) is a large-leaf plantain with broad, oval-shaped leaves with parallel veins running the length of the leaf; and Plantago lanceolata (narrowleaf or lance-leaf plantain) is long and narrow. Both varieties of plantain effectively draw fluids from the body, and for this reason, the leaf is applied to bee stings and poison ivy. Simply macerate the leaf in your mouth or in a blender and apply the pulp topically to a poison ivy rash or an itching bee sting. Repeat as necessary.

The second remedy is jewelweed, a wildflower found in swampy areas or near creeks and a member of the Impatiens family. Jewelweed’s bright yellow and orange blossoms resemble our hanging-basket impatiens, though the wildflower is often three-to-four feet tall. It is nicknamed touch-me-not because, when squeezed, its seeds will pop far from the plant. The jewelweed stem is hollow, and this is where the treasure lies. Break open the stem to find a clear, sweet-smelling, sticky juice to rub directly on the affected area as often as needed. The juices form in the stem mid-summer through the fall.

And here’s a hint I learned long ago: Collect several fat jewelweed stems without letting the juice run out. Put them into an old blender and crush to a juicy pulp. Strain this pulp into a jar and then pour the liquid into ice cube trays. Freeze, and you’ll have an instant poison ivy remedy ready for you all season long.

Holly is the co-author of a series of articles about wild foods running this year in the magazine. The first, on spring items, ran in May-June; the second, on summer’s bounty, ran in July; and the third and final installment, on fall edibles, will run in September-
October. The first two installments in this series are on our website,