If you've been rambling outdoors to enjoy the beauty of summer, you may have brushed up against poison ivy without even knowing it. Twenty four hours after your chance encounter you are agitated & itchy with a bumpy rash. Several days later, the raw blisters are oozing and hot tempered. What started as a harmless summer adventure has taken an agonizing u-turn. What to do!?
Hopefully your symptoms were mild compared to mine. Before studying ayurveda I was hospitalized for severe poison ivy reactions several times. I would get poison ivy internally and externally, every time. Once my entire faced puffed up, and I could hardly see. Even my eyeballs had poison ivy on them. Fortunately, Ayurveda has provided substantial relief for me. Now, when I take groups on wild herb walks, I can even pick a leaf from a poison ivy plant without a reaction.
Identifying Poison Ivy
You can identify poison ivy by its 3 leaves, the notches in the edge of the leaf, and the thin stems with a reddish color. Veins are often indented in the leaves. Climbing poison ivy vines have many hairlike roots stemming from the vine to grasp the supporting tree or fence post. In addition to vining, this versatile plant sometimes appears as a small single stalk plant, or larger as a shrub. Poison oak is a variety of poison ivy where the notches are deeper and resemble oak leaves.
The rash you get from poison ivy is from an oily substance covering the leaves - giving poison ivy a waxy or shiny appearance. The irritating oil is poison's ivy's defense strategy. Most people don't hesitate to trample on a weed. But they think twice before waltzing through poison ivy vines.
Poison ivy thrives in disturbed soils. If you see an abundance of poison ivy somewhere, chances are that someone disturbed the environment to the point where trees can no longer survive.
Poison ivy is nature's "No Trespassing" sign until this wound is healed. The rash you get from poison ivy is the source of it's protective power, keeping you far away. For this reason, environmentalists affectionately call poison ivy "sister ivy" because it protects the forest until it is re-established. Once the forest heals, the poison ivy recedes. Poison ivy is relatively rare in a mature forest.
Herbal Home Remedies
The angry red rash of poison ivy is a sign of heat. The oozing blisters are a sign of water element and poison ivy's oily nature. If you take the pulse of someone nettled with poison ivy, you'll notice a classic 'slippery' character to the pulse - bounding yet the blood usually has a dense feel to it. Altogether, these signs and symptoms confirm poison ivy is a wet rash that is Pitta and Kapha in nature.
The intense itching you feel happens as the blisters swell, literally ripping the top layer of skin away from your body. Anything that dilates pores or capillary beds will increase the speed of swelling in your skin, and therefore aggravate your itch. As a kid, I remember pouring hot water on my poison ivy to 'numb' it. But after I studied Ayurveda, I realized the foolishness of this habit. Heat increases blood flow and the size of the blisters, not to mention the speed at which poison ivy spreads. Anything that makes you sweat will agitate your itch. Even thinking about sitting in the sun makes me feel itchy all over with memories of poison ivy rashes. Instead, keep cool and dry.
My dad swears by this remedy: "Go to the beach and rub sand over the blisters until they pop. Then go swimming in the salt water. The salt water burns like hell, but it will dry up the blisters fast." I've never tried this technique, so I can't vouch for it, but it sounds interesting. Ayurvedically, the best way to combat something that is hot and wet is with something cool and dry. An air-conditioned room. A cold shower.
Foods that taste sour (lemons), spicy (cayenne), or aromatic (mint) make you sweat. These foods will send salty sweat to the already damp, hot area, aggravating your rash. Other common diaphoretic (sweaty) herbs include household spices ginger, chili pepper, black pepper, cinnamon, bay leaf, and garlic. Oily or overly sweet foods thicken your blood and could cause lymphatic congestion. These should be avoided as well.
Instead, favor cool, bitter herbs like cilantro, fennel, & carraway. Cilantro is also a drying refrigerant with anti-inflammatory qualities. It is quite detoxifying and can be used both internally and topically for rashes. In fact, it works best when you do both at the same time! Cilantro has anti-histamine effects, meaning it directly calms the immune system. It is a traditional remedy for rashes like summer poison-ivy, allergy related hives, and simple sunburns.
The astringency of pomegranates, cranberries, hibiscus, raspberry leaf and witch hazel will cool down an angry rash (topically or internally). Astringency constricts vessels, to directly reduce swelling and itching.
Why is My Reaction so Severe?
Although poison ivy is not a welcome guest to anybody, some people react more strongly than others. When I was hospitalized for poison ivy, I asked myself over and over again, how could this happen to me? I was covered from head to toe.
Adverse reactions to poison ivy point to a weak liver, so common in modern society. The liver is responsible for detoxifying the blood. Toxins from pharmaceuticals, poor digestion, drug use or long term illnesses are stored in the liver. As the liver gets weaker and your levels of toxicity rise, any irritant could provoke a hair trigger histamine response with angry intensity. You may react strongly to a simple mosquito bite or develop adverse reactions to foods. On the other hand once you start to detoxify, you may notice that reactions to bug bites or poisonous plants are much less intense.
Weak liver is a Vata disorder. If your liver is weak and you have multiple sensitivities, try strawberries, blueberries and other liver tonics to strengthen your liver. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and other toxins. Nourish your liver with coconut oil, & applesauce. Ayurveda offers excellent methods to heal the liver, and that's how I healed my allergies to both poison ivy and cats.
The Psychology of an Overstimulated Immune System
Allergies are a sign your immune system is too belligerent. In Ayurveda, the body, mind and spirit are all connected. If your immune system is too reactive and critical, chances are your personality is too. You might even notice you feel irritable within hours after contact with poison ivy (before the rash develops).
A great remedy for criticism is appreciation. You can start by appreciating all the wonderful gifts of poison ivy. As an herb poison ivy is a potent though rather harsh lymphatic cleanser (literally oozing your lymph out through the skin). If you can't appreciate the herbal benefits of poison ivy, love poison ivy for its ability to protect the fragility of nature. Start calling it sister ivy, instead of a poison. The epidemic of poison ivy is not murphy's law or fundamental to God's way. Rather, it is an appropriate reaction to desecration of the land.
Urban legends and folktales of poison ivy abound - such as the horror of peeing or pooping in the woods and using a leaf to wipe yourself. There's even a saying, "leaves of three let it be" (although usually plants with three leaves are peas, not poison ivy). Fear is an even greater immune stimulant than anger. Since ancient times, people have feared nature (ticks, poison ivy, and 'spirits in the woods'). Yet, nature is also the source of nurture and nourishment, if you can bear with the loss of control you feel in the wild. To overcome your fear of poison ivy, sit near to it (without touching), and say something sweet to a nearby poison ivy plant. It may sound silly, but it worked for me!
Note: Avoid burning poison ivy, inhalation of which can be fatal. Although we hear of some brave individuals who expose themselves to micro-doses of poison ivy through ingestion, this is often fatal. Never eat poison ivy.
Disclaimer: Conditions such as 'Sensitive to Poison Ivy' that cause tissue changes could be serious and should be checked by a medical doctor.
Augment your diet with these specially chosen ingredients below which may be useful for 'Sensitive to Poison Ivy'.
Individual results vary depending the cause of your imbalance and by constitution.
Please research the ingredients below to find which are most helpful for you, and check with your doctor before making any changes to your health and wellness routine.
DISCLAIMER: The pathogenesis of each person's condition is unique, and so the diet must be fit to the individual and the unique root causes of the condition in your body.
The information on this page is for educational purposes only and should not be used to treat a medical condition. It is not a substitute for medical care.
Please check with your doctor before making any changes to your health and wellness routine.
HOW DOES AYURVEDA HEAL 'SENSITIVE TO POISON IVY'?
AVOID DIETS, LIFESTYLES & HERBS THAT AGGRAVATE THESE EFFECTS
According to Ayurveda, one or more of the following
and biocharacteristics may aggravate 'Sensitive to Poison Ivy'.
If you have an excess of one of these doshas or biocharacteristics below, Ayurveda recommends reducing foods and lifestyle habits that aggravate them.
Click on the biocharacteristic to learn what foods and
lifestyle habits should be reduced.
Symptoms Tell A Story
The first step to healing is learning patterns from your symptoms.
Symptoms are clues that reveal underlying imbalances.
Symptoms show you where your body is weakened.
Ultimately, all disease has a root in tissues too weak to defend itself.
Ayurveda describes these patterns of weakness using doshas & biocharacteristics.
If you notice a biocharacteristic or dosha appears next to many of your symptoms,
it helps you establish a pattern that may be systemic.
FAVOR DIETS, LIFESTYLES & HERBS WITH THESE MEDICINAL EFFECTS
Everything you eat has an effect on your body, which Ayurveda categorizes in a simple and easy way, using biocharacteristics (gunas).
Biocharacteristics are qualities (like cold and hot) that describe the effect a food or herb has on your body.
Cooling foods like cucumber, decrease metabolism.
Heating foods like chili pepper, stimulate your body and increase metabolism.
For 'Sensitive to Poison Ivy', you should select foods with the following biocharacteristics.
Individual results will vary, based on your body type and the root cause of your imbalance.
FOODS TO FAVOR
CONDITION IN YOUR BODY
ABOUT COLD BIOCHARACTERISTIC
Cold refers to anything that reduces body temperature, metabolism, and blood flow.
Literally, an herb that restores the proper function of the body. In practice, alteratives are usually blood cleansers and blood chemistry balancers. They were traditionally used to revitalize and detoxify after a long winter.
SENSITIVE TO POISON IVY IS IN STAGE OF DISEASE 3 - ATTACKING TISSUE
If you have symptoms in this category it means that your imbalances are becoming stronger and weakening your body's resistance.
Most people have a weakness in one or more organs.
These areas of weakness are the 'weak link in the chain.'
They are first to succumb when an imbalance reaches a tipping point.
Repairing imbalances in this category often represent your last opportunity to prevent disease.
At any moment, these imbalances could overwhelm weakened tissue and develop into a disease.
You may feel pain or discomfort in the weakened area.
At this stage you will need to support the weakened tissue with specialized foods and herbs for the weakened tissue.
REDUCE THESE RELATED SYMPTOMS & HABITS
The following symptoms & habits may be related to 'Sensitive to Poison Ivy'.
See your quiz results for a computerized assessment of your body type.
Please click on the symptoms below to learn more about them.
Biocharacteristics of the 4,129 People Reporting Sensitive to Poison Ivy
On average the biocharacteristics
of people reporting Sensitive to Poison Ivy were less aggravated than 75% of other symptoms.
From the 4,129 people who reported Sensitive to Poison Ivy in this research study of 74,671 individuals,
average deviation in biocharacteristic levels were the following:
Ayurveda strengthens the body, in addition to addressing the disorder. It take a holistic,
systemic approach, instead of focusing only on the disorder in question. Ayurveda
shows a person how to interpret signs and symptoms of imbalance, and how to address them
using materials from home, so they can optimize their health on a continual basis. You can't
take the doctor home with you, but you can take Ayurveda home with you.
Ayurveda is the most advanced and easy to use home system for self healing with an
exceptional focus on digestion.
HOW DOES AYURVEDA WORK?
Ayurveda starts by identifying your body type,
which identifies certain tendencies in your body to get sick (as well as identifying your strengths).
It uses body type to determine the likely root causes of your disorders.
Next, Ayurveda analyzes the nature of your disorder.
It fits all your signs and symptoms into a pattern, expressed as a combination of biocharaceristics (gunas).
For example, you may have a heat disorder, a cold disorder, or an oily disorder, etc.
This simple categorical approach shows you how to correct systemic imbalances and strengthen your body as a whole.
On Joyful Belly, we've created an extensive categorization of food so you can easily match food to your imbalanced biocharacteristics.
By eating an optimal diet that balances your biocharacteristics, your whole body is strengthened
and the conditions that created the disorder are removed. Once the root causes of the disease
are removed, the disease lessens in strength or disappears altogether. Additional remedies -
such as herbs and lifestyle practices - focused on the specific disorder, can greatly enhance
To get started on your Ayurvedic journey, we first recommend that your find your body
type by taking our free quiz. In Ayurveda, every solution is based on your unique body type, so
by taking this quiz, you’ll get the best results.
John Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a
healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda.
His approach to Ayurveda exudes a certain ease, which many find enjoyable and insightful.
John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda
, which specializes in digestive tract pathology & Ayurvedic nutrition.
John and his wife Natalie recently published Explore Your Hunger: A Guide to Hunger, Appetite & Food.
John's interest in Ayurveda and digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, including his public service work in South Asia.
John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion.
John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing.
In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots,
and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church.
Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick.
That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well.
Knock on wood, I've never experienced a poison ivy rash. But the next time I go for a walk in the woods I'll be armed with this wonderful information and may even have a conversation with "Sister Ivy"! Thanks, John, for another wonderful article!
Great article - thanks for the resources and suggestions. Growing up, the big woods behind our house was our playground. So many summers either my brother or I would have a run-in with poison ivy. One year they burned the woods to clear it and my brother got such a severe case from inhaling the smoke! His whole face and body swelled and he was sick for two weeks. I remember a salve that the doctor gave us but don't know what it was - except that it smelled terrible! Interesting that a weak liver can cause a severe reaction to poison ivy. I'm pitta and have skin issues and bug bites reactions are also are a problem (mosquitos in Minnesota!).