The Great Poison Ivy Experiment

Posted by & filed under herbaculture.

So, most of you reading this post know that it’s my dream to become a…..well, it’s hard to put into words, but I think Andy came up with one the other day. An Herbaculturist. That’s a combination of permaculturist and herbalist. Basically, I want to grow my own food and medicine. And teach others to do the same.

No small dreams for this gal.

So, in the process of building my food forest (that’s a permaculture term), we’ve had the front part of our land cleared and have been working furiously to get it planted before nature does. As in, getting some fruit and nut trees in this year, but most of the work has been in prepping the soil and putting down nitrogen fixing seed to help build it up more – rye grass and clover.

We have this drainage pond that I want to line at some point, too. It fills up when it rains and then slowly drains out. In that capacity, it had become a very attractive place for poison ivy to grow. And I want different plants around that some day full-time pond. People-friendly plants so you can sit on one of the large rocks at its edge and dangle your feet in the water as fish tickle your toes.

So, it became my mission to get rid of the poison ivy. Since I don’t believe in chemical pesticide poison, I decided to pull it up. Yeah, scary, but so far I seemed to have an immunity.

6 trash bags full of the stuff later, after throwing all my clothes and crocs in the washing machine, washing my gardening tools in the utility sink, and washing myself in the bathtub, I waited.

And hoped for the best.

Although it wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for, it could have been worse. I wound up with a small patch of it on my wrist.


Oh my itchiness, am I glad I have a somewhat immunity to it. I’m still going to claim that, because I worked for close to 2 hours pulling up those weeds, so this really isn’t that bad, considering, besides how tormenting it is for a person’s skin.

This is all part of the plan, though, because as an herbalist you are supposed to have first-hand experience with the medicine you are recommending to people. And I haven’t found any other guinea pigs – *cough, Andy, cough* – to volunteer to be treated by a newbie herbalist.

I knew plantain (the kind that grows in the grass, not the banana-ish fruit) and jewel weed were candidates for helping to heal poison ivy. So I found this recipe online and decided to try it. I had harvested some jewel weed on my walk that morning (a friend recommended picking it before noon) and I had plantain in my yard. I also have an aloe vera plant. If you want to try this yourself, jewel weed grows pretty prolifically along the side of roads (you often find it near poison ivy) and you can find plantain in your yard (if you don’t put poison on your lawn). You’ll have to buy the aloe plant (or you can get a leaf of it in some grocery stores), unless you live someplace warm where it grows.

This is what I wound up with (I made it in the blender). It’ll keep a couple of weeks in the fridge. If anybody local is dealing with poison ivy and wants some, I’d be happy to pass it along.


So, I applied it to my wrist. And this is what it looked like afterwards.


That looks much better, don’t you think? The green goo dried things up a bit.

Small disclaimer, however.

As it was on my wrist, it did not relieve the itching AT ALL. As a matter-of-fact, I found it to be a tad tormenting. When I took it off (maybe I had it on for about 20 minutes or so) it had caused a surface rash on my skin (not a bubbly one like the poison ivy). I thought that maybe the jewel weed I had pulled up had come in contact with the poison ivy it had been near and I had just done myself in. It looked sort-of like this, but worse (this is after I applied it a second time, but a little less liberally):


See that red blotch on the left of my wrist? The whole wrist looked like that.

Here’s my theory. The paste is great at drying up the poison ivy rash. However, it’s drying action can be irritating to normal skin. It’s intense therapy.

My right-hand herbal remedy through all of this, the one that’s allowed me to relieve the itching that has kept me up at night, is witch hazel. Good ol’ witch hazel. It’s perfect for poison ivy and bug bites. And it’s dirt cheap at the stores. It worked better than some calamine lotion spray Andy had bought (which had God-knows-what chemicals listed on the label, but I was desperate). I did find a recipe online for homemade calamine which I might try some day.

So, this has been my first-hand, poison ivy, herbalist education. I still haven’t turned in my first lesson homework for my herbalism class; that’s been sitting, just waiting for me to organize it and send it off. I’ve been doing too much experiential learning. This time of year is ripe for it!

And the pond? I didn’t take a before picture, but here’s how it looks now. All the bare edges you can see were covered in it, and it was growing across the middle. There are still vines that broke off under some of the rocks. If it grows back, I’m going to try some homemade pesticide treatments. First hand permaculture learning next time!



One Response to “The Great Poison Ivy Experiment”

  1. Michael

    I would love to be your guinea pig. I have always wondered what poison ivy was like.