So often I find myself faced with a crisis of sorts only to realize after it’s over that it was really a test and an opportunity to learn something new, firsthand, so I could share it with others.
A few weeks ago while clearing brush I came in contact with Poison Ivy. At first, I wasn’t even sure what had caused the immediate rash on my forearm. I was near some jewel weed, Impatiens capensis, so I quickly picked some, made a spit poultice (hey, you do what you must when in the field, kids) and got some immediate short-term relief.
What really surprised me, once I realized I was dealing with poison ivy, is that jewel weed didn’t stop it in its tracks. Oh, no. I was treated to an agonizing 10 days of utter misery as the rash spread over much of my arm, both forearms, torso and hip.
I tried many of nature’s antihistamines – yarrow, reishi, lavender and chamomile essential oils. I tried comfrey, oatmeal baths, baking soda and witch hazel compresses. Nothing seemed to help in any significant way. My body was thoroughly pissed off and that was that.
Then two things happened, almost simultaneously. The first was a message from a Canadian friend who shared that a swim in the ocean cured his bout with poison ivy. When talking to my friend and neighbor about this, she mentioned her parents’ penchant for going to the beach each weekend in all weather and bringing home gallons of ocean water to have on hand for cuts, skin ailments, etc.
So, I did what any desperate, suffering person would do: I bought gallons of spring water and drove to my favorite beach. I offered the spring water to the plants growing along the shore. I’ve harvested those roses and the mugwort there for years. It was my special thank you for their bounty. Then, armed with an empty gallon jug, I waded into the ocean to bottle it for home use.
Miraculous! I believe in the power of plant medicine, but nothing was giving me long term relief like bathing with sea water. It’s been three weeks now, and the ugly red blotch is now faded, almost gone with no scarring. Believe me when I say this will be a regular staple in my arsenal.
The second thing to happen was so surprising I’m still shaking my head over it. My best friend had told a story for years about an unfortunate experience with poison ivy or oak that had left him and another friend totally incapacitated. His father had grown up on a farm, so knew exactly what to do. His dad went out and gathered “some plant” that my friend’s mother then boiled and they used that infusion in poultices which cleared everything up within a day. He said the relief was instantaneous. My friend’s parents have passed, so there’s no way to ask what this plant was. My friend has tried to describe it, but this has been known as the mystery plant for years now.
Well, fast forward to two weeks ago. I’m having dinner with my parents. My dad notices my arms (red blotches slowly fading) and asks what’s going on. “Poison Ivy,” I respond. Dinner resumed. A few minutes later Dad looks at me and says simply, “Sweet fern.”
Dad goes on to say that this is an “Electric Company remedy” that all the guys who worked the power lines knew about years and years ago. If anyone got into poison oak or ivy, they would gather Sweet Fern, boil it and turn the infusion into poultices. It would take away the poison ivy within a day or two, bringing instant relief to the sufferer.
I’ve always known Sweet Fern, Comptonia peregrine, to be a wonderful remedy for relieving respiratory congestion. I’d never associated it as a topical for poisons/contact dermatitis.
A little more research revealed that this was a well-known Native American remedy for poison ivy. Who knew? Well, my dad, who turned 92 this week, and my friend’s dad as well. So, a shout out to both dads, and especially to my Dad on his birthday with thanks for the herbal wisdom.
Happy Fall, and may you be blessed with a nearby patch of sweet fern in case you come across any poison ivy during your fall clean up!
Patrice Green’s holistic journey started in 2010 when she began a mentorship practice with master healer Catherine Miller. Within six months a transformative experience among the coastal redwoods of Muir Woods and its beach inspired further studies, eventually leading to the foundation of Green Aromatics, a holistic practice offering education and consultations in many healing modalities. Patrice offers Reiki, Aromatherapy, and Flower Essence consultations to clients at BodyWise Wellness in Newton, MA. She incorporates energy healing and shamanic techniques into her work.