Tag Archives: herbal medicine

Poison Oak Remedy: Green Clay

I have a very low sensitivity to poison oak which means that I can stand in the middle of a big patch of it and not get a rash.  I know this because I have stood, accidentally, in the middle of a big patch of it and didn’t get a rash. I have had a lot of exposure to it in my life and when my mom and brother would come down with horrible allergic reactions, I (who had been in the same places as them) would be spared.  This luck means that I have gone my whole life not having to worry about remedies for poison oak or seek relief for the itching it causes.

That has changed over time as my son got his first poison oak rash when he was three and though that time wasn’t too bad, every time he gets it he has a much worse allergic reaction than the last time.  I did some research the first time he got it and read as much as I could about it and discovered that there are some myths about poison oak that have been busted by science but which are difficult to bust in the minds of many who suffer from it.

The biggest myth is that once you get poison oak your rash is contagious and you can give it to others.  This is NOT true.  What gives people the rash is an oil produced in poison oak, called urushiol, which bonds with the proteins in your skin within the first 10 to 15 minutes of contact and once it has bonded the urushiol is absorbed into your skin and cannot be transferred to anyone else.

I have assembled a number of sources of information about poison oak which explain well that you can’t spread your own poison oak rash by scratching, the oozing that sometimes occurs can’t spread your rash either.  If you suffer from a sensitivity to poison oak and you don’t already know these things, please read up!  It will help you manage your rash exposure to know how you can get reintroduced to the oils through clothes and pet fur and will ease your mind to understand that you aren’t contagious once you’ve gotten the rash.

Once you have it, there’s nothing you can do to get rid of it.  For those who have severe reactions (my mother has been hospitalized from allergic reactions to poison oak) you may need to go to the hospital and get a steroid shot, but this is only done in very severe cases.  For everyone else the only thing you can do is control the itching and promote the healing of your rash by drying the sores and blisters out.

We have used a medicated steroid creme to help control the itching of my son’s poison oak rashes in the past and while it did help, it was not as efficacious as we could have hoped.  We have also resorted to using Itch-x from the pharmacy which does work well to control the itching for short periods of time but fails to help heal the rash itself which needs to be dried out, not kept moist with ointment.  During his most recent rash, which was worse than any of the previous ones he’s gotten, he was itching so much that he was raising big welts on his arms and body and causing his rash to bleed.  We listened to some suggestions from other people (there are soaps meant to help with poison oak) and then my mom asked why we didn’t use Calamine lotion.

I really didn’t know why I hadn’t tried it before.  I remembered that I had some green clay I’d gotten from an herbal shop and decided we’d try that.  Isn’t Calamine lotion mostly clay-like?  Maybe not, but I went home and mixed up some of my green clay and my kid was completely game (desperate) to try it so I covered all his rashes with the clay.  He was really happy with the results.  He told me it helped with the itching better than the ointments and felt more comforting.  We continued to use it for a week, applying it liberally every single night before bed.  Here’s what I used:


1/3 cup green clay (Montmorillonite)

2 tbsp water


Measure out the clay into a ramekin and add the water.  Stir it until all the powder is incorporated and you have gotten most of the lumps out.  It should be thick.

The thickness makes it easier to get full coverage over the rash.  Too thin and it won’t work as well.

It should be thick enough that it doesn’t drip or slip when you scoop some up with your finger.

Apply it liberally to every area of your skin affected by the rash.  You may need to undress to do this.  Let it dry before covering it with clothes.

When you’re done applying the first round, you can put the rest of the clay in a small jar with a tightly sealing lid.  It will stay hydrated and ready for your next application if you keep the lid on when not in use.  How much you need will vary greatly depending on the extensiveness of your rash.  We used the clay treatment for a little over a week and I mixed up about this amount three times.  Use the above ingredients as a ratio and multiply to make a bigger batch ahead of time if you think you’ll need it.

An acquaintance of mine told me she uses clay for her son too, but she gets it directly from her property, so if you have clay in your yard do try to use that first!  You won’t even have to mix it up and it will be free!  She says it’s the only remedy that’s given relief to her son who is very sensitive to poison oak just like mine.

I bought my clay from an herb shop online, you may be able to find it at local shops that carry natural herbs and beauty supplies.

Poison oak information:

Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac Information Center

Cleveland Clinic: The Poison Plants

Andrew Weil on Poison Oak

Poison Oak FAQ

CDC on Poison Oak and other poisonous plants

Essentials for Every Medicinal Herb Garden

My mother has a certificate in herbology and a lot of experience growing, using, and foraging medicinal herbs.  She’s shown me how to make salves and at one time made me and my siblings all herbal first aid kits which included tinctures and salves she made herself.  My favorite item from that kit was her comfrey salve which I found very useful for many applications.

I believe everyone should grow medicinal herbs in their gardens.  You don’t need to be an herbologist to make use of medicinal herbs safely.  A couple of good herb books is all you need.  I am no enemy to modern medicine and depend on it for a number of things I could never find relief for with herbal medicines.  I believe in an integrated approach to medicines: take the best from the East and the West, take the best from the present and the past.

I always grow medicinals because they are generally gentle, cheap, and can be incorporated into your everyday health regimen.  There’s another reason I think everyone should grow some medicinals: what if commercially produced medicines were to become unavailable to you?

You should have on hand some herbs that you can use in emergencies to do things like reduce fevers, bring swelling down in sprains, heal cuts and bruises, treat burns, calm nerves, detoxify your liver, disinfect wounds, and reduce the symptoms of influenza.  Growing herbs to meet all these basic needs is neither difficult nor need it take up too much space in your garden.

How do you choose the essentials?  My mom and I love this game.  There is a dizzying number of medicinal herbs and plants that you can choose from to grow in your own yard, so how do you narrow it down?

  • Make a list of common issues you and your family experience: skin issues, headaches, colds, anxiety, persistent coughs… think of all the things you routinely find yourself needing to treat and include all first aid things you keep on hand.
    • Consult a reliable herbal book.  Look through the lists of herbs, read what each of them do, and discover which herbs are the most recommended for the needs of your family.  Most libraries will have several you can check out if you don’t have any of your own.  I will list some titles you can rely on for good information (these are all books I personally own and trust):

      “Herbal Remedies for Vibrant Health” by Rosemary Gladstar

      “Desk Reference to Nature’s Medicine” by Steven Foster and Rebecca L. Johnson  (published by National Geographic)

      “The Essential Natural Health Bible” by Nerys Purchon

      “The Complete Herb Book” by Jekka McVicar

      • When you have a list of all the herbs most likely to fulfill your family’s particular needs and those of general first aid, cull the list down to the ones that will grow well in your climate and ones you have room for.  Don’t exclude culinary herbs from this list, many of them have great medicinal qualities that improve your health simply by being used frequently in your cooking.  Thyme, for example, is a powerful antiseptic properties in addition to adding great flavor to soups and other savory dishes.

        While I believe choosing the herbs you grow should be based on your personal needs, there are herbs I believe everyone should be growing in their gardens regardless of who they are.  I’m going to give you two lists to start with.  The first will be a list of the herbs I think every single garden should be growing, this will be the bare essentials.  The second list is the one my mother and I have come up with for our own garden.

        Essentials for Every Medicinal Herb Garden:

        Comfrey – absolutely essential for healing cuts, bruises, burns, and sprains; the roots are great made into tea for your bath as it will soften and heal skin.

        Calendula – great for all skin issues (softens, cleans, heals), anti- inflammatory, antifungal.

        Thyme – strong antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, and antispasmodic properties.

        Sage – sore throats, antiseptic, immune booster, colds, and treats nervous exhaustion (I should be drinking this every day!).

        Peppermint – stimulating, refreshing; good for relieving indigestion, tension headaches, and spastic complaints of the gastrointestinal tract.

        Aloe Vera – soothes cuts and burns, nourishes and moisturizes skin.

        Elderberry – reduces severity of influenza symptoms, immune system stimulant, reduces fevers, colds, and ear and throat infections.

        Rosemary – good for digestive ailments, increases circulation, colds and flus, mouthwash, dandruff, and may ease depression and fatigue.

        The only one from that list that not everyone may be able to grow in their own garden due to its size is the elderberry.  Elderberry can be kept pruned to a reasonable size but left to its own devices it will become a big tree.  If you have room: plant it!

        Here is a complete list of what I will have in my own medicinal garden with the items I already have planted asterisked:

        Echinacea, lovage, rosemary*, comfrey*, beebalm, arnica*, calendula, balm of Gilead, borage, sage*, tarragon*, winter savory, feverfew, peppermint*, nasturtiums, parsley*, thyme*, vervain*, elderberry*, mullein*, oregano*, marjoram*, plantain*, roses*(for rosehips), and lavendar*.

        There are so many amazing and useful herbs you can plant in your garden.  Aside from the benefits these herbs offer to you personally they are also great for attracting beneficial insects that will increase pollination in your other plants and help keep in balance the pests that hurt your soil and plant health.

        What herbs do you grow and what are you planning to add to your garden this year?  I want to know!