Gumweed Stops Poison Oak Itch
By Maureen Williams, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (November 3, 2005)—An extract of Grindelia species, commonly known as gumweed, relieved poison oak symptoms when applied directly on the rash, according to a case report in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (2005;11:709–10).
Poison oak, a vine-like plant that grows in the western part of the United States, is closely related to poison ivy, the eastern plant. One to two days after contact with the resin from poison oak or poison ivy a rash can form that causes severe itching, burning pain, oozing, and crusting. These rashes are characterized by streaks of fluid-filled blisters on a red and inflamed base that can last for one to four weeks. Despite popular belief to the contrary, contact with the blisters cannot spread the rash, as only the resin can cause a reaction.
The best treatment for poison oak or ivy is prevention. People who live in areas where these plants grow can learn to identify and avoid them. Skin that might have been exposed to the plant should be washed as soon as possible with water and a soap strong enough to remove the resin, such as dish soap. Clothing that has been in contact with poison ivy or oak should be washed, as the resin can still cause reactions. Once the rash has erupted, typical treatments include drying agents and steroid creams used on the skin; occasionally, a course of oral steroids will be used in very severe cases.
A number of herbs have historically been used to relieve the itching from poison oak and ivy. These herbs are generally anti-inflammatory and soothing, and are usually used externally. They include gumweed, calendula (Calendula officionalis), blood root (Sanguinaria canadensis), Virginia snakeroot (Aristolachia serpentaria), holy basil (Ocimum tenuifolium), jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), chickweed (Stellaria media), and plantain (Plantago species). Cooling essential oils, such as peppermint and menthol, are also used externally to relieve burning pain and itch.
The current report describes the case of a 51-year-old woman who had developed a poison oak rash with the characteristic redness, itching, oozing, heat, and pain. Herbal creams with calendula, holy basil, and jewelweed were minimally helpful in relieving symptoms. Several homeopathic remedies were similarly ineffective. Finally, a tincture of gumweed was applied directly to the rash and immediate improvement of symptoms was noted. The gumweed tincture was mixed with calendula cream and used several times per day. The rash became smaller, drier, and less itchy and hot within 48 hours, and completely resolved within two weeks.
This report presents an interesting case of topical gumweed tincture relieving poison oak symptoms, though it is unclear whether this treatment shortened the course of the rash. In light of this report and the history of its use in treating poison ivy or oak, gumweed would be a good candidate for scientific research.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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