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Using Poison Ivy as a Medicine

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Someone I know once told me that as a child she rubbed poison ivy all over herself in order to avoid having to go to school. Needless to say the tactic worked--too well--and she wound up missing several days of school. But did you know that poison ivy has been successfully used as a therapeutic substance for more than a hundred years?

Ask any person familiar with homeopathy and they can tell you about the positive health benefits of Rhus toxicodendron. The Latin name refers to the genus and species of the poison ivy plant. In homeopathic parlance, it is commonly referred to as Rhus tox. Both conventional and homeopathic researchers have observed positive results from the use of Rhus tox in clinical trials (1)(2), and many a homeopathic practitioner can testify to the results seen in clinical practice.

Homeopathy is a 200-year-old medical system that employs very small doses of medicinal substances. A substance known to cause a certain pattern of symptoms can be used in its homeopathic form to treat a person who has a similar pattern of symptoms. This is known as the principle of similars. These FDA-approved medicines are known for their exceedingly positive safety profiles. Although homeopathic Rhus tox can be used for a wide variety of health problems, it has a reputation for its therapeutic use in two main areas: skin problems and musculoskeletal injuries.

Applying the principle of similars to poison ivy, one can easily imagine its potential uses in homeopathic practice. If poison ivy can cause itching, redness, blistering, and oozing discharges, then it should be potentially beneficial in medical conditions that display similar symptoms. Under what conditions do we see such symptoms? Chicken pox should come to mind, as does shingles, herpes, dermatitis, eczema and, lest we forget, poison oak and poison ivy.

Now, it's not quite as simple as it sounds, because the unique details of each case determines the proper homeopathic prescription. In reality, there are many substances that can cause itching, blisters, and other skin problems and it is important to choose the right one. That is why consulting an experienced practitioner can be helpful.

A careful study of the symptom profile of poison ivy (symptoms that it can cause and, therefore, treat) reveals some dependable clues that can help confirm a Rhus tox prescription. Chief among those clues is an aggravation of symptoms from cold damp conditions and corresponding relief from heat. Another clue is a type of physical restlessness that accompanies ailments that need Rhus tox. In other words, for example, a case of shingles with pain and itching that is relieved by heat, aggravated by cold, and causes the person to toss and turn in bed at night will likely respond very well to a few doses of Rhus tox.

Homeopathic poison ivy can also be very useful for treating injuries to muscles, tendons, and joints. Sprains, strains, and cases of tendinitits that involve stiffness usually respond well to Rhus tox. The classic scenario is the sprained ankle that has partially healed but now becomes stiff, especially first thing in the morning, or upon rising from a seat. The stiffness eases with gentle use, stretching, or limbering up, but returns after overuse. Hot packing or bathing brings relief, while exposure to cold makes it stiffen up more. These are common indications for the use of homeopathic Rhus toxicodendron.

When injuries linger over time, they may become chronic. No doubt you've heard of people who say that they can predict the approach of rain or stormy weather because it often triggers a flare up of pain and stiffness at the site of an old joint injury. Rhus tox can be very helpful in situations of this nature. Rhus tox and other homeopathic medicines can also be useful for a variety of other chronic aches, pains, and arthritic conditions. However, while many people use homeopathic medicines at home for simple self-limited problems, it is best to consult a homeopathic professional for chronic health conditions. My own experiences with this remarkable medicine has confirmed its clinical usefulness many times over.

(1) Effect of homeopathic treatment of fibrositis (primary fibromyalgia). Fisher P, Greenwood A, Huskisson EC, et al. BMJ. 1989;299:365-356.

(2) Homeopathic Rhus toxicodendron treatment increased the expression of cyclooxygenase-2 in primary cultured mouse chondrocytes. Huh, Yun Hyun et al.
Homeopathy , Volume 102 , Issue 4 , 248 - 253.

Larry Malerba, DO, DHt is a physician and educator whose mission is to build bridges between holistic healing, conventional medicine, and spirituality. He is the author of Metaphysics & Medicine: Restoring Freedom of Thought to the Art and Science of Healing and Green Medicine: Challenging the Assumptions of Conventional Health Care.

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