Rhus toxicodendron is the homeopathy remedy commonly known as poison ivy. This plant from the Anacardiaceae family grows in fields and wooded areas in North America. The plant is commonly identified by its pointy leaves that grow in threes.
There are two varieties of this plant. Poison ivy is a twining vine with a thick stem that branches out into slender stems. Poison oak is a shrub that reaches a height of 4 ft (1.2 m). The plant is also known as mercury vine or poison vine.
A main constituent of the plant is toxicodendric acid, a volatile substance that is most potent after dusk, in damp or cloudy weather, or in June and July. This oil is poisonous when it comes in contact with the skin. Symptoms of poisoning include an itchy red rash that forms blisters, fever, loss of appetite, nausea, headache, delirium, swollen glands, and oral ulcers.
The medicinal use of poison ivy was discovered by accident. A French physician in the late eighteenth century discovered that a patient's chronic rash had been cured as a result of accidental poison ivy exposure. The doctor then went on to use the leaves and stalk of the plant in the treatment of skin disease, paralysis, and rheumatic complaints.
Rhus toxicodendron (Rhus tox.) is a remedy frequently indicated for conditions that are accompanied by fever, swollen glands, inflammation of mucous membranes and/or muscles, skin conditions, and restlessness. Homeopaths prescribe Rhus tox. for a number of complaints including poison ivy, chicken pox, back pain, colds, herpes, hives, flu, mumps, measles, sore throat, nerve pain, muscle strains and sprains, dermatitis, arthritis, bursitis, carpal tunnel, rheumatism, and fevers. Ailments arise from overexertion, a change in weather, cold/damp weather, or from getting wet or chilled.
A portrait of the typical Rhus tox. patient is as follows. The patient has a red face, swollen glands, and dry lips. He may have muscle cramps or joint pains that are pressing, shooting, and sore. Because of his pains he is not comfortable unless he is moving. The patient may be hungry without having an appetite or have a dry mouth even though he is very thirsty. Drinking cold beverages may trigger nausea and vomiting and may cause pain in the stomach. Other symptoms include a gnawing pain in the stomach with a full and heavy feeling, a swollen liver that is painful when pressed, bladder weakness, inflammation of the glands of the abdomen and groin, and paralysis or numbing of limbs due to exposure to the cold.
The complaints are left-sided or move from the left side to right side. The patient's tongue is red-tipped, and he has a metallic taste in his mouth. He often has a violent thirst, but has difficulty swallowing solids. He dislikes the cold and is sensitive to dampness. He craves oysters, milk, and sweets and may have an aversion to meat. He is restless, anxious, confused, absent-minded, depressed, irritable, tearful, apprehensive, and often wants to be left alone.
The patient's ailments are generally worse in the morning and at night (particularly after midnight), while lying down, from physical exertion, from a change in weather, during wet weather, in open air, from touch, and from cold food or drinks. Symptoms are relieved by motion or a change in position, warmth, perspiration, or drinking hot beverages.
Rhus tox. is one of the major homeopathic remedies for mumps with hard swollen glands, fever, and a white or yellow coated tongue with a red tip. The left side will swell first or be worse on the left side. The glands are painful to the touch. Symptoms are better from heat and worse from cold.
Rhus tox. is one of the best remedies indicated in chronic or acute rheumatic or arthritic conditions. Sharp, aching pains are present in the bones. The joints are stiff and lame and the muscles, ligaments, and tendons feel sore and bruised. The pains are worse with movement, but are eased with gentle exercise. In acute arthritis, the joints are smooth and shiny with little redness. There is numbness or tingling in the affected part. In chronic arthritis conditions there is less swelling, but much stiffness of the joints. The pains may cause the patient to get up at night,
Inflammations and conditions of the skin are common, and the patient may suffer from large blisters, hives, eczema, moist eruptions, or abscesses. Both men and women may have an eczematous rash in the genital area. Conditions of chicken pox, poison ivy, or poison oak are accompanied by red, itchy skin and inflamed blisters that are filled with an oozy pus or a clear fluid. Inflamed blisters are also common with herpes outbreaks. Cold sores appear on the lips. Hives may occur as a result of fever or getting wet. Hives are accompanied by a burning, itching rash that is worse from scratching or from cold conditions.
The headache typical of Rhus tox. is centered in the back of the head. The headache is of a pulsating nature with a buzzing in the ears. The head muscles are sore and the pains are sharp and stitching. The pain is improved by keeping the head warm. Walking around also improves the headache.
Inflammation of the eyes occurs as a result of exposure to cold conditions, damp weather, and through suppressing perspiration. The patient is sensitive to light and has sore, swollen, itchy, watery eyes. The lids are often glued together. Stitching pains in the eyes are made worse from moving the eyes. Restlessness and fever usually accompany these eye conditions.
Flu is accompanied by bone, joint, and leg pains. The patient has a fever, and suffers from sneezing and exhaustion.
A sore throat may be accompanied by a hoarse voice that is caused by talking or singing too much. The throat is dry and is worse from swallowing or cold drinks. It is made better from continued use.
Rhus tox. is used to treat many kinds of fevers when all the symptoms match. The fever is of a dry and burning nature. A profuse sweat may occur at the slightest exertion. The patient may feel better from sweating but get chilled, which aggravates his symptoms. The fever is often on one side of the body. During typhoid fever, the abdomen is distended and painful.
A backache that is centered in the lower back or small of the back is made better from lying on a hard surface or from movement or heat. The back feels weak and tired. Caused by damp weather or injury, the ache is aggravated by wet weather or movement.
Nerve pain or sciatica may be present. It is ameliorated with movement or heat and made worse by lying on the painful side, bathing in cold water, or being exposed to the cold.
The leaves and stalk of the plant are gathered when the poison is the most potent, generally at night. They are then pounded to a pulp and mixed with alcohol. The mixture is then strained and diluted.
Rhus tox. is available at health food and drug stores in various potencies in the form of tinctures, tablets, and pellets.
If symptoms do not improve after the recommended time period, consult your homeopath or healthcare practitioner.
Do not exceed the recommended dose.
The only side effects are individual aggravations that may occur with homeopathic remedies.
When taking any homeopathic remedy, do not use peppermint products, coffee, or alcohol. These products may cause the remedy to be ineffective.
Cummings, M.D., Stephen, and Dana Ullman, M.P.H. Everybody's Guide to Homeopathic Medicines. New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1997.
Kent, James Tyler. Lectures on Materia Medica. Delhi, India: B. Jain Publishers, 1996.