Herb: Poison Ivy

Latin name: Rhus radicans

Synonyms: Rhus toxicodendron, Toxicodendron radicans, Toxicodendron vulgare

Family: Anacardiaceae (Cashew Family, Sumac Family)

Medicinal use of Poison Ivy:

Poison ivy has occasionally been used medicinally, though it is an extremely poisonous plant and great caution should be exercised. Any herbal use should only be undertaken under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. See also the notes above on toxicity. This plant has been used in the past by physicians in the treatment of paralysis and liver disorders. A decoction of the leaves has been used as a tonic and rejuvenator. The whole or the broken leaves have been rubbed over the skin to treat boils and skin eruptions. The leaves have been rubbed on skin that has been affected by a poison ivy reaction.

Description of the plant:


2.5 m
(8 1/4 foot)

May to

Habitat of the herb:

Woods, on rocky slopes and in wooded swamps.

Other uses of Poison Ivy:

The leaves are rich in tannin. They can be collected as they fall in the autumn and used as a brown dye or as a mordant. An oil is extracted from the seeds. It attains a tallow-like consistency on standing and is used to make candles. These burn brilliantly, though they emit a pungent smoke. An excellent marking ink is obtained from this plant.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. Pre-soak the seed for 24 hours in hot water (starting at a temperature of 80 - 90c and allowing it to cool) prior to sowing in order to leach out any germination inhibitors. The stored seed also needs hot water treatment and can be sown in early spring in a cold frame. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 10cm with a heel, July/August in a frame. Root cuttings 4cm long taken in December and potted up vertically in a greenhouse. Good percentage. Suckers in late autumn to winter.

Cultivation of Poison Ivy:

Woods, on rocky slopes and in wooded swamps.

Known hazards of Rhus radicans:

This plant contains toxic substances and skin contact with it can cause severe irritation to some people. The sap is extremely poisonous. The sap contains 3-N pentadecycatechnol. Many people are exceedingly sensitive to this, it causes a severe spreading dermatitis. The toxins only reach the skin if the plant tissues have been damaged, but even indirect contact can cause severe problems.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.