Herb: Eastern Poison Oak

Latin name: Rhus toxicodendron

Synonyms: Rhus quercifolia, Toxicodendron pubescens

Family: Anacardiaceae (Cashew Family, Sumac Family)

Medicinal use of Eastern Poison Oak:

Poison oak 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. A fluid extract of the fresh leaves is irritant, narcotic, rubefacient and stimulant. It has been used with some success in the treatment of paralysis, obstinate herpatic eruptions, palsy and in various forms of chronic and obstinate eruptive diseases. A mash of the leaves has been used to treat ringworm. An external application has also been used in the treatment of herpes sores. A poultice of the plant has been used to treat infectious sores on the lips. The root has been used to make a poultice and salve in the treatment of chronic sores and swollen glands. A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh leaves. These should be harvested of a night-time, during damp weather and before the plant flowers. This remedy has a wide range of applications and is one of the main treatments for mumps, it is also used in a wide range of skin disorders.

Description of the plant:


60 cm
(2 feet)

May to

Habitat of the herb:

Dry barrens, pinelands and sands.

Other uses of Eastern Poison Oak:

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. The milky juice makes an excellent indelible marking ink for linen etc. It is also used as a varnish for boots and shoes.

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 Eastern Poison Oak:

Dry barrens, pinelands and sands.

Known hazards of Rhus toxicodendron:

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.