First of all, poison ivy is poison. It should never be used by anyone as a medicine. Its called poison ivy because its just that, poisonous. NO ONE should EVER use poison ivy for ANYTHING. EVER. Just so we are clear on that…..
That said, it may come as a shock that in the century that came before, it was widely used, in small doses, as a powerful boost to the immune system. Modern science has validated that poison ivy does in fact stimulate the immune system. However, due to its ability to raise welts where ever it touches the skin, this is not an herbal medicine to be used by anyone in any form. Though not for home use, its power to stimulate immune system does make it a fantastic subject for the scientific community looking for new medicines that enhanced immune activity. There may be a potent medicine lurking within this herbal and it really needs to be studied more!
This one is for researchers and researchers alone.
Chapter from My PhD Thesis
Notes from the Eclectic Physicians
Chapter from My PhD Thesis
Toxicodendron radicans (L.) Kuntze
(Formerly Rhus toxicodendron)
Part Used: Fresh leaf
Chemical Constituents: Significant phytochemicals include fisetin, gallotannic acid, tannins, urushenol, and urushiol. (8)
Toxicodendron radicans is a creeping shrub found growing along the East Coast and into the Middle West of the United States . The shrub grows where woods meet meadow and often climbs up the sides of trees. The shrubby vine tenaciously attaches to trees with peculiar hair like tentacles. The plant is well known due to its ability to induce a hideous, painful rash following the slightest touch of the plant.
The Native Americans knew the plant as both a weapon and a medicine. From the Native American perspective, the drug was extremely powerful and as such one that should only be used by the most knowledgeable and talented medicine man. Records indicate the Meskwaki, Ojibwe, and Chippewa used the drug as a medicine-often to prevent wound infection and to stimulate healing in the same. (9)
The colonials quickly developed respect for the plant after discovering what the plant could do to the skin. When the medical establishment began poisoning patients as a means of curing illness, this plant became a source of truly heroic medicine. Amongst the medical establishment, it became a popular remedy The early Eclectic impression of the drug was that it fell into the same category as Mercury and Lead. It was deemed dangerous and was to be avoided. However, they recognised the power of the remedy and began experimenting with small, insensible doses. Used in this manner, the Eclectics found it to be safe and highly useful.
Eclectic use (1–7)
Tonic, alterative, sedative, anti-zymotic.
“In inflammatory fevers with sharp hard pulse; acute inflammation involving the skin, with bright circumscribed redness, extreme soreness or sharp burning pain; extreme redness of local parts inflamed, with great local heat and sharp pain; sharp supra-orbital pain, especially of the left orbit; burning in the eyes with flushed face; inflammation with constitutional impairment, evidenced by a sharp red tongue and deep red mucous membranes. The tongue has a pointed tip upon which the papillae are elongated and pointed. In sub-acute or in chronic disease also with the above specific evidences, it is demanded.” (7)
Continued fevers, any form of infection, depraved blood at the root of continued fevers, herpetic conditions, tuberculosis (some cases improved, others worsened), strawberry tongue of typhoid or scarlet fever, all zymotic diseases where vital powers are greatly depressed (measles, scarlatina), variola with livid colour of the surface and foul discharges, small pox, infections that have reached dangerous proportions (i.e. when the skin is livid, the tongue red and glazed, offensive breath, offensive discharges, and vitality failing, etc.), influenza, malaria.
Typhoid states, typhoid manifestations with extreme restlessness, vomiting, dysentery, great unrest with vomiting, bowel disorders of infants, diarrhoea, dysentery, typhoid dysentery, remittent and intermittent gastric fevers, cholera morbus, parotitis, swelling of the submaxillary gland with great indurations, nervous and reflex vomiting, cholera morbus with extreme vomiting and spasmodic pain.
Rheumatism, rheumatic pain, aggravated by the warmth of the bed, acute rheumatic attacks, chronic rheumatism, rheumatic paralysis and articular stiffness of rheumatic attacks, restlessness of rheumatic patients, disorders of the tendons, sheaths of the nerves, and fascia whether in rheumatism or meningitis.
Sharp frontal pain confined to the left orbit, headache associated with la Grippe, cerebra-spinal meningitis, pain and restlessness, insomnia resulting from extreme restlessness, vascular disturbances caused by cerebra-spinal centres, restless patients with uneasiness, irritability, bright eyes, and pain in the frontal region of the head, pain of a burning character in the head, abdominal or thoracic viscera, urinary organs, eyes, or of the skin, no matter where the pain or what the name may be (I.e. neuralgia, rheumatism, erysipelas, pleurisy, cystitis, sciatica).
Inflammation following cataract operations, palpebral oedema, with marked redness, other pains in the globe of the eye, and aggravated by motion and warmth, acute and subacute forms of conjunctivitis due to its special affinity for the blood vessels of the orbit, catarrhal opthalmia of scrofulous children with strongly inflamed palpebral edges and conjunctivae and marked photophobia and burning lachrymation, sensations as of foreign particles, such as sand, etc., in the eye.
Paraplegia without any actual organic lesion, and in paralysis of the bladder and of the rectum, paralytic states that follow attacks of rheumatism, paralysis (the first signs of improvement are an unpleasant feeling of prickling and twitching in the paralytic limb), and sciatica.
Bronchitis, pneumonia, la grippe, phthisis when patient is extremely irritable and suffers from gastric irritation, typhoid pneumonia, offensive mucu-purelent expectoration, uncontrollable dry spasmodic cough and or tickling cough, acute or chronic tickling cough.
Local inflammations, induration, swelling tending towards suppuration, boils, felons, carbuncle, ulceration with red areas and red edges, scrofulous indurations and ulcerations, eczematous and erythematous conditions, eruptions with burning, itching, with minute vesicles on a red raw surface which burst and form a crust that dries up in a few days, scaling off, shows another crop of vesicles and the whole process is repeated, erysipelas, rash, exanthemata, shingles, cutaneous diseases displaying redness, tumescence and burning, vivid bright red glistening erysipelas, especially when confined to the upper part of the face, with marked puffiness, all acute inflammations of the skin, herpes with burning, itching and exudation of serum, eczema pemphigus, irritable and inflammatory skin affections, purpurea hemorrhagica, Erythematous and erysipelatous inflammation of the vulva, all rashes, constitutional carbuncles and furuncles, any skin disease where there is violent itching, redness, burning, swelling, pain and vesication.
The drug from Selye’s perspective
State of Resistance
The drug was used to raise resistance to typhoid fever, scarlet fever, measles, variola, small pox, shingles, cholera, cholera morbus, influenza, pneumonia, tuberculosis, cerebra-spinal meningitis, acute syphilis, rheumatoid arthritis, paralytic states following rheumatic attacks (MS?), and chronic inflammatory skin conditions. Any infectious disease where vital powers were greatly depressed, or when infection reached dangerous proportions, was treated with the drug.
State of Exhaustion
The drug was used when the body could not mount resistance to a severe, overwhelming infection, and State of Exhaustion set in. It was also used when chronic infection or disease caused State of Exhaustion . Signs of State of Exhaustion treated with this drug included parotitis with ulceration, rheumatoid arthritis (involving the muscles, tendons, nerves, fascia, etc.), constitutional carbuncles, furuncles, boils, diarrhoea/dysentery, ulceration of the mucous membrane and skin, temperature abnormalities, offensive breath and discharges, and indurations.
From Selye’s perspective, the drug was used to augment the GAS, which suggests it increases adaptation energy. Evidence to this effect includes the following. The drug was used to increase resistance to acute and chronic infection. The drug was used when State of Exhaustion set in. It was used when vital force was worn low by the strain of chronic disease and physiological function was thereby diminished. Topically, it was applied to inspire healing in non-healing wounds and sores.
Brekhman’s Adaptogen Criterion
An adaptogen should be innocuous and cause minimal disorders in the physiological functions of an organism.
The Eclectics felt that when used in small doses, the drug was safe. (1–7) Contemporary literature suggests the drug is dangerous but does not comment on the doses used by the Eclectics. (8–9)
The action of an adaptogen should be non-specific i.e. it should increase resistance to adverse influences of a wide range of factors of physical, chemical, and biological nature.
Clinically, the drug was used to raise resistance to microbial infection, hypo-immune, autoimmune, and hyper-immune disease. It was also used to raise resistance to microbial endotoxin poisoning. (1–7)
Experimentally, the drug contains compounds that have been shown to raise resistance to viral infection (herpes, HIV), mutagenicity, free radical damage, cancer, bacterial infection, malarial infection, and fungal infection (Candida). The crude drug has been shown to increase resistance to immune suppression via T cell proliferation and increased T cell activity. (8)
An adaptogen may possess normalising action irrespective of the direction of the foregoing pathological changes.
Clinically, the drug was used to normalise all forms of immune dysfunction, hypo, hyper, and autoimmune. It was used to normalise those physiological abnormalities associated with State of Exhaustion . (1–7)
Experimentally, compounds found in the drug have been shown to normalise immune function, allergies, histamine abnormalities, inflammation, and hyperglycaemia. (8)
The drug exhibits properties consistent with Brekhman’s definition of an adaptogen. It is innocuous in the doses recommended, it raises resistance to a wide assortment of biological threats, and normalises physiological function.
However, the idea that poison ivy could be used for medicinal purposes is shocking to many. Anyone, who has seen what it can do to the skin, would think this to be highly questionable. However, it was a very popular medicine amongst the Eclectics, and the Eclectics were doctors who refuted any toxic medicine.
The Eclectics learned that poison ivy did to the conservative force what it did to the skin. Kick started dynamic action. Used in small doses, the drug powerfully stimulated the conservative force when it needed to be stimulated. They found that when an infection was too big for the body to fight off, when the native conservative force was insufficient to meet the challenge, the drug would save the patients life. When chronic disease was slowly but surely siphoning off life, the drug Could do the same.
Contemporary workers have demonstrated the drug powerfully stimulates the immune system, and, this could explain the Eclectics use of it in infection. However, looking at the drug from Selye’s perspective, the drug has a more comprehensive activity. It has been shown to stimulate other vital physiological functions. This suggests it stimulates the force behind immune, and all other physiological functions. To use Selye’s words, the drug increases adaptation energy and thereby increases resistance.
Potential Clinical Applications
The drug was used to stimulate resistance to acute and chronic infections. Contemporary research has validated this use. The drug, at a minimum, acts as an immune stimulant. The drug may have a role in raising resistance to infection.
• Toxicity of Toxicodendron radicans. The doses of this drug, used by the Eclectics, should be tested for toxicity.
• Toxicodendron radicans and its effects on the GAS. The drug should be tested out in the animal model to determine its specific effects on the GAS
• Toxicodendron radicans and its effects on microbial infection. Rhus toxicodendron was used to raise resistance to severe acute infections. Infections too great for the body to counter. The drugs’ ability to increase resistance to severe acute infection should be examined.
• Toxicodendron radicans and its effects on immune dysfunction. The drug was used in chronic affections caused by abnormal immune function, both hypersensitivity (rashes, eczema, psoriasis) and auto-immunity (rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, etc.), and hypo-immunity (chronic infections, lack of resistance.) The drug and its ability to raise resistance to abnormal immune function should be examined.
• Toxicodendron radicans and Multiple Sclerosis. The drug was used in paralysis. However, it was not used paralysis from mechanical damage (i.e. from a fall or blow), but rather when there was no obvious lesion. An example, paralysis following an acute rheumatic attack. This suggests paralysis associated with abnormal immune function The Eclectics may have been describing Multiple Sclerosis. The drugs’ ability to raise resistance to Multiple Sclerosis should be examined.
• Toxicodendron radicans and age related nerve failure. The drug was used to activate nerves that were not functioning. The drug should be examined for activity on age related nervous lesions.
• King, John. The American Eclectic Dispensatory. Moore , Wilstach, and Keys. Cincinnati . 1854. P. 808.
• Kilgour, JC. Symptomatic Indications Verified by the Author. Published by the Author. New Richmond , Ohio . 1887. P. 58.
• Watkins, Lyman. An Eclectic Compendium of The Practice of Medicine. John M.Scudder’s Sons. Cincinnati . 1895. P. 447.
• Felter, Harvey Wickes and Lloyd, John Uri. Kings’ American Dispensatory. Volume one and Volume two. Ohio Valley Company. Cincinnati . 1898. P. 1666.
• Webster, HT. Dynamical Therapeutics—A work devoted to the Theory and Practice of Specific Medication with special references to the newer remedies. Webster Medical Publishing Company. Oakland . Second Edition. 1898. P. 87, 196,287,409,494,531,551.
• Fyfe, John William. The Essentials of Modern Materia Medica and Therapeutics. The Scudder Brothers Company. Cincinnati . 1903. P. 250.
• Ellingwood, Finley. American Materia Medica, Therapeutics, and Pharmacognosy. Ellingwood’s Therapeutist. Chicago . 1919 P. 496.
• Dr. Dukes Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. Agricultural Research Service. USDA.
• Erichson-Brown, Charlotte . Medicinal and other uses of North American Plants. Dover Press. New York . 1979. P. 110–113.
Notes from the Eclectic Physicians
1854; King J
Properties and Uses. – The fresh juice of the Poison Oak is powerfully irritant. In some persons it produces vesication wherever it is applied, accompanied sometimes by much symptomatic fever, – and even the emanations from the plant are alleged to have the same effect on certain constitutions. To remove these effects, the parts may be bathed with a solution of borax or copperas, or a wash made by boiling the bark of the elder in buttermilk; accompanied with a light cooling regimen, and cooling purgatives or diuretics. The bruised leaves of the Collinsonia Canadensis , externally, and an infusion of the Verbena Urticifolia , internally, have been successfully used in internal or external poisoning by these plants. In large doses the leaves and juice are narcotico-irritant, and in small doses, they are diuretic, diaphoretic, laxative, and a stimulant of the nervous system. It is said they produce twitchings of paralyzed muscles, and prickings of the affected limb, similar to strychnia or nux vomica. They have been highly recommended in chronic paralysis, chronic rheumatism, cutaneous diseases, and some diseases of the eye; it is seldom used on account of its poisonous consequences and the volatility of its active principle. I have derived much advantage from the following preparation in paralysis, chronic rheumatism, and some obstinate cutaneous affections: Take of a saturated tincture of the fresh leaves of Rhus Toxicodendron half a fluidounce, saturated tincture of Aconitum, volatile tincture of Guaiacum, of each, two fluid drachms; mix together. Of this give forty drops every three or four hours, having previously evacuated the bowels. Rhus Toxicodendron has been employed successfully in paraplegia without any actual organic lesion, likewise in paralysis of the bladder and of the rectum. Dose of the leaves, in powder, half a grain three times a day, gradually increased until some effect is produced; of the saturated tincture from five to ten drops.
1887: J.C. Kilgour
The objective symptoms indicating this remedy are a tongue with a bootjack shaped coating, the coating covering the base and extending forward as far as the middle of the organ, where it divides and terminates in a sharp point on either side near the tip, leaving the centre bare and red with raised and roughened papillae on the end, which is pointed. The left side of the face is often flushed and the eyes have a preternaturally bright look. There is frequently an extreme restlessness, side to side and sighing. If there is any pain it is generally confined to the left side, and the patient sometimes has a feeling as if cold water was being poured over him. There is also an eruption, which is readily cured by this remedy, characterized by minute vesicles on a red, raw surface, which burst and form a crust that dries up in a few days, and scaling off, shows another crop of vesicles beneath, and the whole process is repeated. This is often seen on the faces of children. And even adults, and is attended by burning and itching, which causes children to scratch their faces till they bleed. Shingles is also readily cured by Rhus Tox. I never use it stronger than the first decimal dilution, which is made by adding one drachms of alcohol and two drachms of water then mixing ten or fifteen drops of this solution with four ounces of water; the dose of it will be a teaspoonful every two or three hours. The symptom of extreme restlessness spoken if above is one of the most characteristic indications for Rhus Tox., and its action in relieving this conditions is very rapid.
I remember a case of a lady who had been confined to her bed for several weeks by an affection of the stomach, of which she afterward died. I was called to see her after she had been treated by others for about four weeks. I went about 11pm and found her tossing her arms about and rolling from side to side, sighing almost constantly, as of she could find no rest.
They told me she had tossed about in this manner for several nights, and could get no sleep, because they dared not give her Morphia or Chloral, and they had nothing else that would quiet her.
I at once noticed that this was the peculiar condition calling for Rhus Tox., and gave her a dose of it. The action was so rapid that she, as well as her worn out watchers, had all fallen asleep in fifteen minutes, when I quietly left the room. On the following evening she manifested the same restless condition again, and was promptly relieved by the same means.
Another case was my wife, who was suffering from Pneumonia, and the same condition of restless tossing was promptly relieved, and sleep produced in fifteen minutes. Don’t understand me to say that this will produce sleep in all cases of insomnia, but only in those cases where insomnia results from his extreme degree of restlessness.
Scanty urine with dribbling, smarting pain in urethra, short sharp pulse, strawberry tongue, itching an tingling in skin, pain over left orbit, cough with burning pain in chest, restlessness, starting and crying out during sleep, pinched expression of countenance. Five to ten drops to four ounces of water; teaspoonful every two hours.
1898: Felter and Lloyd – RHUS TOXICODENDRON (U.S.P.) – RHUS TOXICODENDRON
Early Medical History of the Species of Rhus – Medical interest, in the species of Rhus, during the early history of this genus, seems to have centred chiefly in two species – R. Toxicodendron and R. glabra. Rhus venerate (as R. vernix), was quite fully considered, more however, with a view to studying its juice from an economic view, and its poisonous qualities and the remedies therefor. We are not aware that it has been medicinally employed, to any extent at least. Rhus glabra received a good share of attention from the profession and probably had its medicinal starting point from its aboriginal and domestic uses. One of the most interesting accounts of some species of Rhus is “An Experimental Dissertation on the Rhus vernix (venenata), Rhus radicans, and Rhus glabrum; commonly known in Pennsylvania by the names of Poison ash, Poison vine, and Common sumach, by Thomas Horsfield, of Bethlehem, Pa.,” published in 1798. This interesting 88-page book gives a most excellent resume of the knowledge of those species acquired up to that date, and we might add that the description of the effects of the poisonous species has not, in our opinion, been excelled to this day.
Rhus Toxicodendron is almost universally admitted to have been introduced to the profession, in 1793, by Dr. I. Alderson, of Hull , England , that gentlemen first using it as a remedy in paralytic states. Dr. Du Fresnoy, of France , however, previous to this had employed Rhus radicans in paralytic and herpetic disorders. This was in 1788, and if we consider Rhus radicans and Rhus Toxicodendron as identical, this gives Du Fresnoy priority. It further seems that Gleditsch, in 1782, wrote an article (in French) on “Novel Effects Concerning a Dangerous American Plant,” referring to Rhus. Du Fresnoy first experimented on himself before administering the leaves to his patient. His experience with an infusion of 12 leaves he thus records: “At this dose I observed a slight pain in my stomach, and my perspiration and urine were increased in quantity.” Alderson observed that when the drug acted beneficially in paralysis, “the first signs of improvement were an unpleasant feeling of prickling and twitching in the paralytic limbs” (Thacher’s Dispensatory, 1821). Du Fresnoy’s dissertation was the first publication in regard to the medical uses of Rhus. Horsfield (1798) experimented on consumptives with the infusion. In some cases benefit seemed to be derived from its use, while other cases were aggravated by it. He states of the wife of a consumptive patient that, “invited by the agreeable odor of the infusion, she drank a teacupful. It produced an unusual degree of cheerfulness, and a copious discharge of urine” (Diss., p.87). In a case of anasarca, it relieved the patient by “producing copious perspiration” (ibid). He concluded from his results that it “acts slightly as an incitant and diuretic.” A tincture was used by Baudelocque in scrofulous chronic ophthalmia of infants (Porcher).
Rhus glabra was used early by American practitioners as an astringent in diarrhoea, dysentery, and in ulceration of the throat, etc. The fruit (sumach bobs) infused in water, was employed as a cooling drink in febrile affections. The whitish substance covering the berries, known as Indian salt, has acid properties, rendering the infusion pleasantly sour. Rhus copallina and Rhus typhina were used for like purposes, while the first was valued by the Chippewa Indians in gonorrhoea, and the gall-like excrescences on the leaves, powdered and made into an ointment, afforded the white settlers a remedy for piles (see Rhus Glabra).
Rhus diversiloba appears to have been effectual in dysmenorrhoea. A case (in California ) is reported (Ec. Med. Jour., 1865, p. 314) of an anaemic girl, who usually suffered greatly during menstruation, the flow being scanty, cured by having been poisoned at the menstrual epoch by contract with this plant. An easy menstruation followed. When the next monthly period was due a return of the eruption came also, and with it again an easy catamenial flow. This, so far as we are aware, is the extent to which this plant has been known to act medicinally, though nearly all old works stage that its properties are similar to those of Rhus Toxicodendron and Rhus venenata. The latter, we believe, has not been employed in medicine (see Related Species).
Rhus aromatica was introduced to the profession by an Eclectic physician, Dr. J. T. McClanahan, of Booneville, Mo., in 1879, who stated that the remedy had been employed by members of his family, several of whom were doctors, for a quarter of a century, for the relief of urinary, bowel, and hemorrhagic disorders, with uniform success (see Rhus Aromatica).
Action, Medical Uses and Dosage – Locally, rhus is a powerful irritant poison. The toxic manifestations produced from the different species is of precisely the same nature, differing only in degree of intensity. Rhus Toxicodendron ranks next to poison dogwood in point of virulence. Whilst locally poisonous to some persons, some individuals are totally unaffected by it. Many are but mildly poisoned by it; many more, however, show serious evidence of its great activity. Contact is not always necessary to obtain its effects. Indeed many individuals are poisoned merely by exposure to an atmosphere contaminated with the toxic exhalations of the plant. This is especially true when the air is heavy and humid, or when the susceptible individual is freely perspiring. Alcoholic solution of the toxic principle retains its virulence for many years (Johnson). The dried leaves are, as a rule, inert. A young lady in the employ of Prof. J. U. Lloyd, is always notified to remain at home – not even being allowed in the building – on the days when specific rhus is being bottled, so intense are poisonous effects in this case that mere exposure to the emanations is sufficient to cause the individual to be confined to her bed. Peter Kalm, the Swedish traveller, who visited this country during its colonial days – a man who investigated our plant resources and made large collections of the same – writes: “I was acquainted with a person, who, merely by the noxious exhalation of Rhus vernix (venenata), was swelled to such a degree, that he was as stiff as a log of wood, and could only be turned about in sheets.”
A singular feature connected with rhus poisoning is its recurrence from month to month, and from year to year, even when the affected individual is far remote from all exhalations of the plant. This was early noted by Barton, who personally experienced such recurrence for 5 successive years – a portion of which time was passed in Europe far from proximity to the plant in question. We have also observed this phenomenon. The smoke from burning rhus wood, was noticed as early as 1702, by Sherard, Wangenheim, and Kalm, to produce poisonous effects. It appears (Barton) that horses eat the plant with impunity. According to William Bartram, they are very fond of the leaves. Cows are wholly unaffected by the ingestion of the plant. Thunberg observed that sheep ate of the leaves of Rhus lucidum, a similar species, without harm. To dogs and guinea pigs, on the other hand, poison vine is fatal. The statement that the infusion of the leaves was administered to consumptives with non-poisonous results, may seem contradictory, but we can not but believe that a portion of the poisonous principle is volatile, in spite of the assertion that non-volatile toxicodendrol is the toxic agent, and consequently driven off in heating. The poisonous properties are likewise, in a measure, dissipated in drying the plant, hence the necessity of preparing the fluid preparations from fresh material. It is not surprising, therefore, that certain individuals – “eminent therapeutists” – have decried the use of rhus as of no value, when fluid extracts and tinctures from dried materials had failed to give good results.
The nature of poisoning by rhus has always partaken somewhat of the mysterious, and it has been the subject of much speculation. Various reasons have been assigned as to why it poisons at all, and as to why it affects only certain individuals. It has been customary to attribute the deleterious effects to emanations from the living plant. Later, Prof. Maisch announced a volatile substance of acid character as the offender, and named it toxicodendric acid. Still later, a bacterium was charged with creating the mischief. The latter cause, however, has now been satisfactorily disproved. An oil has now been isolated, and this, even when purified, excites exactly the same form of dermatitis as the growing plant. This discovery was made, in 1895, by Dr. Franz Pfaff, of Harvard University . It is present in every part of the ivy plant, and even the dried wood is said to retain it. It has been named toxicodendrol, and is asserted to be in reality the only tangible substance found thus far to which may be attributed the toxic effects of the vine. Still, this does not explain why individuals are poisoned when not in contact with the plants. Alcohol freely dissolves this oil, but water, as with oily bodies, does not, nor does it wholly remove it from the skin; hence the reason why washing after contact with ivy does not prevent the appearance of the characteristic eruption. Experimentation (see V. K. Chesnut, United States Yearbook of Department of Agriculture, 1896, p.141) has shown that if the oil be placed upon the skin, and immediately removed with alcohol, but slight effects are observed. the longer the interval, however, the more pronounced the effects become. In all, the effects were less marked than when no such treatment was given. From the fact that several portions of the skin could be impressed without coalescence of the areas, it has been concluded that the action of the oil is wholly local, and that the poison does not enter the blood. We are not, however, satisfied with this view of the matter, for if so, how are we to explain the recurrence of the trouble after weeks and months,, and even years, in persons who have not for some time been near the plants or in the neighbourhood of their growth? There are many agents that might be used for the relief of this species of dermatitis, as lobelia, grindelia, sulphate of iron or copper, both of which have served us well, and the more recently recommended echafolta.
The local effects of rhus are well known. Briefly stated, it occasions an eczematous, sometimes erysipelatoid, inflammatory eruption, characterized by intense itching, redness, and tumefaction, followed by burning pain, sympathetic febrile excitement, and vesication. The vesicles are at first small and filled with a watery fluid; sometimes they become yellow, as if pus were present. Finally, as they mature, they rupture, when a yellow scab forms. The tongue is coated white, and headache and delirium are often symptoms. The effects are observable a short time after exposure to the poison, the affection usually spending its force in the course of 4 or 5 days, and is followed by desquamation of the cuticle. The face and genitalia seem to be favourite localities for the most pronounced swelling to appear. One case of poisoning by Rhus venenata came under our observation, in which the swelling of the face was so great as to wholly obliterate the features, giving to the individual a swine-like, rather than human, appearance. Domestic medication, in the shape of bruised Impetuous pallida and fulva (Jewel weeds) gave great relief in this instance. lack of space forbids more than the partial enumeration of the many remedies that have been extolled for the cure of this malady. The chief, however, are lobelia (infusion), veratrum, gelsemium, hamamelis, grindelia, stramonium, eupatorium, serpentaria, lindera, sassafras bark, dulcamara, oak bark, tannic acid, alnus (boiled in buttermilk), carbolized olive oil, sodium bicarbonate, borax, alum curd (especially to be used near the eyes), and perhaps the best of all, solution of ferrous sulphate (green vitriol). Sugar of lead (lead accetate) has long been a favourite agent for the relief of this trouble, but as it has most frequently been applied with water, it has very often failed to give relief. It has now been shown that a solution in weak alcohol (50 to 75 percent) gives immediate and permanent relief. Occasionally, zinc and copper sulphates, oxalic acid, potassium chlorate, and other salts are effectual. Echafolta has recently been extolled in this affection.
All treatment should be accompanied with a light, cooling regimen, and cooling purgatives or diuretics. The bruised leaves of the Collinsonia canadensis, externally, and an infusion of the Verbena urticifolia, internally, have been successfully used in internal or external poisoning by these plants. A solution of caustic potash, sufficiently strong to render the skin soapy, has been advised as a local application. Sodium carbonate, sodium sulphi chlorinated lime, weak ammonia solution, and lime-water have been similarly employed.
Internally, administered in small doses, Rhus Toxicodendron is slightly stimulant, increasing the renal and cutaneous secretions, and proving feebly laxative. Employed in paralytic states it is reputed to have effected a return of sensation and power of movement, the good effects being ushered in with a sensation of prickling and burning, with twitchings of the affected parts. Large doses occasion stupefaction, or a sort of intoxication, exhibited by vertigo, impairment of the special senses, pupillary dilation, chilliness, sickness at the stomach with thirst and burning pain, and a feeling of constriction in the temporal regions. The pulse becomes slow, irregular and small, the activity of the skin and kidneys increases, weakness, trembling, and fainting occur, and sometimes convulsions ensue. A pint of rhus berries induced drowsiness, stupor, delirium, and convulsions in two children who partook of them. The infusion of the root taken internally is asserted to have produced the characteristic local eruptions besides producing a harsh cough, scanty urine, and severe gastro-intestinal symptoms. Rhus Toxicodendron is one of our best medicinal agents. Its range of application, specifically considered, is only excelled by few drugs. It is an ideal sedative, controlling the circulation, and acting primarily and most pronouncedly upon the nervous system. Fortunately specific medication does not require the enumeration of special diseases to show when and where a remedy should be employed. Indeed, the action of rhus is best understood by its fitness for conditions rather than for certain disease condition groups which we know as particular diseases. The general specific indications and uses for rhus are: The small, moderately quick and vibratile pulse, especially exhibiting sharpness in stroke and associated with burning sensations. There is a peculiar nervous erythrism which always indicates it. The sick infant requiring rhus, sleeps disturbedly, frequently starting suddenly from out its slumbers, and uttering a shrill cry (cry encephalique) as if from fright. Many of these conditions are met with in the cerebral irritation of children suffering from cholera infantum and other summer bowel troubles an din cerebro-spinal meningitis. The circulatory disturbance requiring rhus upon which the nervous phenomena chiefly depend is usually localized and not general; small areas of the brain or nerve centres only may have a disturbance of the blood supply. As a rule the marked restlessness is all out of proportion to the a;…..nt circulatory derangement. Frontal pain, and more especially if confined to the left orbit, and sharp in character, is a prominent indication for this drug. The rhus tongue is reddened on the tip and edges, and even may take on the strawberry character, typical of gastric irritability, typhoid, and scarlatinal states. Associate with the kind of pulse mentioned, and with tympanites, brown sordes and reddened mucous surfaces, and the indication is still more direct. Discharges of an acrid character, and ichorous flow from tissues which seem to disappear by mere drainage, are further guides to its use. It is a certain remedy for vomiting when the tongue is of the kind above referred to. In fact, great unrest with vomiting is one of the most direct indications for its selection. Pain of a burning character, whether deep or superficial, is relieved by rhus quicker than by any other agent. It may be of the head, abdominal or thoracic viscera, of the urinary organs, of the eyes, or of the skin, no matter where the pain or what the name may be, neuralgia, rheumatism, erysipelas, pleurisy, or cystitis, etc. If there be burning, and if of the surface an erysipelatoid redness, rhus will cure. Rheumatic pain, aggravated by the warmth of the bed, is usually relieved by it. It is more valuable in acute than chronic rheumatism and is serviceable in rheumatic paralysis and articular stiffness after rheumatic attacks. It is particularly useful to control the feeling of restlessness of rheumatic subjects. rheumatic toothache, aggravated by warmth or warm liquids, is relieved by it. It is a valuable drug in the bowel disorders of infants, as diarrhoea and typhoid dysentry, with head symptoms, and in typhoid and other fevers, such as remittent and intermittent gastric fever, and especially when typhoid symptoms are present. It is a fine remedy in cholera morbus.
Rhus is a valuable agent in pneumonia, bronchitis, la grippe, and phthisis, when the patient is extremely irritable and suffers from gastric irritation. With the small wiry pulse as a guide it controls that restlessness and delirium in adynamic fevers, which is probably caused by irritation and local hyper-vascularization of limited areas in the cerebral and other nerve centers. It is indicated in typhoid pneumonia, with red, glazed tongue, and offensive muco-purulent expectoration. Uncontrollable, dry, spasmodic, and tickling cough is frequently relieved by it. Rhus is an extremely useful remedy in the various disorders of the skin presenting the characteristic rhus indications. Redness, intumescence, and burning are the indications in cutaneous diseases.
For vivid, bright-red, glistening erysipelas, especially when confined to the upper part of the face, with marked puffiness, it is one of the most successful of remedies. In fact in acute inflammations of the skin it is often more serviceable than aconite and veratrum. It is of great service in herpes where there are burning, itching, and exudation of serum. Eczema, pemphigus, and many irritable and inflammatory skin affections are relieved by it when redness, intumescence, and burning are prominent symptoms. Associated with iron it has proved useful in purpura hemorrhagica. Erythematous and erysipelatous inflammation of the vulva, with burning pain, and the itching and vulval irritation following micturition, are permanently relieved by rhus. In the exanthemata, as in all zymotic diseases, rhus appears to exert a special antizymotic influence, for which it may be given in scarlatina and measles where the vital powers are greatly depressed, and in cariola, with livid color of the surface and foul discharges. Tumid, reddened, and glistening enlargements, and ulcerations with red glistening margins, syphilitic or non-syphilitic, likewise call for rhus. In the ulcerative forms the parts seem to melt away without sloughing. It is of much value in parotitis, and in swelling of the submaxillary gland with great induration few remedies are better (Locke). Its constitutional effects are often manifested in carbuncle and carbunculous furuncles. In ocular therapeutics rhus is an important drug. It is sometimes administered to prevent inflammatory action after cataract operations. Palpebral oedema, with marked redness is relieved by it, while neuralgic and other pains in the globe of the eye, an daggravated by motion and warmth are often banished under its use. Acute and subacute forms of conjunctivitis are relieved by it on account of its special affinity for the blood vessels of the orbit. In the catarrhal ophthalmia of scrofulous children with strongly inflamed palpebral edges and conjunctivae and marked photophobia and burning lachrymation, the action of the remedy is decided and prompt. There is usually a sensation as of foreign particles, such as sand, etc., in the eye. Rhus has been employed successfully in …..aplegia without any actual organic lesion, and in paralysis of the bladder and of the rectum. In paralytic states, however, it is of little value except in those conditions which follow attacks of rheumatism. Its efficiency in sciatica, however, is admitted by some who think the drug practically valueless as a medicine.
The proper dose for specific effects, and it is scarcely employed in any other manner, is the fraction of a drop of specific rhus, thus: R Specific rhus, gtt. v to xv; aqua, fl3iv. Mix. Dose, 1 teaspoonful every hour in acute disorders; 4 times a day in chronic affections.
1898; Webster; (Antiseptics, Antizymotics, Correctives)
This remedy has a place in this list on account of its favorable influence in typhoid states, where blood depravation is a leading feature of the disease. It is especially valuable where the typhoid manifestation is accompanied by extreme restlessness. I find it a valuable remedy in the treatment of almost every form of continued fever, as it not only acts as a corrective to blood depravation, but is also an excellent sedative, where the cerebro-spinal centers are especially the seat of vascular disturbance; this should not be one of pronounced general excitement of which the circulatory system partakes as a whole, as in the case of gelseminum – marked by the full bounding pulse, but one of local irritation, with, perhaps, not much disturbance of the sympathetic system. In the rhus case the pulse may be slightly disturbed, wiry, perhaps, to some extent, but the patient is restless out of proportion to the general circulatory disturbance, uneasy, irritable, the eyes are bright, and there is often pain in the frontal region. The tongue is often an additional guide here, for with these symptoms, this organ will usually be pointed, with reddened tip, and may be tremulous when protruded. The strawberry tongue is a good indication for the use of rhus, for the other conditions named are pretty certain to attend. Vomiting, in such conditions, finds no more reliable specific than rhus.
Rhus is especially a remedy for children, combined with aconite. Low forms of cholera infantum and cerebro-spinal meningitis are very apt to require it.
The naming of diseases, however, is a bad method of indicating the places for remedies, for conditions are what we should aim at in prescribing, and not names. However, in some conditions names may convey as good an impression as any other description. Erysipelas, for instance, might be referred to as an example, and here is where rhus tox. has won many laurels, especially when the disease involves the head or face, for which parts it exerts a special affinity, though the plastic effect is not an exclusive one, for the depravity of the fluids is manifestly corrected by it when other parts are invaded.
Rhus is often needed in grave cases of bronchitis and pneumonia, in dysentery, rheumatism and other diseases, as well as in the continued fevers, including the exanthemata. With the indications marked, the disease need not be named to create a place for it, even if the case be a chronic one.
Form for Administration – The specific medicine.
Dose – Add ten to fifteen drops to half a glass of water, and give a teaspoonful every one or two hours.
1898; Webster; (Muscles)
There is considerable doubt as to the affinity of rhus tox. for muscular structure. Hughes suggests that its ?action is mainly upon fibrous tissues – tendons, fasciae, sheaths of nerves, etc. – and perhaps the muscles.?
It has seemed to me that rhus is very much overestimated as a remedy for rheumatism. I have failed to derive much benefit from it, though I have administered it many times in what seemed appropriate cases. Possibly this is because we possess so many other remedies superior to it in this place. In rheumatism attended by the element of restlessness, where this is a nervous feature, the remedy might find a place, but it would be for the nervous element of the case rather than for the muscular pain.1919: Ellingwood
Synonyms – Rhus Radicans, Poison Oak, Poison Ivy.
Locality – North America .
Constituents – Toxicodendric Acid, fixed oil was, tannin, mucilage.
Preparations – Specific rhus tox. Dose from one-twentieth to two minims. In the preparation of the specific rhus, the freshly gathered mature leaves are used. It is at first green in color, afterward light-brown or yellowish. It is volatile, and irritating to many. From two to ten drops in four ounces of water is the usual administration. A tincture of rhus is prepared, but it varies according to its manufacture and the quality of the drug used, and is not reliable. Dose, from one-tenth to two minims.
Physiological Action – Most persons are poisoned by handling the poison oak and the several poisonous varieties of rhus – rhus toxicodendron or radicans, rhus venenata and rhus pumilium. It causes an erysipelatous inflammation of the skin, the swelling sometimes being so excessive as to obliterate the features, or the body may become so greatly swollen that the person is unable to move. Internally in poisonous doses of the berries it causes drowsiness, stupor, vomiting, convulsions, delirium, dilated pupils, hurried respiration, pulse at first full and strong, finally small, frequent, feeble. Poisoning by an infusion of the root causes a vesicular eruption, burning in the throat and oesophagus, dry, hoarse cough, nervous twitching and wandering of the mind, construction of the temples, chilliness, nausea, thirst, debility, faintness and convulsions.
It relieves cerebral engorgement by increasing arterial pressure. In minute doses it acts as a cerebral sedative to the overworked and irritable brain and improves its tone and functional activity. It acts somewhat similarly to strychnine in that it produces increased functional activity of terminal nerve filaments and is beneficial in some forms of paralysis.
Specific Symptomatology – In inflammatory fevers with sharp hard pulse; acute inflammation involving the skin, with bright circumscribed redness, extreme soreness or sharp burning pain; extreme redness of local parts inflamed, with great local heat and sharp pain; sharp supra-orbital pain, especially of the left orbit; burning in the eyes with flushed face; inflammation with constitutional impairment, evidenced by a sharp red tongue and deep red mucous membranes. The tongue has a pointed tip upon which the papillae are elongated and pointed. In subacute or in chronic disease also with the above specific evidences, it is demanded.
The differential diagnostic points between rhus and bryonia, are that rhus is the remedy when the patient suffers most when warm and at rest, or when the distress is aggravated by heat, while bryonia is indicated when the distress is increased by motion. One prominent homeopathic writer is authority for the statement that it has direct influence upon the tendons, sheaths of the nerves and fasciae, hence its influence in rheumatism. Restlessness seems to be a leading indication for rhus, as a specific agent. Whether it be a meningeal irritation or “rheumatism,” the patient shows this same symptom. In many respects in its indications rhus is the opposite of belladonna.
Therapy – The indications for this remedy are present in acute erysipelas to a marked degree, especially in erysipelas of the head and face, or that involving loose cellular tissue. If it be given in the first stages of this disease the symptoms abate rapidly. If typhoid symptoms be present in erysipelas it is an excellent agent, its influence being marked upon typhoid conditions. It is useful in typhoid fever and in typhoid conditions complicating acute inflammations. It seems to exercise the influence of a special sedative in these cases when aconite and veratrum are contraindicated. Sordes with dry red tongue and dry mucous membranes, flushed face, bright restless eyes, with tympanites, all demand rhus. It soothes the cerebral irritation of typhoid; inducing rest and quiet, and controls delirium. It has antiseptic properties also which antagonize the disease processes within the blood. It prevents disintegration of the red blood corpuscles, and increases the vital powers.
In scarlet fever, measles and smallpox the indications for this agent are often conspicuous, and it will be found of first importance, especially if there be great injection of the conjunctiva, swelling of the palpebrae, extreme lachrymation an dphotophobia. In the latter stages of these diseases when the skin is livid, the tongue red, or red and glazed, with offensive breath, and offensive discharges, and with failing vitality, it is demanded.
In acute inflammatory rheumatism the indications for rhus are conspicuous. The agent is often of first importance in this disease. It may be alternated with aconite or other suggested remedy for the fever, or if there be deep muscular soreness, with macrotys. Its value in all forms of rheumatism is great, and cannot be explained on the basis of its physiological action, as the homeopathists obtain excellent results from very minute doses. It is given in chronic rheumatism and to relieve the results of rheumatic inflammation.
In persistent dry, tickling bronchial coughs rhus is a good remedy, whether they be acute or chronic. It is combined with or alternated with bryonia or aconite in capillary bronchitis with these characteristic coughs.
Dr. Hurd claims that when Lagrippe first made its appearance, the first two cases had a guiding symptom that caused him to give full doses of rhus tox. The patient would seize the head with both hands and groan as if he were in agony. This peculiar frontal headache was relieved within an hour by this remedy, establishing a line of investigation for its use.
The use of this remedy in small doses, internally, frequently repeated with rhus poisoning, has long been advised. The experience of the editor has confirmed the belief that it is of benefit.
When gastric or intestinal disorders in children induce cerebral engorgement with great restlessness and flushed face, the specific tongue, mouth and mucous membrane indications being present, rhus is the remedy. These cerebral symptoms may be induced by any inflammatory disease, and successfully cured with rhus. In adults they are found in prolonged adynamic fevers, and often are a serious complication. Rhus will meet other prominent indications often while correcting the brain phenomena.
It has an antispasmodic influence, preventing spasms when induced by cerebral engorgement, or irritation which is of reflex origin or caused by gastric or intestinal irritation, the characteristic indications for the remedy being present. Webster says he values it more highly than gelsemium or lobelia in infantile convulsions, if its indications are present.
In gastro-intestinal disturbances accompanying the inflammatory conditions over which rhus has an especial influence, this agent is a direct sedative. It arrests nervous and reflex vomiting promptly, and vomiting from any cause when the tongue is pointed with reddened tip and edges. The so-called “strawberry tip” directly suggests rhus. In acute abdominal pain, in cholera morbus, with extreme vomiting and spasmodic pain, this agent is valuable.
In local inflammations, induration and swelling tending to suppuration, as of boils, felons and carbuncle, the indications point to this remedy, and given internally its influence is often excellent. In ulcerations with red areas and red edges, in scrofulous indurations and ulcerations, it is useful. In eczematous and erythematous conditions it is of value. It is of service in parotitis and in inflammation of the sub-maxillary glands.
This agent must be used continually, and the prescriber must familiarize himself with all its side influences before he can fully appreciate its great value.
In pruritus of the vulva or other localities where there is erythema, with redness, persistent in some cases, especially with blonde children with eczematous tendencies, or children of a scrofulous diathesis, this agent is most prompt and valuable.
There is a form of eczema, usually acute in character with the inflammatory evidences of burning, redness, itching, and perhaps swelling, that rhus will quickly cure. The homeopathist advises it for these in the second decimal dilution, five drops every two hours.
In any skin disease where there is violent itching, circumscribed redness, burning, swelling, pain and vesication, especially if fever be present, the condition more or less acute as above mentioned in erysipelas or other skin disorders, this remedy is prescribed with success.