Thursday, July 08, 2021

3 Categories of Skin Issues, Part 3 - Astringent Teas

Jamie Jackson
Originally published in The Essential Herbal Magazine 2017

Astringent teas work great for poison ivy, other contact dermatitis and some bites.  For example just pulling ragweed can result in a burning of the skin very similar to poison ivy, but can be worse depending on how allergic you are.  The myth is that this reaction only occurs in men, but I assure you that’s not true.  My favorite astringent tea for this is peach leaf.  Most of us are taught from the beginning that for poison ivy turn to jewelweed.

The problem with using jewelweed for me is that it doesn’t grow where my poison ivy grows, as most books state, and it’s rather hard to find.  Jewelweed works great fresh or brewed into a broth and then frozen into cubes for later use.  Neither of which is convenient when you don’t have a freezer, when jewelweed isn’t in season or can’t be found. For a time I used sweetfern (Comptonia peregrine, a deciduous shrub) brewed into a strong tea.   

By Fungus Guy - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

This is fantastic, however it’s not native here and I couldn’t get it to grow.  

One night sitting up at 3am miserable with poison ivy and out of sweetfern, I looked through the window at the peach tree.  I knew it would work and it was fantastic!!!  For the serious reactions I get, peach leaf tea has worked better than all prior remedies tried and that is especially true of steroids.  Another thing I love about it is that it’s easy to dry keep on hand all year.

That is helpful for those winter bouts of poison ivy from bringing in fire wood. I did find that the spring harvested peach leaves didn’t work.  The leaves from my particular peach tree aren’t useful for skin issues until they are kissed by summer heat.  It’s possible that different peach trees have different levels of effectiveness and strength.  I dry the leaves at around 110 degrees till completely crumbly, then store in a glass jar.

Bring a jelly jar’s worth of water to boil, turn off the heat and put in about 2 tsp of dried crumbled peach leaves, cover and let it steep about 20 minutes, strain and cool.  If you don’t have any dried, then chop up a fat handful of fresh leaves.  Apply with a cloth or paper towel as often as it itches.  Keep the jar in the fridge between uses.  At some point the poison ivy rash will turn from orange/ pink, pustule oozing skin to red, dry and healing.  As soon as that patch of skin turns “new skin” red and dry, stop using the astringent tea in that area so as to stop any further drying out.  Keep in mind poison ivy can take 10 days to fully express itself, so when you are treating it the first few days, also treat all the surrounding skin and anywhere else you think you may have come in contact with it. The first day you’ll need to apply frequently, but as the day goes on and in the subsequent days, the frequency becomes less and less.  Use plantain salve on the new dry skin that appears. 


Now for the reason I wanted to write this… super chiggers.  There is a bug here that causes a bite similar to chiggers (red bugs) and that’s what most people think it is.  I’m not convinced.  It likes to bite around the ankles when you are not wearing socks and when I have on sandals, it bites the skin not covered by shoe.  This is completely opposite of a chigger who needs tight clothing or a shoe to push against in order to bite.  These bites are also completely annoyed by plantain salve, again the opposite of chigger bites which are soothed by the salve. 

They aren’t fleas, no-see-ums, sand ticks or any other bug I’ve researched. The bites always come in mass abundance and destroy the foot, ankle or if you have on socks and shoes, the upper calf area.  Peach leaf tea is a MIRACULOUS healer for these bites.  It also works better than plantain salve for regular chigger bites too, though salve is more convenient.  I apply every time it itches and after a few applications, the bites will weep orange pus. We’ve tried using an extract, but the alcohol stung and wasn’t as pleasant as the cool tea. 

For poison ivy, contact dermatitis, chigger and “super chigger” bites, a nice oatmeal and Epsom salt bath is helpful. 

Boil 3 cups of water, add ½ a cup of oatmeal and cook for the regular amount of time.  Strain out the oatmeal, saving the liquid and put that liquid in the bath with you along with about a cup of Epsom salts.  The bath should be neither hot nor cool, but just warm enough so that you aren’t cold.  Soak 20 minutes. I’ve heard of so many extreme measures being used to treat poison ivy and that includes severely hot baths, bleach and scrubbing the skin harshly.  Mistreating the skin this way is completely unnecessary and could lead to infection.  Be gentle with yourself. 

Sunday, July 04, 2021

3 Categories of Skin Issues, Part 2 - Vinegars

Jamie Jackson
Originally published in The Essential Herbal Magazine 2017

are great for burns and bee, wasp or hornet stings. 
From Susun Weed I learned to roll up burdock leaves like a cigar and put them into a quart jar of raw unpasteurized apple cider vinegar overnight or until they soften.  Store them in the vinegar until they break down, which takes a long time. 

For wasps stings, the relief is instant.  You can re-use the wraps as long as there is no bodily fluid on them like puss or blood.  They wrap nicely around the hand, arm and leg and stay in place on their own. 
When they dry out, roll them up, put them back in the vinegar and grab another if necessary. We’ve also used these for sprains and bruises.  

Vinegar is also great for sun burns or when stung by a jelly fish. 
Mix half water and half vinegar in a bowl, dip a towel into the mix, slightly wring it out and lay on the burn.  I suppose that would make a nice burn spray.  When the towel is hot, refresh it by dipping back into the bowl. 
I have found this to work in all cases but one and that was a severe sunburn where the top layer of skin had already started peeling off.  In that case the vinegar caused pain and a thin paper towel soaked in cool water was all that could be tolerated to pull the heat out.  Vinegar infused with rose petals for 6 weeks is wonderful for burns, but if you don’t have that, just use raw apple cider vinegar.  

Every pantry should have a bottle. 


Saturday, July 03, 2021

3 Categories of Skin Issues, Part 1 - Salve

Jamie Jackson
Originally published in The Essential Herbal Magazine 2017

One of the first salves I made was a simple plantain salve.  Like most budding herbalists, I learned that plantain was good for cuts, scrapes, bites and dry skin.  Plantain did seem to work for most things when we were in upstate NY and I slathered it on any sort of skin issue I had except poison ivy. 

After moving to property in Missouri that borders a state forest, there is barely a day that goes by that we don’t have some sort of bite, cut or rash to tend to.  I figured out that plantain is wonderful for many things, but not everything.  Even when I wasn’t sure what type of bite or rash I had, they seemed to form patterns and fit into 3 general categories.  I’m not a clinical herbalist or formally trained, so this may be old news to some of you.  But I hope this helps others who have been taught that plantain salve is the be-all and end-all for skin issues.  

 For the most common skin issues, relief seems to fit into the categories of herbal infused oil based salves, raw unpasteurized vinegar or astringent tea.  Fresh poultices have been either a helpful supporter or the first to turn to for all of these categories, but today I’m not focusing on poultices.  

I normally use plantain salve for mosquito bites, small cuts and scrapes and for skin issues that initially fell into another category, but have almost healed.  The salve helps when you have a few chigger bites, splinters and for some stings if it’s all you have handy.  It’s nice for people with dry nostrils who use saline spray; just a thin layer in the nostrils can remove the urge to spray.  Plantain salve in the nose is also helpful when having an allergy attack. It doesn’t stop the sneezing, but slows it down while waiting for the goldenrod extract to kick in.  People who have dry skin, especially those that have to wash their hands all day, like using the salve, though Shea butter whipped with herbal infused oil and 1 – 2% sunflower lecithin works better.