Poison ivy (Rhus toxicodendron) is well known for the allergic reactions, caused by an oily resin called urushiol, that it elicits in susceptible individuals who come into contact with it. Given the potential severity and unpredictability of its effects, poison ivy is considered to be a hazard by many. But when seen through the prism of homeopathic medicine, wherever there is an overt poison in nature, so too is there a latent, potential medicine. The alchemist Paracelsus is purported to have said “Everything is poison, there is poison in everything. Only the dose makes a thing not a poison.” In this light, when poison ivy is prepared as a potentized medicine and prescribed according to homeopathic principles, its healing virtues are revealed, and it can be seen for the wonderful healing substance that it is.
Homeopathic Rhus tox is known chiefly by the general public as an antidote for the effects of poison ivy. When used in this way, it is being applied according to the principles of isopathy, i.e. ‘same treats same.’ The idea is that if a substance causes a certain reaction, it can be also be used, given in a highly diluted form, to treat that same reaction. Potentized Rhus tox can, in fact, often relieve even severe cases of skin rashes, eruptions, swelling and difficulty breathing that were brought on by contact with poison ivy. Rhus tox is also taken prophylactically (that is, in a preventative manner) by those who are especially sensitive to the plant’s poison effects. This can significantly reduce, or even completely eliminate, a previously highly sensitive individual’s tendency to develop poison ivy symptoms when coming into contact with the plant.
Homeopathically, Rhus tox is prescribed for a wide variety of ailments and afflictions, only a select few of which we will discuss here. On the mental-emotional level, the Rhus tox patient may appear in a constant state of anxiety, “as if something were going to happen.” They harbour many fears, which often appear suddenly, and are especially pronounced at night and in bed. These fears can include the fear of people as well as the fear of being alone, the fear of evil, of being poisoned or even murdered. The Rhus tox patient can become suspicious of the members of her own family, sensing an impending danger, threat, or attack. They feel helpless, irredeemably forsaken by others. There can be the feeling of isolation and imprisonment, of being handicapped and incapable of extricating oneself from horrible circumstances that are seen as being beyond one’s control. This state can, in some cases, escalate to the condition of mania.
Homeopath Tinus Smits relates that this state can be brought on as a consequence of severe childhood trauma, but further suggests that “The deeper causation of this layer can [also] be situated in past lives. When we are killed in a war, or sexually abused or beaten to death, etc. and we died in great pain and anxiety with hate and resentment, then these feelings are stored in our unconscious mind and one day we get the opportunity to let everything go and to free ourselves.” Whether one believes in past lives or not, Rhus tox is nevertheless an invaluable remedy for treating patterns of deeply held, potentially intergenerational trauma that manifest as a fearful and anxious orientation in the world.
Rhus tox is known as a remedy that can treat ailments that arise as a consequences of excessive fearfulness and the associated feelings of helplessness. These feelings may be kept hidden from others, however, due to the outwardly timid, shy, and self-conscious nature that Rhus tox patients tend to possess. The patient needing Rhus tox can also be extremely superstitious. The combination of anxiety and superstition manifests as an insuppressible restlessness that leads the patient to constantly want to move about.
Children requiring Rhus tox are often incapable of sitting still, tend to be constantly fidgeting, and always moving some part of their body or other. They may also have issues with involuntary urination and bedwetting. Generally the Rhus tox patient is worse when still, and better with initial movement. This is equally true with respect to mental-emotional symptoms (the patient’s fears can be relieved when they go out for a walk in the open air), as it is arthritic and rheumatic complaints, for which Rhus tox is also widely utilized.