Sunday, March 31, 2013

Coyote Brush for Poison Oak Rash

While recently exploring one of the local canyons in the San Rafael Hills, I waded through a rather large patch of Poison Oak.  It's not that I hadn't noticed that it was there… I hike through Poison Oak regularly.  Of course, I'd developed the uncomfortable rash a few times as a kid while exploring the local hills, but through continued exposure I've developed a pretty good immunity to it.

That fact did not spare me, however, from developing an uncomfortable rash along the inner part of my right forearm a few days after my exposure.  I ignored it for a day or two, but it became increasingly bothersome.  I decided that this would be an excellent opportunity to test out a leaf decoction of Coyote Brush!

"Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West" identifies Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis) as being the primary plant that the Chumash use to treat Poison Oak rash.  Fortunately, I just happened to have an abundance of it growing in my native plant garden at my house.  I made a tea from a small section of it, and applied the warm decoction to the rash on my arm.  I felt immediate relief.  Whereas before my arm had been itching constantly without any provocation, now all of a sudden I only felt it itch when I rubbed against the affected area.  The next morning, the rash had dried up significantly.  A few days later the rash had noticeably faded before it disappeared altogether.

I've often described to others this traditional remedy during native plant hikes I've led for the Arroyo Seco Foundation, and am happy now to be able to teach from experience.  I do not, however, hold a grudge against Poison Oak for giving me an occasional rash.  

I still think Poison Oak is a beautiful plant.  It's also an important source of food and habitat for local wildlife.  Birds eat the berries, and deer forage on the leaves.  The Gabrielino, or Tongva people used the sap from Poison Oak to cure warts and ringworms.  Though many people may not come to love this plant as I have, we should all still learn to respect it.  Poison Oak belongs.  And if you frequent the outdoors with any regularity, I'd recommend planting some Coyote Brush in your yard!


  1. Where can I get Coyote Brush to plant? Theodore Payne?

  2. Yes, I got my coyote brush there… I have a nice ground-cover variety which has grown and spread like crazy! It smells great, too.

  3. Tons of Coyote Brush at Arastradero Park, Palo Alto, CA