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Rhus tox is produced from the plant commonly known as poison ivy which grows as

a shrub or a woody vine, spreading all over the countryside as a weed in the Eas
tern USA and Canada. The remedy was introduced into homeopathy by Hahnemann, who
performed a proving which he published in the second volume of his Materia Medi
ca Pura. The proper botanical name is now toxicodendron pubescens, but homeopath
s will stick to the well known name and its abbreviation until all the anomalies
in the naming of homeopathic remedies (and there are many) can be ironed out. I
t is a member of the anacardiaceae or sumach family of plants. Anacardium is rea
lly the only other commonly used member of this family in homeopathy, although t
here are quite a few others in the materia medica which are not so well known.
Describing the plant and its oil leads on to the ideas or themes in the illnesse
s that the remedy made from it might be homeopathically used to treat. The plant
spreads rapidly across uncovered ground and up supports such as trees, via long
stems and aerial rootlets. It takes many different forms, as a vine, a shrub or
a bush and even produces different forms of stem and leaf from the same root-st
ock. Dr Gibson, in his Studies of Homeopathic Materia Medica describes Rhus tox
as a restless plant . This shows a major characteristic theme of the remedy; it is
one of the most restless of remedies.
There is a particular kind of restlessness caused by a stiffness of the neck whi
ch can only be relieved by stretching it and moving the head about. There may be
accompanying headache relieved by the stretching. Pains in general are better f
or heat (eg a hot bath or shower) and worse for cold and damp. Similar modalitie
s apply to the severe lower back pain experienced by some who are helped by Rhus
tox. This also has the characteristic of being better from lying on a hard surf
ace.
As a general symptom, this restlessness can feature in areas other than the purely
physical. If a constant need for motion suggests an external restlessness, so w
e can talk of the restless mind that just can t settle, there is an internal restl
essness. Part of the picture in someone helped by Rhus tox might be restless dre
ams of great exertions like swimming or rowing, or of working hard in their occu
pation or of roaming over fields . Sleep is interrupted too by pains and by anxieti
es or illogical apprehensions that something bad is going to happen. Anxiety mig
ht drive someone out of bed and there may even be fear of going to sleep. In fac
t all symptoms are worse at night, another important general feature. This must
in some part be responsible for the recorded moroseness at night, when bad thing
s from the past come back to haunt the sufferer.
The restlessness can be seen in tossing and turning during fevers. Rhus tox is d
isproportionately highly represented in the sections of the repertory that deal
with chills, fevers and perspiration (which mostly date from the pre-antibiotic
days when the exact pattern of fever was an important observation to make in a s
ick person). It should be thought of when restless states with a high fever part
icularly worsen at night, for example in flu.
Stiffness
A few moments reflection on the nature of the poison ivy oil might help to expla
in the very well known joint and muscular stiffness associated with illnesses wh
ich are helped by Rhus tox. On contact with air and with the skin, a lacquer is
produced. A lacquer is an inflexible, shiny, stiff film. One could image a joint
coated in a lacquer being very difficult to get moving at first, but becoming f
reer with repeated movements. This is exactly the Rhus tox situation. Whenever i
nitial movement is difficult, stiff and painful, but continued movement eases, R
hus tox is likely to be helpful.
In arthritis, this easing will often be followed (perhaps later in the day) by a
worsening again as tiredness begins to take its toll. Rhus tox pain is classica
lly worse in the cold and especially the damp and better for warmth. This sounds

like an awful lot of sufferers arthritis and so Rhus tox is very widely successf
ul in joint problems. It has often been said that it is too easy to give Rhus to
x in arthritis. The detail is the important thing. Careful attention to the stor
y might show most of these features, but actually the pain is better immediately
on movement, rather than there being an initial aggravation before relief. The
remedy Rhododendron might turn out to be more appropriate in this situation. Rea
lly extreme damp sensitivity in the joints ( I can predict the rain the day before
it comes ) could well be best helped by Dulcamara.
If we go on to think about what the general characteristic of stiffness might mean
on a mental plane, we can see that some people who do well with Rhus tox can be
emotionally unbending, with a tendency to hold feelings back; they find it diff
icult to respond to others. In the end, when they are worn out by all the pains,
this can turn into fixed ideas and superstition.
Skin
A very frequent use of Rhus tox is to help blistering skin diseases. The analogy
is with the itchy, painful rash produced by contact of the plant sap with the s
kin of a sensitive individual. Thus, it is a major remedy to help the pain of sh
ingles, which is caused by a herpes virus. Many homeopathically trained GPs use
Rhus tox as their first line treatment for cold sores around the lips, also herp
etic in origin, but any inflamed, intensely itchy rash, especially if there are
fluid-filled blisters (like some forms of eczema) can benefit. The itch is often
better from bathing with scalding hot water.
There are other features which are hard to fit into this analogical approach (lo
oking at the characteristics of the way the remedy substance fits into the natur
al world and comparing it with the way a disease fits into a human life). A feat
ure of Rhus tox is said to be that there may be a bright red tip to the tongue.
On the food desires front, there can be a craving for cold drinks and especially
cold milk.