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Cow Itch- when pretty becomes Painful!

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Perhaps you are familiar with the old adage “leaves of three, let it be”- you might be less familiar with a fairly common plant that causes a rather nasty condition- Cow Itch. In the springtime, you may have seen this vine climbing amongst the trees in your backyard or cascading along fences, sporting gorgeous yellow flowers.


It’s known as the Carolina Jasmine or “Jessamine” (Gelsemium sempervirens). It does not have 3 leaves, but it does have a heady, intoxicating scent that may unwittingly bring you insufferable burning, itch, and pain for several weeks.

Carolina Jasmine is not the only cause of Cow Itch- you can also get this beastly rash from trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) . . .

Trumpet Vine

Trumpet Vine causes Cow Itch

First, it starts with a burning sensation, the skin feels hot to the touch and you’re wondering what you got into- you start thinking, Did I get too much sun? Maybe some windburn? Then, within hours the skin becomes red, inflamed, swollen and extremely itchy.

The area covered in the rash becomes sensitive to both heat and cold. If you go outside and the sun hits it, it starts burning, if you experience a change of temperature- perhaps in the cold section of a grocery store, it starts burning and itching.

Here is a photo of the Cow Itch rash, which was caused by a Carolina Jasmine Flower. I know this for a fact because I went for a walk with my husband and we saw the flowers, I mentioned to him how beautiful they were and how GOOD they smelled and he picked one and handed it to me. I rubbed the dang flower on my cheek, DUH and by the next day my eyes were swollen SHUT and my face looked like this:


It seems no matter what you do it will burn and itch. That’s only Day 1.

By the end of day 2 – it’s become very prominent- you start wondering if you somehow caused it to spread because suddenly, the very small area that you experienced so much grief the day before has tripled or quadrupled in size!

Days 3 & 4: By now you’ve tried just about every remedy you can think of, the burning and itching is intense. NOTHING alleviates it for more than 15-20 minutes at a time. You might have considered going to the doctor- I did. They told me that I had “Contact Dermatitis”.

No kidding doc, I’m not here for your $350 confirmation of what I already know, I’m here for a steroid shot to make this hot mess go away! So I received a steroid shot, which did NOT make the cow itch go away. They gave me steroid pills and a prescription strength “Benadryl” which also did NOTHING to alleviate the intense itching and burning.

Week 3: Here you can see that the stuff has started to weep a bit and dry in cracked little scales, particularly on the chin. It’s still very inflamed, the skin is very tight and feels like botox- there are absolutely no wrinkles left in the skin.


Here’s a shot of a Man’s arm

He was digging some Fence post holes and reached down into the holes to scoop out the dirt. His arm came in contact with Trumpet vine root, which had been broken/cut by the post hole digger. This is 48 hours after the initial contact:


Having been through this a time or twelve! Here are a few remedies that we’ve tried, some with success, some without success.

Things we Tried

Dawn Dish Soap- If you think you’ve come into contact with the plant, immediately wash the area with COLD water and dawn dish soap. Flush with plenty of COLD water. Do NOT use warm or hot water as this causes the pores of your skin to open and allows MORE of the plants’ oils to get into your skin

Milk of Magnesia– the el-cheapo dollar store brand of PLAIN milk of magnesia. DO NOT INGEST IT- It’ll give you the squirts, instead, apply it liberally to the rash with a cotton ball. It will look utterly disgusting like you’re wearing MIME make-up, but it will relieve the intense burning/itching that you will otherwise suffer through.

Apple Cider Vinegar– As a wash, this works wonderfully to force the cow itch to dry up quickly. Be forewarned- this STINGS when you apply it, it burns for at least 10 minutes, but then brings relief from itching for about an hour per application.

Steroids– IF you get More than 1 shot and IF they give you about DOUBLE the dose you would otherwise need for a bad case of poison ivy. Otherwise- the stuff is as useless as teats on a bull.

Blue Star Ointment– this will dry up cow itch and provide relief from the itching, you must apply it at least 3x’s daily for the entire time it takes the rash to go away

Preparation H– if you’re at your wits end and nothing is working- I’ve had good success with using preparation H cream to reduce the inflammation and make the itch go away. It’s not what it’s intended for, but it does work at relieving some of the inflammation.

What Doesn’t Work

Honey- I was told that honey would work to relieve itching, I applied it as a “mask” left it on for about an hour, rinsed it off with cool water. It did NOT make it better, it did make my skin feel like I’d been botoxed!

Bleach- don’t even try it

Onion Slices/Juice– onions have the power to heal burns, so in an effort to give it the old college try, I applied sliced onions to it. It didn’t burn, it didn’t itch, it did feel good, but I suspect that was due to the cooling effect that only lasted while the onions were on there. It didn’t make it heal any faster.

Other little known facts

  • Most doctors/nurses have NO CLUE what this is aside from “contact dermatitis”. We live in the south where Trumpet vine and Jessamine grow rampant and VERY Few people seem to have any clue what-so-ever about its existence. Be prepared for a doctor to ask you over and over again what Foods you are allergic too, what detergent you recently used, and what shampoo & soaps you use.
  • It DOES Spread to other parts of your body via your bloodstream, which means if you have the rash primarily on your arm, it can (and will) show up in little spots elsewhere on your body for no apparent reason.
  • You CAN get a rash from handling tools, equipment, and clothing that the plant has come in contact with. Which means if your spouse or kids have the plants oils on their clothing and you are the one stuck doing laundry you can (and probably WILL) Get a rash from the plant.
  • Dogs and Cats can get the rash and transfer it to their humans by transferring the oils of the plant.


What WORKS Immediately

The following items Cured the cow-itch rash in just under 3 days:

It was bad enough when I went through nearly a full month of HELL trying everything I could think of under the sun, but by the time my poor husband had to suffer through this malady, I’d had enough!

I grabbed several old herb books and decided to put him on the following items on day 3 of his suffering:

  • Niacin (which is Vitamin B3) – 2 (500mg) capsules 2x’s a day. For the sake of clarity- I did NOT give him a multi-vitamin- I gave him B3 ONLY-
  • Vitamin E Oil 2 capsules (400 IU) Swallowed daily, PLUS Puncture several capsules and squeeze the oil directly onto the rash, rub it in gently to cover, once in the morning and again before bed.

In addition to the above, he took Benedryl several times throughout the week for the itching and also applied Milk of magnesia (externally!) sometimes during the day to curb itching.

Here is his arm on Day 6 (scroll back up to see his arm on day 2):



Now for the disclaimer, I am not a Doctor! Taking Niacin while on certain medications is contraindicated, in other words, if you take meds for something- ask your doctor!! I am not providing this as medical information – I am simply telling you what I PERSONALLY have tried and what worked for ME and for my family.

If you’ve experienced this horrendous affliction and tried various remedies, feel free to share your experiences in the comments below!

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