POISON IVY – an all season irritant, not the movie

“Leaves of three, let them be.”

Well, how do you recognize Poison Ivy in the winter or early spring if no leaves are available?  I really wish I had known how a couple of weeks ago.   The purpose of this blog is to educate ya’ll and for me to fuss and complain a little….LOL.  This may be rather long winded so bear with me.

I have never had a problem with Poison Ivy or Poison Oak.  I’ve waded through patches of both and never even had a little bump.  My brother has always been so allergic that if he is even within 10 feet of a plant he will get a rash.  My oldest son is the same way.  Me, I’ve never had a rash from it…..until recently…and boy is payback a bitch.  And I never, EVER want to repeat this again!  I have been suffering from my contact with this plant for over 2 weeks now.  Some days it seems as if it’s going away and then again….maybe not.  It has stressed me out so much that on Friday I woke up with HIVES on my thighs and my upper arms – something else I have never had in all my life.  I have the rash on both of my arms, forearm area all around; on the back of my right leg from above the bend of my knee down to mid-calf, this rash looks like a good 2nd degree burn; and two patches on my inner thighs that appeared a week later.  The one on my leg really doesn’t bother me much unless I touch it or wear long pants.  The stuff on my arms drives me insane….especially at night.

So, how did I get it you ask?  We are cutting down an old, diseased apple tree that is next to the chicken coop.  This tree had/has what looks like an old vine running all the way from roots to top.  This vine was also burrowing into one corner of the chicken coop, underneath the siding.

The vine looked like this:

Old vine running up a tree

Now, I’ve never seen a poison ivy vine in winter, nor one so old.  Usually, what I see is the newer stuff growing on little thin green vines running along the ground or maybe halfway up a tree, but I’d never seen a vine like this one.  I guess I led a sheltered life from ancient poison ivy….LOL.  The little hairy tendrils along the sides help the vine stay attached and climb.  They cling very stubbornly to whatever they are attaching themselves to, be it a tree trunk or vinyl siding on a chicken a coop.

So, here I go, in my ignorance (and stupid belief that I will never “catch” poison ivy), gleefully whacking away at this stubborn vine that has attached itself to the chicken coop and is running merrily along the ground all around it and up into the old apple tree.  I had no idea that this vine was poison ivy.  This vine looks dead, mind you….as dead as any dead plant I’ve ever seen.  Just FYI, never gleefully whack at any plant or dead vine without knowing what you are whacking….sigh.  Lesson learned.  And yes, I was wearing gloves when I was gleefully whacking and pulling on this vine. Those who know me know that I hate to wear gloves when gardening (I like to feel the dirt), but I do wear gloves for this kind of work.  I did have on a short sleeved t-shirt and blue jeans.  I always wash my hands thoroughly whenever I come in from outside.  However, I must have missed washing my arms.  How it got onto the back of my right leg I’ll never know.  I just know that from now on if there is even a remote possibility of me coming in contact with Poison Ivy or Oak I will have on long sleeves and a suit of armor.

Okay, that does it for the bitchin’ and whinin’ ….maybe….LOL.  Now for the Education.

“Leaves of three, let them be.”

The only time this isn’t true is with Poison Sumac, it has 7-13 leaves and with Virginia Creeper which has similar leaves, but has 5 leaflets.    Box Elder and Blackberries have 3 leaflets and are often mistaken for Poison Ivy, but they are not poisonous.  Virginia Creeper  is often found growing right along side poison ivy to add to the confusion.

Box elder and Virginia Creeper

Young Poison ivy plant

The poison ivy vine is just as poisonous as the leaves.  The vines can grow close to the tree with orange, brown or gray tendrils that grow into the bark (see picture above for an old vine) The orange tendrils are poisonous.


Poison Ivy vine with orange tendrils, climbing through my crepe myrtle

The vines also excrete the oil that causes the rash.  This oil is called urushiol. This is some very potent stuff.

Here are some FAQs on Urushiol from http://poisonivy.aesir.com/view/fastfacts.html (This website is an excellent resource for all kinds of info on Poison Ivy, Poison Oak and Poison Sumac).

  • Only 1 nanogram (billionth of a gram) needed to cause rash
  • Average is 100 nanograms for most people
  • 1/4 ounce of urushiol is all that is needed to cause a rash in every person on earth
  • 500 people could itch from the amount covering the head of a pin
  • Specimens of urushiol several centuries old have found to cause dermatitis in sensitive people.
  • 1 to 5 years is normal for urushiol oil to stay active on any surface including dead plants. **** It can also be spread by your animal’s fur, being left on tools, clothing, etc.
  • Derived from urushi, Japanese name for lacquer ( The Japanese put this oil into the gold leaf on the Golden Temple at Kyoto to prevent thieves from stealing the gold – if you were caught, your hands would be red from the rash – hence the phrase “caught red-handed”)

Here are some myths related to Poison Ivy from the same website, http://poisonivy.aesir.com/view/fastfacts.html

  • MYTH: Poison Ivy rash is contagious. FACT: Rubbing the rashes won’t spread poison ivy to other parts of your body (or to another person). You spread the rash only if urushiol oil — the sticky, resinlike substance that causes the rash — has been left on your hands.
  • MYTH: Do not worry about dead plants.  FACT:  Urushiol oil stays active on any surface, including dead plants, for up to 5 years.
  • MYTH: I’ve been in poison ivy many times and never broken out. I’m immune.  FACT: Not necessarily true. Upwards of 90% of people are allergic to urushiol oil, it’s a matter of time and exposure. The more times you are exposed to urushiol, the more likely it is that you will break out with an allergic rash. For the first time sufferer, it generally takes longer for the rash to show up – generally in 7 to 10 days. *****This is true cause I have some rash patches that showed up a week later and it had to have come from my hands on the day I became infected….cause this part of my body was nowhere near that vine!

Do’s and Don’ts

DO NOT cut Poison Ivy – Don’t cut the vines period and never cut vines that hug the tree.  Only cut free-hanging vines and even then, be sure that they are not poison ivy.

DO wash your hands (and anything else the poison ivy may have touched) thoroughly and/or shower.

DO NOT rub your eyes, touch your face or other parts of your body until you have thoroughly washed your hands.

DO clean your tools thoroughly if they have touched poison ivy…wash them thoroughly and be careful what they touch.

So…what do you do if you end up with the rash anyway?  Heck if I know…LOL.  I have read so much stuff on how to treat poison ivy over the past 2 weeks its mind boggling.  The consensus is that nothing really works 100% and not everything works for everybody.  I have tried every remedy out there (almost) including bleach in the bath water.  If you are HIGHLY sensitive to this stuff you should probably go to your doctor or the ER.  Once there they will more than likely load you up with antihistamines like Benedryl and steroids such as Cortisone.  There is a “cure” scrub on the market called Zanfel that supposedly removes the Urushiol after it bonds to your skin.  Hmmmm.  It costs around $40 at WalMart.  For a small tube.  Right now, I am without insurance so a visit to the medical doc has not been in the picture and $40 for a small tube of stuff isn’t either.  TinMan has tried his best to help me but it seems that Urushiol is particularly stubborn and once it bonds with your skin you just have to ride it out and treat the symptoms.  Stop the Itch.  If ya’ll figure it out or have remedies not listed here, please let me know.  Please.

Another remedy that is plant based/natural include those that are made from Jewel Weed (impatiens capensis).  Jewel Weed is often found growing around Poison Ivy.  The sap from the stem can be applied to the rash and it will aid in drying it up and decreasing the itch.  (Unfortunately, it’s only out and about in summer) I couldn’t find any products with this ingredient locally, but I know that Burt’s Bee’s makes a soap from Jewel Weed.  I am now the happy owner of SEEDS for this plant, however….LOL.

Another plant based remedy is from a plant called grindelia robusta . It is a member of the daisy family and to me, looks like a yellow thistle.  This is the main ingredient in a scrub that I used made by Tecnu.  This scrub helped some, but after a few days it’s effectiveness seemed to wear off.   I am also the happy owner of SEEDS for this plant too.

There are many, many remedies out there.  I found that what has worked best for me is taking baths with oatmeal and baking soda in the water.  This has a soothing and drying effect on the rash.  I take about a cup of quick oats and cook them like I would if were going to eat them.  Draw a bath of warm water and add about a ½ – 1 cup of baking soda (depends how big your tub is).  Once the oatmeal is soft, pour the whole pan into the bathwater then soak in this for 15-20 min.  While you are soaking take handfuls of the oatmeal and apply it to the rash as you can and let it sit for a minute or two.   I have also taken some of the water from cooking the oatmeal and put it in a jar to use for dabbing onto the rash when I’m out of the tub.

Nothing however seems to really get rid of the itch for very long.  How long does it last?  That is also a good question and depends on you and your sensitivity to the oil.  The best guesses out there are anywhere from 1 to 4 weeks or longer.

How do you get rid of the vine?

If you are like me you don’t like to use chemicals around your garden or plants…even poison ivy.  Whatever you spray to get rid of it will likely contaminate and kill everything else around it as well.  I searched for some all natural remedies and found a few out there that cost a bundle to buy.  One was made with Clove Oil.  This one sounds the most promising though, it was listed on several websites and the ingredients are common to most homes.

1 cup salt
8 drops liquid detergent
1 gallon vinegar

Combine salt and vinegar in pan.  Heat up to dissolve salt.

Add detergent.

Apply with spray bottle.

According to the websites, this will kill all plants, so be careful not to kill your other plants.

****Once I try it out I will let you know how it works.  ( I may add some clove oil to it for good measure!)

So, the moral of this long winded story is:  Stay away from Poison Ivy!! LOL

Learn to differentiate it from other vines and lookalikes.  Wash, wash, wash any exposed skin very well, usually just plain soap and water will do.  And if you come down with the rash anyway…ah well,   you just have to suffer and deal with it the best way you can….Medical doc, herbal/natural remedies, sheer willpower to not scratch!!

And learn to wear long sleeves, long pants, gloves and that suit of armor when we go out gleefully whacking at brush and vines….even if it is 80 degrees outside.

Hope this has been helpful!!



One response to “POISON IVY – an all season irritant, not the movie

  1. great info Stormy…thanks for sharing. I still dont think I’d notice it if it bit me on the butt though…I just don’t pay attention when I’m walking in the woods. The good part is if I do indeed discover it…I’ll know how to get rid of it!

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