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Field Remedies For Poison Ivy

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April 23, 2013
Field Remedies For Poison Ivy - 9

The maddening itch of poison ivy is something that most outdoor lovers know all too well. Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are all capable of torturing us at some point during the course of the year. But the shiny, oily springtime leaves of poison ivy seem to be the worst of the bunch.

It’s not hard to avoid these noxious plants if you can spot them, but they seem to defy identification in some cases. Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) can look like a little weed when young and a furry vine when older. It can even resemble a small tree—up to four feet tall—in cases where it has been cut back often. You can get the itch and blisters from touching the plants themselves, but the irritating oils can also hitch a ride on your boots, your tools, and even your pets. Pick up somebody’s hatchet after they chopped poison oak, or pat the dog on the head after he rolled in poison sumac, and you’ll get the itch just the same. Burn some of these plants by accident or on purpose, and everybody around that fire will be going to the hospital soon.

So how does this skin irritant work? Ivy, oak, and sumac contain a substance called urushiol, a clear liquid compound found in all parts of the plant. Urushiol binds to your skin cells, creating an allergic reaction of itching, irritation, and sometimes a painful rash in most people who touch it. Some rare folks are completely immune to this substance. Lucky for them.

So what do you do if you come into contact with poison ivy? Washing with soap and water are of some help, especially when done immediately after exposure. If soap and water are lacking where you are, try a traditional native plant remedy, which I have used successfully on many occasions. Look for jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) in moist and shady areas, and crush the juicy, purplish stalk into a slimy paste. Briskly scrub this snotty-looking mush all over the skin where it came into contact with the irritant. After two minutes, wash off the jewelweed with clean water. If you use the jewelweed within 30 to 45 minutes of poison ivy exposure, you should have little to no reaction. If it took more time to find jewelweed, you can still experience some relief by using jewelweed as a wash. If you already have blisters and itch, then you got into the ivy yesterday. Jewelweed will cool the itch, but calamine lotion will work just as well at that point.

If you can’t find jewelweed, try crushed leaves and stems of chickweed (Stellaria media) and crushed leaves of plantain (Plantago major or P. lanceolata). These two will help to heal the blisters and relieve the itch if you find yourself without calamine, and must rely on weeds to provide your medicinal compounds. Plantain leaf paste also works well on bee stings and other venomous bites. Just for clarification, the banana-like fruit at the grocery store is no relation to the lawn weed plantain.

For more fun with poison ivy, you can visit http://poison-ivy.org to see some hideous pictures of infected skin and eyes swollen shut, and learn some neat facts about these devilish plants.

Got a way to beat the itch? Please share it in the comments.

Comments (9)

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from gardengirl 5/10/2013 at 11:27pm

I have always scrubbed it rather aggressively, and then wiped with bleach, being very carelful to get every spot. Usually gone in a day or two. Sad thing was, I never had a good identification of the one that was causing me to break out! Two seasons later, identified the poison ivy as the culprit that was hiding in those weeds...

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from swimmingcat 5/5/2013 at 09:27am

You guys really make it tough to add a comment with your user hostile sign-up. And the password - is that the key to Fort Knox? And now it is accusing me of spamming. If you don't want comments - just say so. I digress.....

The irritating oils from Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, etc can be washed off with gasoline. No smoking obviously. Then wash the gasoline off with liquid dish detergent (the stuff for hand washing dishes, not the stuff for dish washing machines).

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from huntfishtrap 4/27/2013 at 01:04pm

Good tip about the jewelweed. I use it to take the sting out of nettle burns, but I didn't know it would also work for poison ivy.

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from LovesOutdoors 4/26/2013 at 10:48am

I am very allergic to all three poisons ivy, oak and sumac. My medical doctor gives me a needle for it every spring. He also gave me a cream called "Elocon". My Dermatologist gave me "Olux-E". They both do a great job.

If you gave me a choice, would you rather stand in poison ivy patch or in a poisonous snake den, I would take the snake den? Snakes don’t bite unless you move, that stuff will get you with the slightest breeze.

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from larry56 4/25/2013 at 09:29pm

I use fels naptha

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from peteyraymond 4/25/2013 at 07:04pm

Whenever I've accidentally (carelessly) come in contact with poison ivy, I immediately scoop up handfuls of dirt and wash my hands (or other body parts) with it. I don't know if the dirt absorbs the PI oil, but it always seems to work.

Once I've contracted the insidious affliction, however, I always use first aid cream on it. Calamine lotion always seems to make it itchier after it dries, but the first aid cream seems to help a lot better.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from viperstang 4/25/2013 at 02:16pm

Prescription steroids are the last resort and they work. Basically, anything that will dry out your skin takes care of it. I get poison really bad with seeping and I've tried different things over the years. Needless to say I have some scars. What works: bleach, calamine lotion, ivy dry, even a blowdryer, chlorinated pool. Hit it hard. If it comes up in small patches on other parts of your body you know you didn't contaminate, it's in your blood. Time to go to the doctor. The seeping is the worst part.

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from DIRTBALL2 4/25/2013 at 12:23pm

You haven't lived until you have gone through what my Mother considered to be the best possible way to keep her kid's from catching poison ivy! In reality, I thought it was more of a test for my survival skill's! That's because most of my Mother's cure's were far worse than whatever malady she was trying to prevent! First of all we had to completely wash our arm's and leg's with straight kerosene! That was followed by a complete washing of the same area's with that awful, brown soap that she and my Aunt Dorothy made after we had butchered a beef! The whole ritual was completed with a normal bath. As I look back on this fondly, I must grudgingly admit that I never did catch poison ivy! Keith Forsberg, Warrod,MN

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from mapoffla 4/25/2013 at 11:54am

This may not be a lot of help, but it worked for me. Back in 1978 or so, a friend and I went canoeing on the Shenandoah River in VA. I had a sizable patch of poison ivy oozing on my L thigh at the time. It was the first time in a canoe for both of us and we chose a time just after some major rains that caused the river to be muddy and high. As expected, we managed to tip the canoe over. We did manage to catch it and get back in, and finish our trip down river. By the next day, the poison ivy dried up and started healing. This dunking worked better than anything else I ever tried, and I tried a lot. The stuff always seemed to find me when I went into the woods.

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Write a Comment Your comment (200 characters or less):

from mapoffla 4/25/2013 at 11:54am

This may not be a lot of help, but it worked for me. Back in 1978 or so, a friend and I went canoeing on the Shenandoah River in VA. I had a sizable patch of poison ivy oozing on my L thigh at the time. It was the first time in a canoe for both of us and we chose a time just after some major rains that caused the river to be muddy and high. As expected, we managed to tip the canoe over. We did manage to catch it and get back in, and finish our trip down river. By the next day, the poison ivy dried up and started healing. This dunking worked better than anything else I ever tried, and I tried a lot. The stuff always seemed to find me when I went into the woods.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from DIRTBALL2 4/25/2013 at 12:23pm

You haven't lived until you have gone through what my Mother considered to be the best possible way to keep her kid's from catching poison ivy! In reality, I thought it was more of a test for my survival skill's! That's because most of my Mother's cure's were far worse than whatever malady she was trying to prevent! First of all we had to completely wash our arm's and leg's with straight kerosene! That was followed by a complete washing of the same area's with that awful, brown soap that she and my Aunt Dorothy made after we had butchered a beef! The whole ritual was completed with a normal bath. As I look back on this fondly, I must grudgingly admit that I never did catch poison ivy! Keith Forsberg, Warrod,MN

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from viperstang 4/25/2013 at 02:16pm

Prescription steroids are the last resort and they work. Basically, anything that will dry out your skin takes care of it. I get poison really bad with seeping and I've tried different things over the years. Needless to say I have some scars. What works: bleach, calamine lotion, ivy dry, even a blowdryer, chlorinated pool. Hit it hard. If it comes up in small patches on other parts of your body you know you didn't contaminate, it's in your blood. Time to go to the doctor. The seeping is the worst part.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from peteyraymond 4/25/2013 at 07:04pm

Whenever I've accidentally (carelessly) come in contact with poison ivy, I immediately scoop up handfuls of dirt and wash my hands (or other body parts) with it. I don't know if the dirt absorbs the PI oil, but it always seems to work.

Once I've contracted the insidious affliction, however, I always use first aid cream on it. Calamine lotion always seems to make it itchier after it dries, but the first aid cream seems to help a lot better.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from larry56 4/25/2013 at 09:29pm

I use fels naptha

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from LovesOutdoors 4/26/2013 at 10:48am

I am very allergic to all three poisons ivy, oak and sumac. My medical doctor gives me a needle for it every spring. He also gave me a cream called "Elocon". My Dermatologist gave me "Olux-E". They both do a great job.

If you gave me a choice, would you rather stand in poison ivy patch or in a poisonous snake den, I would take the snake den? Snakes don’t bite unless you move, that stuff will get you with the slightest breeze.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from huntfishtrap 4/27/2013 at 01:04pm

Good tip about the jewelweed. I use it to take the sting out of nettle burns, but I didn't know it would also work for poison ivy.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from swimmingcat 5/5/2013 at 09:27am

You guys really make it tough to add a comment with your user hostile sign-up. And the password - is that the key to Fort Knox? And now it is accusing me of spamming. If you don't want comments - just say so. I digress.....

The irritating oils from Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, etc can be washed off with gasoline. No smoking obviously. Then wash the gasoline off with liquid dish detergent (the stuff for hand washing dishes, not the stuff for dish washing machines).

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from gardengirl 5/10/2013 at 11:27pm

I have always scrubbed it rather aggressively, and then wiped with bleach, being very carelful to get every spot. Usually gone in a day or two. Sad thing was, I never had a good identification of the one that was causing me to break out! Two seasons later, identified the poison ivy as the culprit that was hiding in those weeds...

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Write a Comment Your comment (200 characters or less):

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