My yard is full of poison ivy. Your yard probably has a fair amount too.
Lots of folks are coming into the clinic this summer covered in the telltale red itchy rash. I wanted to share a few things that may help should you suddenly find yourself accidentally holding a fist full of our hairy, itchy friend.
When it comes to poison ivy, avoiding it is your best bet. Here’s a little refresher on how to identify poison ivy. As the old saying goes “leaves of three, let it be.” I feel the Harley String Band puts if best in one of my preschool son’s favorite songs, “Poison Ivy”:
Leaves of three and hairy vine
Send you running for the calamine
Your rash has a rash and your hives are hivey
You been a running in the poison ivy.
Take a good look at what you think is a weed in the garden. Poison ivy is three leaves on a single stalk on a hairy vine with hairy roots. Be careful hiking or exploring in the woods as well. Much to my amazement, I came upon a very well established poison ivy vine that was as thick as a tree branch, wrapped around a tree and growing into the bowers. Eeek!
Why so itchy?
Poison ivy contains an extremely potent substance called Urushiol oil. Even the slightest exposure to this oil can cause a rash or allergic reaction. Urushiol oil is also resilent. It can last over a year on clothing, tools, surfaces, and dead vines – don’t think you are safe just because the poison ivy vines you want to clean out are dead!
Remedies – Jewelweed
Urushiol oil bonds to skin quickly (under 15 minutes). If you wash the exposed area of your body with LOTS of cold water, you may be able to wash away the oil before it bonds and causes a rash.
My personal remedy of choice when dealing with poison ivy is jewelweed. Where there is poison ivy, chances are good there is a patch of jewelweed growing close by. Jewelweed contains a variety of chemicals that actually neutralize Urushiol oil, thus preventing a rash. If you are exposed to poison ivy (or as a preventative measure) break off a few jewelweed stems, crush them between your hands and rub the juice on your skin.
Jewelweed is easy to spot. It has oval leaves growing out of a hollow stalk. The stalk is full of a clear liquid. Once mature, jewelweed blooms with a beautiful orange or yellow flower. When it rains, water beads on the leaves in a way that looks like little jewels (hence the name). This is a picture of the jewelweed in my backyard. It isn’t flowering yet, but if you do a quick online search for jewelweed, you will find all sorts of great flowering jewelweed images.
Unfortunately, poison ivy shows up earlier in the spring then jewelweed, so you may want to have some products on hand that contain jewelweed, or you can make your own jewelweed ice cubes. Jewelweed ice cubes are also very soothing when rubbed on any scratches, bug bites or other outdoor exposure you skin may have acquired. I keep a bag in the back of the freezer just in case.
How to make jewelweed ice cubes
- Harvest enough jewelweed to fill a cooking pot half way.
- Break up the jewelweed stems so they fit in the pot.
- Add enough water to cover the jewelweed plus 1 inch.
- Bring to a boil then simmer for 20 minutes or until the water has reduced by half and turned a yellow/amber color.
- Strain the liquid. Fill a clean ice cube tray with the cooled liquid and freeze.
- Once frozen, remove the ice cubes from the tray and store in the freezer in a plastic freezer bag.
So just in case the Harley String Band comes singing, you have a plan.
Be well and don’t scratch!