Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Poison Ivy

poison ivy in summer
I received a telephone call the other night from a dear young friend who said that he had just returned from his doctor's office:  he  had contracted a severe case of poison ivy.  He was concerned about a  secondary infection  because of all the scratching that may break the skin. He learned that poison ivy is not contagious; however, fluid from your skin will spread the rash on your own body.

The poison ivy is not an easy plant to detect and it changes appearance and color with each season.  I learned early on to keep my eyes open for plants with three shiny spoon shaped leaves which are often serrated. When walking in the woods even on the Back Forty, I am always on the lookout for thick brown and hairy twisted runners wrapped around trees but poison ivy also grows as shrubs.

I know first hand that poison ivy along with poison oak and poison sumac are prevalent in West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland.  The poison ivy, the poison oak, and the poison sumac belong in the cashew family.  Eating cashew nuts will strengthen the effects of these poisonous plants. There is hardly any distinction made between the poison oak and poison ivy in the Reader's Digest's The North American Wildlife (1982).

The poison ivy grows along ditches and in hedgerows.  Sometimes, people burn these hedgerows and yard debris.  Hopefully they are aware that the smoke from poisonous plants will also cause you to break out into a rash if you are sensitive to the poisons.

The poison ivy can easily be mistaken for Virginia Creeper that has five serrated leaves. " Leaves of three?  Leave it be.''  The poison ivy may be lurking among the grass around lakes and streams as well as along trails in woody areas, even on the Back Forty.

Sometimes in nature, there is an antidote nearby the troublesome plants.  In the case of poison ivy, there is the jewelweed that grows by my friend's garage among other places.  It is an upright plant with healthy green leaves and often orange/red/yellow flowers that can be made into a poultice and applied to the itchy areas caused by the poison ivy.

The ol' timers in the first book of the popular The Foxfire Book from the early 1970's recommend that you rub "the infection with the inside of a banana peel."  Eat the banana; it is rich in potassium.  Furthermore, they suggest that you "apply the water drawn from cooked oatmeal."  These remedies make sense to me.

Some people may indeed have a severe reaction (itching, swelling, and a rash) to the poison ivy, just like my friend, and to seek medical help is the prudent thing to do and I am the first to urge you to do so.

A good source for checking out poison oak, symptoms, and treatment is the

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