Poison Ivy – Fear No More

“I don’t get poison ivy”, I heard as I looked up at the conversation the two brothers were having.  The subject of poison ivy caught my attention and particulary the thought that someone thinks they are immune.  Growing up in the Northeast US I had been exposed to poison ivy all my life, but had never had a problem with it until my early twenties.

“Wanna bet?” The older brother asked.  With his gloves the elder brother crushed up some ivy leaves and smudged them on his little brothers arms.  Thats not good I thought.  Sure enough the next day the un-mistakable rash of poison ivy exposure.  For some people small exposures to poison ivy go unnoticed, but I have talked to too many who claim to be ‘not allergic’ and yet still get a rash from poison ivy to believe anyone can be completely immune.

If you know the science behind poison ivy it makes sense that there is no immunity.  Poison ivy’s leaves, stems and roots secrete an oil called urishiol.  This oil forms a chemical bond with your skin basically changing its make-up where it has been exposed.  Your body reacts to this as if your skin were foreign, so its your own immune system attacking your skin.

The leaves of poison ivy plants have three leaflets and the middle leaflet will have a longer stalk then the other two on the sides.  For identification purposes if you are a novice outdoorsman or camper you should follow the old adage ‘leaves of three let it be’ (however other poisonous plants have more than 3 leaves), but familiarizing yourself with as many good pictures as you can will help.  Also knowing where it grows will help limit exposure.  One of the most common places to find poison ivy is in ditches.  When brush and vegetation is cleared away, poison ivy is often the first plant to regrow.  On the edges of fields and tree lines is another good place to find poison ivy, it grows abundant anywhere there has been brush cleared.  However, it is important to know it can grow anywhere in the forest, around swamps and trails as well as the middle of hardwood grove.

If you are exposed to poison ivy you have about a 45 minute window to rinse it off with soap and water or a product like ‘Ivy Wash’.  If that is not an option there is a good natural remedy.  It is called jewel weed.  The great thing about jewel weed is that it is famous for growing near poison ivy.  The exception is that jewel weed will not grow in ditches and other places with high sun exposure.  In early spring, before the flowers bloom, it can be very hard to identify jewel weed.  When in bloom it is easy to identify this plant with its orange flower.  When rained on the water will form droplets on its leaves looking like jewels and giving the plant its name.  If you find some jewel weed, mash it up and rub it on the exposed area, the sooner you treat an exposure the better.


Jewel Weed

If you get a rash that is unbearable a doctor will prescribe prednisone.  Prednisone is a harsh cortico-steroid with many side effects.  It is great for treating poison ivy because it takes over for immune system (that is attacking your skin) and kills the rash.  This is usually a last resort.

Do not take poison ivy lightly, at best it can be irritating and keep you up at night, at worst it can incapacitate you and even cause loss of vision. Educate yourself.

Things Mentioned in this Article

Ivy Wash


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