Flashback Friday: Nature's Itchy Revenge

By Ginger Vaughan
June 28, 2013
Poison Ivy
USDA-NRCS Plants Database

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Misconceptions about poison ivy and poison oak have led desperate sufferers to adopt some pretty bizarre (and totally useless) cures. Finally, researchers have found a substance that may help - some of the time. But the best way to foil the itch is by minding the old saying, “Leaflets three, let it be.”


FLASHBACK FRIDAY: NATURE'S ITCHY REVENGE (from The 1998 Old Farmer's Almanac)


  • Urushiol (yoo-ROO0she-ol) is an oil found in virtually all parts of these poisonous plants, which causes the reaction in humans. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, approximately 85 percent of the population is sensitive to urushiol, making it one of the most potent allergens on Earth.

  • REMEDIES: The road is littered with herbal and home remedies, many of which do reduce swelling and itching, such as the teas and poultices that American Indians and pioneers prepared from jewelweed, chamomile, gumweed, goldenseal, and Solomon’s seal.

  • BIZARRE REMEDIES: Many home remedies also included futile treatments concocted by desperate souls that may have caused more trouble that to cure it: bathing in horse urine, scrubbing with kerosene or gunpowder, and soaking in strychnine, bleach, or ammonia. Contemporary sufferers have been known to apply hair spray, deodorant, and fingernail polish to poison ivy and poison oak rashes in hopes of suffocating the itch.

  • PREVENTIVE: Preventive barrier creams seem to be the hope of the moment. Wood-goers should still march to the traditional chant, “Leaflets three, let it be.”

  • WHAT TO DO IF YOUVE TOUCHED POISON IVY: It it’s within the first three to four hours after exposure, swab the skin as soon as possible with rubbing alcohol, and wash with copious amounts of water. If the rash has broken out, all you can do is treat the symptoms. Use over-the-counter cortisone creams to relieve minor itching.

  • HOW TO GET RID OF POISON IVY AND POISON OAK PLANTS: Because urushiol molecules are carried in smoke, it is never safe to burn poison ivy or poison oak. The plants can be pulled, but broken-off rootlets may sprout again the next year. Even the environmentally conscientious usually resort to chemicals; plant and garden stores carry a number of commercial products.


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The one thing I have used

The one thing I have used over the years is 1/4 cup bleach. Fill cup up to 2/3 full of water. Soak a cloth in this liquid and rub all over the body where you are exposed Immediately, get into shower and shower as usual. this works.

Poison Ivy Preventative

Old timers used mud for various medical treatments, because mud does a good job of absorbing and pulling chemicals and toxins out of one's skin. I have found when I come into contact with poison ivy, if in short order (between seconds and a few minutes) I cover the area with mud and leave it in place for 10 to 30 seconds and then rinse it off, all of the Urushiol Oil on the surface of my skin is removed and I don't end up with an allergic reaction of rash and itching. The key is getting the mud onto the skin as quickly as possible, before the Urushiol Oil has a chance to absorb into the skin.


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