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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