A Jewel for Poison Ivy


Poison ivy, a ubiquitous woody vine, is responsible for many people avoiding the brushy outdoors.  The culprit is a chemical called urushiol.  The toxin can bind to skin proteins within 15 minutes.  Once that happens, soap and water won’t remove it.  How the body reacts to urushiol determines the severity of the dermatitis.

Some people have no reaction at all and are for all practical purposes resistant to poison ivy, oak, and sumac.  The same toxin is present in all three, though exposure to poison sumac is much more severe.  According to most estimates about one person in 10 is resistant or nearly so.

Here’s where most people get confused.  The toxin is present in the plant at any time of the year.  It can even be spread by the smoke if plants are burned.  Urushiol can be spread from pets and clothing to other people and other clothing that have contacted it.  What can’t happen is the toxin cannot be spread from person to person once it enters the body.  In other words, once you get the rash you can’t rub it on someone and give them the same symptoms.

There are numerous over the counter remedies to treat the dermatitis, which can last as long as a month.  Treatment can be costly and stain clothing.  Other solutions might be in your backyard.

Jewelweed, (Impatiens capensis), is very common in moist shady areas around here, usually near water.  It has a yellowish orange flower that resembles domestic impatiens.  The stems are also brittle and juicy, just like the impatiens in flower gardens.  This juice is what will cure the problem.

Crush the stems and rub the juice on the affected area immediately after thoroughly washing exposed skin with soap and water. If soap isn’t immediately available, flush the skin with jewelweed juice.  It will help relieve symptoms even after the rash has developed.

If you happen to venture into other parts of the country where poison ivy and its relatives are common, don’t despair.  Jewelweed can be found in every state and province of Canada east of the Rockies.  Around here it begins to emerge in mid-April and strongly resembles the common impatiens.

There is an old wives tale that states where poison ivy grows so will jewelweed.  This is not entirely true.  Poison ivy can tolerate much drier soil and sunnier conditions than jewelweed.  In these sunny, more open areas there is also another poison ivy solution.  Common broadleaf plantain, (Plantago major), also relieves the symptoms of urushiol as well as the swelling and irritation from bee stings.  Simply crush the leaves, especially the petioles (stem-like portion of the leaf) and massage the juice into the affected area.

Broadleaf plantain is that ugly lawn weed with the spike-like inflorescence and the rosettes of round to oval leaves that lay flat against the turf.  While not a favorite in lawns, plantains are edible as a pot herb and not all that bad when young.   Just be careful not to eat them if you have treated your yard with a broadleaf herbicide.

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us).

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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8 Responses to A Jewel for Poison Ivy

  1. It’s really a nice and useful piece of information. I’m happy that you just shared this useful info with us. Please stay us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Its like you read my thoughts! You appear to grasp a lot approximately this, such as you wrote the guide in it or something. I feel that you can do with a few p.c. to drive the message home a bit, however instead of that, this is wonderful blog. An excellent read. I’ll definitely be back.

  3. i have only had posion ivy once and i hated every minute of it. I am so happy that they have stuff to help it go away.

  4. susiehedley says:

    I remember you telling us how once poison ivy enters the body it’s not contagious. That’s very useful information. I didn’t know Jewelweed juice helps cure the problem and think that’s absolutely great.

  5. Carina says:

    Inccredible points. Great arguments. Keep up the amazing effort.

  6. Barb says:

    Its not my first time tto pay a visit this web page, i am browsing this
    website ddailly and takee fastidious facts from here every day.

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