Beware of Poison Ivy … a Gardener’s Foe

What Is Poison Ivy?  It is a native plant that is food to many birds and many animals. (This is mentioned in case you were wondering why it exists and what good it does.) It can take many forms; most people think of it as a vine rambling up trees. It can also be a ground cover vine weaving its way through grass, weeds and planting beds. It is a three- leaf, waxy green plant that is easily identified. It is also a perennial which means it resurfaces year after year. If you have the misfortune of coming in contact with it, it may leave you with an itchy rash you won’t forget.

You get the rash from poison ivy by coming in contact with urushiol. Urushiol is the oil that flows within the leaves, stems and roots of the plant and on the skin of its berries. This oil has a long life. If you walk through a patch of poison ivy, and put your work boots away for the winter, then put them back on in the spring, the oil that is clinging to your boots can still infect you. It can last for many years, leaving its residue on tool handles, clothing, shoes or boots.

Urushiol Oil Is Potent.

  • Only 1 nanogram (billionth of a gram) is needed to cause a rash
  • 1 to 5 years is normal for urushiol oil to stay active on any surface including dead plants
  • Derived from urushi, Japanese name for lacquer

What Should You Do If Are Exposed To Urushiol?

Once you realize that you have been exposed to poison ivy and urushiol, wash the affected skin with soap and water.  Fels Naptha brown soap is good if you have it on hand. There is a product on the market called Tecnu, which is specifically for poison ivy and it is applied directly to dry skin and rubbed in for two minutes before it is washed off with water. If the rash or blisters appear, Band-Aid Anti-Inch Gel has been very effective for some victims of poison ivy. Since not everyone reacts the same to poison ivy, there is no sure remedy that will help everyone. A pharmacist would certainly give a recommendation. If the symptoms are extremely severe, you should seek a physician’s advice.

What Should You Do to Get Rid Of Poison Ivy?

Organic herbicides such as acid based Burnout or Weed Pharm work well on the leaves of young plants, but they are not systemic and will not kill the roots. If you choose to use organic herbicide, you can try pouring boiling water on the roots. Never burn poison ivy or use a flame weeder as you can get the rash in your lungs from the smoke.

If you plan to cut a vine from a tree or pull out vines from the ground, you should protect yourself by wearing a long sleeve shirt, long pants, tall rubber boots, surgical gloves on your hands and thick rubber gloves over them. Have heavy-duty plastic garbage bags at the ready and place the vines in the bags. It is a good idea to wash the thick rubber gloves while they are still on your hands with Tecnu as described above, following with rubbing alcohol. Remove the thick rubber gloves and keep the surgical gloves on and wipe down the rubber boots, shears and shovel handle with rubbing alcohol using rags or paper towels that will be discarded. Remove the boots and surgical gloves and wash your hands thoroughly with Tecnu, followed by rubbing alcohol. Wash clothes separately from other laundry. Remember … urushiol is tricky stuff; it is better to be safe than sorry.

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