Every gardener in the United States faces Toxicodendron Radicans each spring. They may better know this plague as Poison Ivy, but almost everyone knows the itchy rash that comes with unintentional and accidental contact with this plant.
Poison Ivy can come in the form of a shrub, tree, bush, climbing vine, or a trailing ground cover. With its seemingly innocent shiny green leaves clustering in groups of three off of a longer middle stem, poison ivy is often grabbed and pulled during weeding or brushed up against while hiking or walking. Birds and other wildlife nibble the white berries of this plant, and butterflies often land on it to afford protection within its poisonous leaves. Closer inspection of the plant reveals hairy, furry or fuzzy stems as a warning to stay away. The leaves turn red in late summer to early fall, and any cluster of three reddish leaves is a definite sign to avoid contact with the plant during this time.
Poison Ivy protects itself with an oily substance called Urushiol. This oil rubs off on skin, gardening tools, and clothing and stays active for quite some time; the best protection after exposure is to wash clothing and tools and shower immediately after contact with the plant. Some people will never know the annoyance of a Poison Ivy rash, being immune to its effects, but the majority will be affected and in some cases, develop a severe reaction.
Small, itchy red bumps are a sign that you have been in closer contact with Poison Ivy than you ever wanted to be. It is nearly impossible to avoid scratching this rash, but continued scratching will spread the poison on your skin. Luckily, there are some safe home remedies to lessen that maddening itch. Healthiertalk.com lists the following:
Poison Ivy, the dreaded scourge of gardens and woods found in nearly all of the United States, is more than just an unwanted enemy. It is commonly used in home remedies in strongly diluted portions and mixtures to treat arthritis, ringworm, many skin disorders, incontinence, and can even be used for relaxation and stess relief. It is usually mixed with various other herbs when used in home remedies for these disorders, or mixed with alcohol to form an extremely diluted tincture. Urishiol, the thick oil that spreads the poison, is used in some varnishes and as waterproofing for footwear.
If you see a suspicious plant in the garden or along an often hiked trail and suspect it is Poison Ivy, there are many effective commercial sprays available. Do not burn the plant, as Urishiol will become airborne and can be inhaled from the smoke. Use gloves if pulling the plant, and remember to wash the gloves or any other tools used to pull it, as well as your clothes and skin. Be sure to get the roots if you must pull the Poison Ivy plant to ensure that it does not grow back.