If you’re like me – highly allergic to poison ivy/oak, you may cringe at the thought of being exposed to it. As a result of much misery suffered from reactions to urushiol – the oil in the plant which causes the allergic reaction – I’ve tended to steer clear of anything that slightly resembles poison oak/ivy.
As a result of my phobia, for a very long time I avoided virginia creeper. Then, one day I saw my aunt grabbing and pulling vines bare handed. When I told her “watch out, that’s poison ivy!” she laughed and said “no, honey, this is virginia creeper.” She was old school and although I knew she knew what she was talking about, I researched it – just to be sure – just in case…. (Embarrasing, I was born and raised in the country so I ought to just KNOW this stuff.)
First of all, poison oak and ivy has THREE leaves. Virginia creeper has five. The coloration is so close, however, that it is easy to confuse the two plants. I’ve seen both growing together in my yard so look closely. Will I be using the brush trimmer there? Um, no. As much as I hate weed killers, weed killer it is.
Poison oak/ivy has a nasty relative called poison sumac. Fortunately it’s not as common as it’s relatives – poison sumac prefers wetlands. Unlike ivy and oak, poison sumac has seven to nine leaves per stem.
Don’t think you can’t get this stuff if you never go off your deck or patio. Pets can get urushiol on their fur – which you come into contact with when you pet them. If
you handle clothing or shoes of someone who has been through it and has the urushiol on them, you come into contact. It’s a year round thing. Even “dead” vines can give you the itches. Urushiol can remain active for years!
CAUTION. Do not burn poison oak or ivy. Urushiol carries in the smoke, and yes, there have been cases of people inhaling it as well.
If you know you’ve been exposed, wash well as soon as possible. My guess is it’s best to shower, not take a tub bath – urushiol is an oil, it may float and expose even more of your skin. Use lots of soap but use cool or tepid water to avoid opening your pores.
You can’t “catch” poison ivy / oak from someone’s blisters. The blisters don’t spread it – but if there is any urushiol left on the skin that certainly can be spread. I
won’t suggest any specific treatment because I’ve yet to find one that is all that great. Last time I had “the rash” I made a paste of bentonite clay and just left it on. I
can’t say it worked miracles but I’d say it worked as well for me as calamine lotion. The next time I plan to add a few drops of oregano oil to the paste and give that a try.