Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Poison Ivy, Virginia Creeper and a cure

Summer fun and poison ivy seem to go hand in hand. With hiking, camping and other outdoor activities becoming more and more popular more people are venturing into areas where this noxious plant grows. Seems in no time it can take over an area and grow to huge proportions.
As a child we learned a rhyme to help us keep clear of this plant.

"Leaves of three leave it be, leaves of five let it thrive"

Many of us know that poison ivy has three distinct leaves in a lovely shade of green, but did you know it can grow not only as a vine, but as a bush? Sometimes it will take on such huge proportions that it will look like a tree. In Missouri poison ivy grows state wide. Two other potential problem plants that grow in some parts of the state are poison oak and poison sumac. In Northwest Missouri where I live we do not have poison oak or sumac. Many people hack away at vines containing five leaves mistakenly believing this to be poison oak, it is not. Ivy and Oak both have 3 leaves. Sumac has 7 or more. These poisonous vines do not have 5 leaves. This harmless vine is Virginia Creeper. As you can see the Virginia Creeper and the Poison Ivy look very similar, if one didn't look closely one could assume it was poison oak or ivy. What causes the itchy rash? It is a substance called urushiol, this oil is very potent and a minuscule amount can cause a reaction in most people. In fact an amount as tiny as a pin head would be enough to cause a rash in 500 people. I've heard people say "I'm just not allergic to poison ivy" I say to you..."just wait". Your day is coming. I used to say the exact same thing, then I turned 35 and all that changed. I now get it on average 10 or more times per spring and summer season. While out mushroom hunting in April I accidentally brushed against a tree with poison ivy vining on it, and I ended up with one of the worse cases I've ever had, and now have two lovely large scars to show for it. While this plant is no ones favorite, all is not bad though. There is something quite pretty about the vine, especially in the fall when the leaves turn a pretty shade of red. The birds love it, the white berries are very tasty to them. Animals are able to rub against the plant with no ill effects and many species dine on the berries and suffer nothing more than a full stomach. Many people get a rash and have no idea how they got, claiming they had not been anywhere that the vine grows. Do you have pets that roam? If so, you can thank fluffy or fido. They pick the oils up off the plant as they pass through it and bring it home to share as they climb into your lap for nice little back scratch. The rash cannot be spread person to person except when the oils are still present. Therefore no need to worry if you accidentally touch someone with an obvious case of ivy rash, most likely the oils are long gone and all that remains are the blistery bumps and red rash. If you are burning wood and know that poison ivy was on the wood, STAY AWAY! The oils are released in the smoke and can be inhaled for one SERIOUS case of internal ivy rash.

Mother nature provided for us though, one plant is known to counteract the ill effects of poison ivy, and that plant is the Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)(pictured). This plant generally grows in the vicinity of poison ivy, so it is a nice handy little cure if you know what to look for. Jewelweed is a smooth annual; 3-5 ft. tall with oval, round- toothed leaves; lower ones opposite, upper ones alternate. A bit trumpet shaped, the flowers hang from the plant much as a jewel from a necklace. Jewelweed blooms from May through October in the Eastern portion of the United States. It is often found growing near poison ivy or nettles. Breaking this plant open and rubbing the sap from the plant on skin that has been exposed to ivy, oak, sumac or other skin irritants can reduce your risk of an outbreak. If you already have a rash this plant can go a long way in relieving the itching and redness. Don't let the threat of this vine keep you from getting outside and exploring. After all being outside and having adventures makes life fun and exciting. Just be aware of what is around you and act accordingly.


  1. Yes posion ivy has three leaves and virginia creeper has five. I stay clear of a anything that is three leaf. I live in Northwest Mo and the other day I pulled a vine off my house a small one with five leaves and no posion ivy was mixed up in it. My yard is very clean and the vine was small and it looked just like a virinia creeper and now I have a rash.

  2. I always wear gloves and a long sleeve shirt when handling wild brush plants or volunteer plants as we call them. Three leaves are easy enough to spot but it is better safe than sorry.

  3. virginia creeper roots do in fact cause a very nasty rash. do not under any circumstances handle it without gloves. calling virginia creeper harmless in NOT accurate. currently I have a wicked rash that looks like acid burns about 9 inches log on my arm from virginia creeper root exposure. It itches like mad - pass this info along to everyone you like to save them from this. only tell your enemies it is harmless. actually, even that is mean. tell everyone - keep away from virginia creeper just like poison ivy.

  4. I have looked all over the internet to find a remedy for a virginia creeper rash that I contracted in North Carolina. I was not able to find one. However, I was able to learn that the rash is a result of oxalyic acid crystals. I am happy to report that the way that you clear oxalic acid is with tart cherry juice (about 5.00, available at most grocery stores in the organic section. Also available at GNC, but theirs was 24.00! ouch)
    While searching for a remedy the rash continued to spread. However, I had almost IMMEDIATE relief and the blisters began to dry up when I drank the cherry juice. I was itchy again the next morning and figured out that I must drink some every 8 hours to stay ahead of the itching and keep the rash at bay. Try it, it can't hurt. It really, really helped me.

  5. Virginia Creeper is not harmless to all. Many will have no reaction, but I am severely allergic and just got my my second steroid shot in three weeks to make it manageable. Rash over my entire body! But at least I know know what is causing my outbreaks and I can get it all off my property.

    I'll try the cherry juice next time as I hate putting steroids in my body!! (But since my eyes were almost too swollen to see out of it was a necessity.)