Inside Out Poison Ivy

                                               "Leaves of three, let it be..."

Even its name sounds ominous: Toxicodendron radicans. Loosely translated as “toxic leaves – roots”, otherwise known as poison ivy, this nasty vine is a fact of life around here. Every summer, and often in the other seasons as well, children sprout rashes which range from mild to quite severe. A few of our kids seem not to be bothered much at all by the stuff, but most take after Tim and I and react pretty intensely. Happily, as they get older, they tend to get better at detecting the plant in its various forms, though this summer the one who had to take steroids for a bad case was oldest son Andrew. (Kara, and baby Annie also ended up with a good batch from the same canoeing adventure. Collin is nearly entirely immune from the vicious stuff, a handy quality for a botanist!)

When I was a little girl I spent most of my summers pink from Calamine that my parents daubed all over me. For the really bad cases when eyes were swollen shut, my doctor would give steroid injections, resulting in a rapid improvement. In our home, we’ve gone the oral steroid route occasionally, but I really hate the side effects. (Try giving steroids to a kid who already doesn’t need much sleep, and you are in for a rough few nights of hyperactivity!) Benadryl gel works pretty well as a topical treatment to lessen itchiness. We’ve even made ice cubes of crushed jewelweed, the beautiful bright orange or sometimes yellow flowers that conveniently grow near poison ivy patches, and found it gives some measure of relief. You can even pick jewelweed and just rub it right over the affected areas. Handily, it grows in the same habitat as poison ivy. 

                                                 Beautiful, delicate, useful jewelweed

Something like 70-85% of people react to poison ivy, and for most people sensitivity increases with exposure. (My dad, who has always loved time outdoors, seemed to “outgrow” his allergic response to poison ivy in his 70’s though!) But did you know that the same oil which causes that miserable rash is found not only in the three-leaved plant but in cashews and mangoes as well? Urushiol oil, the culprit in poison-ivy induced contact dermatitis is also present in mango skin and cashews. I recently had a nasty reaction to eating some cashews, resulting in swollen eyes and neck, and a rash that would break out in various other places. It felt like poison ivy that was springing from the inside out rather than the more typical external rash only. I’d reacted to cashews with hives previously, but vainly thought that if I didn’t eat too many, I could get away with it. Ha ha! Maybe different batches are processed differently, or maybe I get in trouble when I pass some quantity threshold, but I’m ready to be done with cashews forever now. So, if you have some in your family who are very sensitive to poison ivy, beware of cashews and mangoes!


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