If you have ever had the unfortunate occasion of coming into contact with poison ivy (or one of it’s diabolical pals – poison oak or poison sumac) you probably know how quickly it can turn a walk in the woods into a regrettable experience. And even worse is the fact that you don’t have to hit the hiking trail to find yourself itching for relief. You can run into it right in your own backyard.
What makes poison ivy so irritating? Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are all plants that can cause a temporary, irritating rash when they come in contact with your skin. This rash is a form of allergic contact dermatitis. In other words, it is a rash caused when you touch or otherwise come into contact with a substance you are allergic to.
About 85% of Americans are allergic to poison ivy.
The rash is an allergic reaction to the poisonous, oily chemical called urushiol that is found in all parts of the poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac plants. When exposed to urushiol, the body’s natural inflammatory reaction causes a skin rash. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, a person can come across urushiol in any of the following ways:
• Direct contact: When a person touches or brushes against a poison ivy, oak or sumac plant, urushiol will bind to any exposed (uncovered) skin within 10 to 20 minutes.
• Indirect contact: Urushiol can adhere to inanimate objects (i.e. clothing, garden tools, sports equipment, camping gear) or pets, although pets will not react to the toxin. When a person touches these objects, even years later, urushiol can bind to the skin and cause an allergic reaction.
• Airborne contact: When these plants are burned, urushiol is released into the air. The toxin will evenly coat any exposed skin and can be inhaled into the lungs, causing a severe allergic reaction. If these poisonous plants are chopped or mowed, urushiol can also be released into the air and cause a reaction.
“Leaves of three, let it be?” Actually, to correctly identify poison ivy, watch for three leaves with smooth sides and pointy tips. There are two smaller leaves beside the longer middle leaf. The leaf lengths range from ¼ of an inch to 2 inches.
Commercial herbicides are available that can kill poison ivy and its cohorts effectively, but at what cost to the health and safety of your family, pets and the environment? Following is a natural remedy that is less toxic and considerably less expensive than commercially available chemical products. It turns out that white vinegar, among its many other home uses, is a safe, nontoxic method of ridding your property of poison ivy. Here’s what to do:
1. Fill a garden sprayer or spray bottle with white vinegar.
2. Spray ivy infestations thoroughly with white vinegar. Take care when spraying the vinegar not to get the spray on desired vegetation, as vinegar is non-discriminatory and will kill grasses and plants you wish to keep, in addition to the ivy. Saturate the ivy as much as possible with the spray.
3. Wait one week, then observe ivy infestations. Dead ivy leaves and vines will appear brown.
4. Remove the dead ivy and dispose of it in a garbage can. Be sure to use garden gloves and protective clothing when touching dead leaves and vines. They can still cause irritation.
5. If ivy is still green or there are green patches amid dead ivy, spray the ivy once more with the white vinegar.
6. Repeat vinegar applications as necessary until you eradicate all the ivy.