b a c k Laurie Lacey's Wild World of Plants

A Poison Ivy Talk
Poison Ivy : Rhus radicans

Poison ivy is a member of the sumach family and, in fact, belongs to the same genus as sumach. For example, staghorn sumach is Rhus typhina, while the forms of poison ivy found in Nova Scotia, Canada, are Rhus radicans (also called Rhus toxicodendron) and Rhus Rydbergii.

What is poison oak?

We often hear people speak about poison oak as well as poison ivy, as if they were distinct plants. In reality, poison oak is the Rhus radicans or R. toxicodendron mentioned above. It is poison ivy. There is a great deal of leaflet variation with poison ivy plants, some of which may have a resemblence to oak leaves.

Poison ivy is not a poisonous plant in the strict sense of the definition. It is an allergenic plant containing an allergen to which we can become extremely sensitive. A true poisonous plant (for example, red baneberry, Actaea rubra, or jimsonweed, Datura Stramonium), unlike an allergenic plant, causes poisoning in a person, without a pre-existing sensitivity to the plant.

Important points to consider

  1. When contacted, the allergen of poison ivy remains on the skin tenaciously. It may be removed by washing with strong soap, but this should be done within ten to fifteen minutes of contact with the skin, or the reaction will already have taken place. Some people claim that washing with a strong soap, within a couple of hours of contact will reduce the reaction. There is no evidence for this happening. However, I have done this myself, when returning from a hike, where I feel I may have contacted poison ivy. At the very least, washing up makes me feel good!

  2. Never burn poison ivy plants. Burning releases the allergen and you may receive it from the smoke of the plant.

  3. The allergen molecule of poison ivy remains potent for years and, therefore, people may have allergic reactions from touching old dried leaves or items of clothing which have been exposed to the plant, or by petting an animal which has rolled in the old dead leaves or plants.

  4. Sensitivity to poison ivy disappears gradually, in the absence of repeated exposures. The rate of de-sensitization varies among individuals, just as does the ease with which people become allergic to it initially. Most people are less sensitive after a couple of years. However, it probably remains in the blood for up to eight to ten years. For many people, it may be that long before sensitivity is greatly reduced.

Sweet Fern : Comptonia peregrina
Sweet Fern
Burdock : Arctium minus (Hill) Bernh.

Poison ivy remedies

A Mi'kmaq remedy relies on the sweet fern, Comptonia peregrina, plant. The leaves should be boiled in water and the solution used to bath the rash and blisters. This is effective in reducing the itch of poison ivy.

I suggest combining sweet fern and burdock Arctium minus (other species of burdock are also effective) as a remedy. The sweet fern leaves reduce the itch, when applied externally, as mentioned above. Burdock root tea should be taken internally as a blood cleanser. One tablespoon of burdock root to a cup of water, steeped gently for ten to fifteen minutes. Take three cups daily for a week to two weeks.

Laurie Lacey is not responsible for the misuse of information presented on this homepage (for example, the incorrect prepartion and usage of teas and medicines given herein.) The use of recipes for medicines and teas from this page is strictly the responsibility of each individual.