A few days ago I wrote about Poison Ivy and mentioned I have a small line on the inside of one of my feet (now nearly healed). When I mowed the lawn again yesterday I found a few more small plants (and these are really small) embedded in the grass, so that is where I think I am getting it, not from hiking.
What I think is happening is that as I mow over it, the blade of course cuts it, releasing the urushiol oil, and then I am brushing against that as I walk past. I also think that my increased incidence of getting it is related to that, and I just need to do a better job of clearing it off my property. Add that to the “to do” list.
Interestingly, there is folklore that actually eating the leaves can provide immunity and that is what Native Americans did. There might be some sort of truth to this, since it is my understanding that the liver, which is involved in detoxifying all sorts of nasty stuff, might induce that immunity. (On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to do that for people with peanut allergies, does it?) Here’s an item from the Journal of the American Medical from 1921:
There is considerable testimony pointing to the probability of establishing a desensitization to poison ivy and poison sumac by the injections of the glucosids of these plants. Dakin records an observation of laborers chewing the leaves of poison ivy and so securing desensitization. The late Wendell Reber related to me that he secured desensitization from poison ivy by chewing the leaves of Rhus toxicodendron; this he did daily during his stay in the Adirondack Mountains, during the summer months. Eye witnesses have told that Indians and other residents of New Mexico habitually eat the leaves of ivy each spring so as to avoid poisoning during the summer.
I’m afraid to try it — and probably for good reason. Here is a description when somebody tried it (from an 1889 magazine called “The Cultivator & country gentleman”):
In answer to recent inquiries about the advisability of eating the leaves of poison ivy, to prevent the poison affecting the system, I have always been very susceptible to the influence of the poison, and when in my teens was induced to eat the leaves, in hopes I would be relieved from the misery I suffered from it. In a few hours my tongue and throat began to swell, until I could not swallow, and finally my whole body, until I could neither see nor walk and was a frightful looking object. The skin on my legs burst open and was running sores for weeks.
Well, yeah, I can imagine that. There is that trouble of getting it to the liver without wreaking havoc along the way (assuming the liver thing even works).
What does modern medicine say? I’ve seen individual reports of all sorts of problems from trying it. In particular, if the urushiol makes it all the way through your body, on the way out it can cause itching that would make hemorrhoids seem tame. And there is the danger of a systemic reaction, all over your body.
It also appears that nobody has ever developed a vaccine, though I am sure millions wish they would.
Finally, Jewelweed is supposedly a good remedy, and can often be found fairly close to the poison ivy. In fact, in the latest “Dual Survival”, this very tip is given by Dave Canterbury.
Again, let me warn against trying to eat poison ivy in order to develop immunity.