If you are spending any time in the woods this summer with kids, teaching them about your region’s flora can be a fun activity. Pick up a wildflower identification book as well a guide about trees to refer to while on your hikes. One of the most important plants to learn to identify is poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans. Brushing against the vine will give most people a most uncomfortable itch!
You’ve more than likely heard the phrase “leaves of three, let them be.” It’s a good saying to help kids remember and applies to poison sumac, poison oak as well as poison ivy. Each of these plants has three leaves but poison ivy has a very distinct two mitten shaped leaves on either side of a leaf shaped like a mitten with an extra pinky finger space. The plant has shiny leaves while the stem is usually red to dark green. It often vines up trees and the stem can become thick and woody in large plants. In the fall, leaves turn red and yellow.
The red, itchy breakout occurs when an oil, urushiol, within all parts of the plant comes in contact with skin. The rash starts with small, red bumps and often inflames into swollen, weeping blisters. The itchy hives themselves can not transfer from infected skin to another person, only if the oil remains. Indeed, it’s easy to get it from clothing, pets or anything else that has touched Toxicodendron radicans. Particularly sensitive people can even get an outbreak when coming into contact with smoke from wood burned with poison ivy vines on it. It is true that some people are more apt to get the rash while others are immune. Let’s hope all our Piccolo Universe kids are immune!
When in the woods, cover feet and legs that may be exposed to the plant. Right after you are done with your hike, wash arms and hands with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. Change your shoes and if you have the more sensitive people in your group, quarantine bags, hiking sticks and even beloved stuffed animals who may have participated in the hike. Wash all items with strong soap and hot water.
Sometimes even the most careful hiker will still find themselves itching with a poison ivy rash. It can appear up to three days after exposure to urushiol. To sooth the itch, over the counter hydrocortisone or calamine topical lotions will help. Luke warm baths with an oatmeal soak as well as cold compresses help. There are many home remedies to stop the itch such as applying a baking soda paste, tea tree oil, ocean water, cold coffee, witch hazel, vinegar and even a broth of acorns and water. Covering the rash on little ones will help them not scratch. In extreme cases, you can seek medical attention and prednisone prescriptions.
Learn more on WebMD’s Common Myths and Truths about Poison Ivy.