Poison-Oak: the Itch You Can Never Scratch

Poison-Oak (toxicodendron diversilobum)

“Leaves of three, beware of me” is a useful rule of thumb for avoiding poison-oak. On the other hand this ditty applies quite well to wild raspberry. You could easily find yourself in a bushwhacking situation where you have to make a choice between galloping through one thicket or the other.

Tipping-toe through raspberries is a prickly affair but once you’ve cleaned the wounds you’re pretty much done with it. Poison-oak, on the other hand, is the gift that keeps on giving. You get the poison-oak oil on your hands, then you get the oil on other body parts (which can lead to some rather interesting, if not utterly miserable, enlargement effects) and you can pass it on to your loved ones. I know someone who hiked for years and never came down with poison-oak. His wife, however, did. And she didn’t wasn’t even on the hike! She did his laundry.

The other thing about poison-oak is that the plant drops its leaves in the winter but you can still contact the oil from the bare stems. So where’s your helpful doggerel now? Here are some maybe more helpful tips for avoiding poison oak.

Scratch It and It Will Spread

Sort of. Fact is, once the rash appears on your skin a day or two after you touched poison-oak you’ve probably had a bath or two. In my experience it can take a couple of days for the rash to fully develop, which gives people the impression that the rash is spreading. Go ahead and scratch all you want. You might get a secondary bacterial infection by peeling away skin with your fingernails. But you won’t be spreading the poison.

Jewelweed and Other Remedies

They say that near every toxic plant there grows another plant that provides the antidote. Jewelweed is supposed to have such medicinal properties. But if you ask me, jewelweed looks too much like stinging nettle for it to be a trustworthy remedy.

Tecnu is supposed to be effective if you wash with it shortly after contact. A protectant lotion like buji Block can be a good preventive measure. I’ve heard that sunlight can help heal the rash, provided that you don’t add a sunburn to your woes and that you don’t have the rash someplace where the sun never shines.

Cortisone creams are about the only thing you can do once the rash starts. I prefer the five pound tube. And if you’ve managed to confuse a half acre of black raspberry with a half acre of poison-oak and decided to take the road less traveled, leading to zeppelin-sized facial features, then 10cc of cortisone delivered through and intermuscular injection is the only way to fly.

And that’s all I know about poison-oak. See you at the 25th Annual Poison Oak Show in Columbia, CA!