Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Kelly Heidbreder

Readers declare war on poison ivy

Gardeners are kind of like Jedi Knights or magical wizards like you see in Harry Potter. They know how to fight the evil weeds and other villains lurking around our gardens.

And you all know how my battle with poison ivy ended a few weeks ago. I scratched my way right to my doctor's office for a shot to get rid of it because I was well beyond the calamine lotion stage. I guess I forgot my magic wand.

My readers to the rescue. Here are just a few of the remedies you have sent:

Denny Rofkar says my column on poison ivy brings back memories of his childhood. "Good article on the itchy stuff. I grew up in Toledo and as a misguided child of that era, I spent most of every summer outdoors, from makeshift baseball in farm fields, to overgrown fishing holes to any available stand of woods." Sarcastically, he says, "I have fond memories of standing on a chair or stool while my mother dabbed caladryl or calamine all over me day after day after day."

We've all been there, Denny. He has lived in Alaska since 1974 and hasn't itched from that nasty stuff since.

Karole Shivak sends this recipe: "While I was trimming my hedges, I ran across some poison ivy. Put gloves on, and pulled out what I could. Did not get it all."

This sounds just like my experience. Guess what? Yep, Karole has a few spots on her wrist. If and when you suspect you got into poison ivy, she says the "cure" is to rub the affected area with the leaves of the rhubarb plant. "Try this: mix baking soda with regular toothpaste and spread it on the rash." In her opinion, it dries it up and stops the itch much better than any commercial product.

She also suggests pouring boiling salt water on the plant before you try to work with it. "It shrivels it up and cuts down a little on the oil. Another good thing to have on hand is Burt's Bees poison ivy soap to wash with as soon as you can, helps dry it up, cuts the oil, and helps with the itch. Also try using as hot of water as you can stand while in the shower. If you cut it back to a stump then pour herbicide on it and cover it with a glass jar, helps you remember where it is and speeds the process."

Ron shares a very serious experience. He says his family moved from the city to the country about eight years ago and they didn't know what most of the plants were around their house. They just knew it was overgrown and had to be removed. "My son did not realize he was burning poison ivy and inhaled the smoke. It almost killed him."

Ron says his son spent some time in the hospital and has had lung treatments all because the oil from the poison ivy plant was breathed into his lungs. Thankfully everyone is OK today.

Tom Overly gives the pesky vine a nickname, P.I. I cracked up laughing at his note. He shares, "Having contracted P.I. every year for about 30 of my 58 years, I consider myself an expert on treatment of P.I. and an idiot on identifying the plant." Like me, he had to make an appointment with the doctor.

An avid reader and urban gardener, Jack Edwartoski, says his family also called poison ivy P.I. when he was a kid.

"I read an article long ago and it said archeologists found poison ivy on a dig and dated it between 500 to 600 years old. The diggers contracted P.I. from the oils that remained volatile that long."

He also shares a story of someone breathing it in. "I worked with a fellow who was clearing land for his boss and received a great dose of P.I. on the outside. The team then burned some of the brush and the same guy spent three days in the ICU and a few more in the hospital because of the effects of the smoke."

Mother Nature has another plant that can help counter act poison ivy, according to Edwartoski. "There is a plant called "Jewel Weed, impatiens capensis, which is a marvelous astringent. It often grows in close proximity to P.I. When working around P.I., we used to crush the succulent stems and literally wash our hands and any area we thought might have been touched with the P.I. We had tons of it and would use it to clean our hands when working with staining agents like grass clippings, compost stains. and even grease from working on the car.

Thank you dear readers. Your comfort in your notes and in your remedies helped get me through weeks of scratching. I now have baking soda, toothpaste, rhubarb leaves, and a magic wand in my garden tote for the next time I duel with Poison Ivy.

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at

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