The Dreaded Poison Ivy


I am ridiculously allergic to poison ivy. When I was a child, I got it a few times and wound up with blisters the size of ping-pong balls. One time, my eye swelled shut. After that, I was old enough to identify it for myself and stay far, far away. One of my parents would clear it from our suburban yard if it ever popped up, and when I went on walks through the woods, I would wear jeans anyway, to prevent scratches or bug bites (especially ticks). For many years, I didn’t really have to worry about it.

We bought the property at the end of March. We first checked it out during the winter, and there was still some snow on the ground when we signed the paperwork. When it all melted and the growth of spring got under way, I was in for a big surprise.

It was more poison ivy than I had ever seen before in my life. There was a vine – more like a branch – that was wider than my thumb. It was appalling. And, of course, it was creeping to even more places rapidly. I really didn’t know what to do. I needed it gone, and I had never done it myself for obvious reasons. As usual in times of uncertainty, I turned to the all-knowing internet for solutions.

The simplest answer I found was to use herbicide to kill it. That way, I wouldn’t have to actually touch the plant. However, I dislike using environmentally harmful chemicals, and the poison ivy would be back next year with greater vengeance. Judging by the large spray container left behind in the basement by the previous owner, this is probably what they were doing, and why it was able to get so out of hand. To do the job right for the sake of future years, I was going to have to find a way to get the roots up.

My husband suggested hiring someone right off the bat, but I’m too stubborn for my own good. A big part of the reason we bought this property was our dreams of self-sufficiency, so I was determined to take care of the land myself. Sometimes, it’s a better idea to ask for help. Despite fervent protests from my husband, I put on some gloves and attempted to tackle the job personally.

It was a bad idea.

I managed to virtually incapacitate myself for nearly a week. Even with my attempts to protect myself from the plant’s oils, a rash began to cover my arms, my legs, my stomach, my face – it was showing up everywhere, but my forearms were the worst. I’m not going to post pictures. It was pretty gross. I was unable to perform basic tasks without agony. Calamine lotion wasn’t even dulling the itch.

What did help to accelerate the healing process was baking soda. I mixed it with water to form a paste, then smeared it over the affected areas and let it dry and flake off. By drying out the used lymph fluid, it made blisters less likely to burst, and encouraged new immune cells to flood the area. I won’t lie, it stung like you wouldn’t believe, but it got me better faster.

Once I recovered, I was back at square one. I had hardly made a dent with my foolhardy attempt at pulling by hand. There was still poison ivy everywhere. I took another look into natural solutions.

Goats eat poison ivy. Its oils actually affect very few species. Humans are unlucky enough to be one of them. Goats not only have no reaction, but they also find it delicious. We’re not yet set up for livestock, but there are rent-a-goat services out there for this very purpose. Unfortunately, none were close enough to us.

Our final solution was to hire someone for this year, in spite of my obstinance. We are considering goats for the future still, but first we need a fence and an enclosure. Those are stories for another day.

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