Treating Avoiding & Recognizing Poison Ivy & Plants from Hell

POIS Syndrome

As a prepper, you’re likely familiar with ways of recognizing poison ivy and the horrors of being exposed to it.  And you can probably avoid it most of the time.  But in the darkness of night, accidentally brushing against a plant while out on patrol, or worse, when using the “facilities” – is not uncommon.

If you know you’ve been exposed, you can wash the slippery resin off your skin in time.  But most never realize their trespass, and only learn of it 12-72 hours later when blisters from poison ivy begin forming.  By that time it’s too late.  The oily resin on the underside of the leaves has now firmly attached to your skin.  After 30 minutes, there’s no way to remove it.  It must fall off on its own – and that takes three weeks.  Symptoms are most severe on days four through seven.

The oil can rub off you and onto your pets, clothes, bedding and friends during this period.  You end up sharing the itchy, swollen, red rash and its weeping blisters with others.  That being said, the poison is rarely spread from one person’s skin to another’s after it’s been washed with soap.  Further, if the blisters break open, the fluid will not contaminate other people.

The itch-inducing resin in all three plants is Urushiol.  It’s an oil that’s contained in the plants’ roots, stems, and leaves.  It sticks to anything it touches.  If your dog rubs up against you after he’s brushed against poison ivy or one of the other plants, you end up with a rash.  Worse yet, if someone is burning the plants and you’re close by, the resin can aerosolize and land on your skin.

poison ivy

You’ll know the rash is from poison ivy, oak, or sumac because of its linear chain of blisters, something you’d expect after brushing past one of the leafs.  When aerosolized, this rule no longer holds true, and blisters are randomly spread over areas not covered by clothing.

Recognizing Poison Ivy

Here is a great video on recognizing poison ivy complete with mnemonics for quick recall!

Helpful List of Mnemonics for Recognizing Poison Ivy:

  • Leaves of three, beware of thee.
  • Longer middle stem, stay away from them.
  • Side leafs like mittens, itch like the dickens.
  • Hairy vine, no friend of mine.
  • Read leaves in spring, it’s a dangerous thing.
  • Berries white, danger in sight.

Poison Ivy, oak, and sumac all have a three leaf design at the end of their stems.  All grow in most regions of the country.  And all carry the Urushiol oil or resin.  In each case it sticks to a surface for a month before falling off.  Once the rash appears, the sap like substance can’t be washed off.  Right after contact, it’s believed the oil can be removed with soapy water or alcohol, but only if you get to it within the first 30 minutes.

Poison Ivy

poison ivy

The features of this plant are its green pointed leaves hanging from the stem in groups of three.  It grows as a shrub or a vine, and its appearance changes with the seasons.  Yellow-green flowers are seen in the spring, and change to yellow-red in autumn.  Typically it grows along river banks in the form of a vine.

Poison Oak

poison oak

Much like Poison Ivy, poison oak leaves also cluster in sets of three.  The edges of the solid green leaves look a little bit like condensed leaves of an oak tree.  Most often seen in shrub form, it can also be a vine, and is mostly found on the West Coast.

Poison Sumac

poison sumac

Usually growing as a small tree or shrub, sumac loves boggy areas and is usually found in swamps.   Poison sumac leafs are packed with Urushiol, so much so they produce black or brownish-black spots.  Leaf stems contain 7-13 leaflets arranged in pairs, and grow abundantly along the Mississippi River.

Treatment & Management

One of the most important things to do, is to scrub under your fingernails to prevent the resin from spreading to areas you’re unconsciously scratching.

Treating Poison Ivy

Important Safety Tip:  Never burn poison ivy, oak, or sumac!  While the aerosolized resin may cause a terrible rash, inhaling it will cause potentially lethal blisters in the lungs.

Take Home Message:  It’s easy to recognize the three leaf pattern of poison plants. But that’s a real trick at night. So if you see a linear chain of blisters, treat the dog, consider carrying prednisone in your emergency kit, and for the Love of God… don’t burn the evil-doer plants!

The Above is Adapted from:

Best Survival Medicine Guide


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