Poison Ivy: Leaves of Three

Leaves of three, let it be. This simple mantra for poison ivy prevention can save you from seemingly endless agony. Yes, prevention is the best medicine.

Identify poison ivy, prevent its purpose, and, because accidents happen, treat it properly.


Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is exactly what it sounds like and can present itself in a variety of fashions. You may see it in the form of a staunch, dare-you-to-remove-me shrubs, tree-climbing vine or creeping carpet across the forest floor. Yet one characteristic remains the same, it thrives along rivers or streams found along the edges of forests, fields and roadsides.

Recognizable by its three-leaved spread, poison ivy can be found just about anywhere in the U.S., northern Mexico and southern Canada, not including desert or high-altitude regions.


Poison ivy produces an oil called urushiol (oo-ROO-shee-all). If you come into contact with this toxin, rashes and/or reactions can occur. Some may need medical attention. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), there are three ways to contract a rash:

  1. Direct contact. The AAD suggests applying an over-the-counter skin-barrier product that contains bentoquatam before going outdoors. Bentoquatam helps prevent urushiol from penetrating the skin.
  2. Indirect contact, or touching something that has come in contact with the oil, i.e. pets, gardening tools, equipment. Urushiol can stick to almost anything.
  3. Airborne contact. Burning the plant releases oil particles into the air, which can land on the skin.

Additionally, Jon Sachs, "The Poison Ivy Guy," states that breathing smoke from the burning of poison ivy, or wood with poison ivy on it, can lead to extreme irritation of the lungs. Not good.


The AAD recommends:

"For mild cases, cool showers and an over-the-counter product that eases itching can be effective. Oatmeal baths and baking-soda mixtures also can sooth the discomfort. When a severe reaction develops, contact a dermatologist immediately, or go to an emergency room. Prescription medication might be needed to reduce the swelling and itch."

Poison-ivy.org offers suggestions, as well. The primary product they recommend for treatment is Tec Labs Tecnu Extreme Medicated Poison Ivy Scrub.

According to Tec Labs, "for effective treatment, you must first remove the urushiol oil to keep it from spreading and also treat the painful, itchy inflamed rash. Tecnu Extreme is the first medicated poison ivy scrub that does both in one step. Washing with Tecnu Extreme for 15 seconds will remove urushiol oil left on the skin to keep it from spreading. Its unique homeopathic formula contains an active ingredient to relieve itching and soothe the burning rash."

Indeed, here is a lot of information to digest. Therefore, do yourself a favor and keep it simple. Remember the basics: Leaves of three, let it be.

Camping Examiner DM Clardy brings over 30 years of camping experience to the table. This veteran US Army Ranger has struck camp around the world.

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