Camping 101: Dealing With Summer’s Poisonous Plants

I managed to live for over 50 years without ever once getting poison ivy! It wasn’t until I returned to Minnesota after living for 16 years in Alaska that I suffered my first case. It was no fun! The doctor was no help and I endured two weeks of an itchy rash and mild blistering. It was quite annoying.

I am sure I picked it up camping on one of the small islands in the Mississippi River down by the Minnesota river town of Winona. I was actually field-testing a new sleeping bag in the chilling fall nights of October. I have since revisted that island and discovered that the poison ivy there grows as a small bush and several instances of trees enwrapped with it in vine form. I am sure I may have used some as kindling for a campfire (Luckily no smoke got in my eyes).

Tom Watson

Most everyone knows that poison ivy, and its kin: poison sumac and poison oak, have a telltale three-lobed leaf cluster. Poison sumac has a compound leaf (series of leaflets in a row form the actual “leaf”). They can be in form of a shrub, vine, or even a small tree.

The culprit in these plants is in a chemical within the plant’s resin called urushiol. If you think you have been in contact with one of these plants, wash the area with soap and water, then wash your clothing that may have been in contact with the plant.

Poison Ivy Remedies Abound
Remedies include IvyBlock, calamine lotion, zinc oxide or hydrocortisone cream — all are available over-the-counter, and are non-prescription. A natural remedy is said to be the juice from the jewelweed plant. They grow in the same areas. Jewelweed is easy to remember once it’s pointed out to you (conspicuous yellow flowers). Crushing a handful of soft twigs and leaves allows the “sap” to flow — rubbing these plant juices on the area exposed to ivy is said to cancel out the effects of the urushiol.

A product called Technu is said to work specifically for poison oak.

Stinging nettles seem to be everywhere outdoors, especially along creeks and rivers — ideal places to go walking. There have been many times when my knees or thighs started to burn when wearing shorts into the woods. My first reaction is to look around to see where the stinging nettles were that I just walked through. The “sting” is similar to that of a jellyfish but doesn’t last nearly as long — only a few hours or less. I cannot remember ever reading any particular field remedy to counteract its effects. Usually the intensity decreases rapidly and should be gone within a few hours.

Be careful out there this summer!

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