Poison Beauty

Poison Oak

Daily Photo

Seductive temptress in the fall, scarlet leaves shining with the first rain, poison oak wraps colorful curtains around trees inviting the unwary to bring it home.

Once, my mother and I saw a family wading through a forest of the leaves carrying armloads of the beautiful vine.  She stopped and warned them.  I hope they listened.

If they did get the itchy rash, one of the best treatments is to run extremely hot water over the area.  The histomens are released giving itching relief for up to 8 hours.



  • Cripes. They picked poison oak as decorative foliage? [Talk about road to hell I catch poison oak just standing downwind of a piece of wood that grew on the same acre as poison oak.]

    Solarcain is good on poison oak. Also Benedryl cream.

    [Also, do not put Calomine lotion on little kids who get poison oak that stuff is device of the devil.]

  • I used to catch it regularly as a child. Oddly enough, my reactions got worse as time went on. the last bad case I had was eighth grade when my face blew up like a pumpkin and stayed that way for a week!

    We would normally come home from hikes and Girl Scout camp and shower with Fels Naptha, that nasty-smelling brown soap that I still use for pretreating laundry. It breaks down the oils before it has a chance to soak in. I do remember how good hot water felt. Not sure what kind of devious mood God was in when he gave this plant it’s lovely autumn color. Do you think he knew Martha Stewart followers would be tempted into making fall swags and wreaths?

  • Poison Oak – the one thing in Nature that, it appears, I am NOT allergic to. Never had it, even after living in (and tromping thru) the Forest, and flattening myself against a tree (the one near the bottom of Salmon Cr Rd, by the bridge and the gingerbread house) that had it growing up the trunk.

  • Great picture! So bright and clear. The lines are sooooo crisp. Absolutely love it!

  • Yikes! I was always told that a hot bath is the LAST thing to do because it spreads the poison oak. That is what happened to us when we, as newcomers to Humboldt County, cleaned our yard. Grandma and Uncle H both got it very bad. Grandma was hospitalized with blood poisoning, and Uncle H was just miserable and had a hugely swollen face. When we all started itching, she thought a hot bath would help. Maybe it was because of the delay of probably a couple of days before having the hot bath, with the poison already having had a chance to settle in. Fortunately, I don’t get poison oak as badly as others in the family, but it still is something I avoid.

    I have to say, though, that this shot of poison oak certainly makes it look attractive.

  • Yup, I had the swollen face experience as a kid too. My brother and I ended up with cortizone shots, but I don’t know if that helped speed the recovery or not. Mom used baking soda paste on us, and it seemed to draw out the histamine from the rash. When it dried and cracked off, we put on some more – brief periods of relief between agonizing itch.

  • If you haven’t got the oil off, you need to do cold baths or you will help the oil get under your skin! If you are past that into the dreaded itchy stage though, cook the rash with as hot of water as you can stand. You won’t believe the almost orgasmic feel of relief (under the pain of the hot water.) The relief lasts overnight usually and helps keep you from scratching it in your sleep.

  • What’s up with this thing? I can see the pic in my reader, I can see it if I click on the frame, but now I just see the frame. Arrrrgh! Sometimes I just hate the web.

  • I’m having the same problem. I can’t figure out what is causing it.

  • Just seeing that pic makes me itch! I get it at least two or three times a year and each time, it’s a guaranteed trip to the doc for a cortisone shot and a dose of prednisone. What fun!

  • Nice shot, Kym; I’ve been noticing the lovely sprays of foliage lately, but that closeup leaf looks positively VENEMOUS! Bluelaker, you’re right about the oil; it’s tenacious and can be picked up off of exposed clothes or tools, too. Probably it affects different people to varying degrees, but it seems to be worse for fair-skinned folk. The native people used it for basketry and dyeing.

    When I first moved up here, everyone warned me about ticks and Lyme disease, so as I was helping a neighbor plant fir trees (my job was to dig the holes and plug them in) I brushed away at every little itch I felt. I did not know I was ripping through poison oak: spring’s naked branches and succulent roots. I kept free of ticks, but spread poison oak juice all over my body and face. I got lots of advice and tried it all, from the mean-spirited “Just scratch it” to soaking myself in the icy waters of Salmon Creek in April. Washing thoroughly with Technu immediately after exposure then rinsing with water as hot as can be borne is the best method I’ve found (ditto on the sensation rating, Kym!); the best cheap alternative is just local clay. It dries out the oils and reminds you not to scratch.

    I’ve developed a lot of respect for ‘Rhus Toxicodendron’. It’s gorgeous this time of year. It has the ability to take root in the most sensitive areas, and adapts as needed from shrub to vine to creeper… and its brilliant fall foliage seems like nature’s warning flags: stay clear!

  • I’ve had the nasty crap more than once. Always get it when I go camping. Last time I had a bad case was about 4 years ago. It was cold and rainy when we were camping, and to keep warm, I kept pulling my sweatshirt up over my nose. Well, inside my sweatshirt was the “keep the dog warm” spot too. Little monster was all over the campground for 2 days straight. I got poison oak up my nose, around my eyes, all over my chest… It was the worst feeling! I made my hubby take me right to the doc for a shot. I also got a prescription for some cream, triamcinolone. Don’t know what all is in it, but it worked wonders.

  • Sandi, I’ve never had it that bad! Thank heavens.

    Kato, I agree that the best method is wash with cold water and Technu immediately. And then when itching unbearably–hot, hot water! I’ve never tried the clay method.

    Tami, Your story made me cringe! The worst I’ve ever had was between my fingers but –UP THE NOSE!!!!

  • Remind me NOT to head out to your neck of the woods. Good grief!

  • Oh, lovely picture though. Such a beautiful, if not irritating, subject.

  • As a veteran poison oak victim, I can recommend some stuff called “Ivy Dry”. You can find it at some drug stores. I haven’t suffered poison oak in many years, so I don’t know who carries the stuff now.

    It comes in a brown bottle and is a brownish, clear liquid. You spread it on the affected areas with cotton or tissue paper. Soothes the itching immediately, if only temporarily. What’s best about it, though, is it seems to dry out the rash a bit. That was my favorite treatment.

    Another favorite was some lotion called Surfadil. Not sure just what was in it but it was real soothing.

    I know when I was a kid and got it real bad my doctor gave me Cortisone tablets. I’ve heard at least one other medical type say Cortisone, either orally or topically, is the best treatment for poison oak. Don’t know about that. I’ll stick with Ivy Dry, although I suppose if you have access to a physician, you could do both Ivy Dry and Cortisone.

    Some of you may remember years ago there was some stuff sold in small vials at drugstores called something like “Immunoak”. It was diluted poison oak urishiols, or some such, and was supposed to give you immunity by swallowing it- the liquid, being a real dilute version of poison oak, would build up your defenses to poison oak like flu shots do for flu.

    I finally decided to try it right after they stopped selling it. Asked the pharmacist why it was no longer available. He said people were actually catching poison oak by drinking the extract.

    Ran in to a lady back around then who said she’d tried the extract and got poison oak over every square inch of her body.

    It’s not for me but, if anyone wants to be bold and try it, some say you can get the same immunity to poison oak by eating the small fronds of the plants when they first come up.

    I’ll leave that to the more bold folk around here.

  • Forkboy, Mostly it is only the unwary who catch this (though sometimes the unwary know better they just relaxed their guard.)

    Fred, I got some of the vial that promised immunity when I was a kid. I’m not immune but I sure don’t seem to catch it like I used to.

  • I used to get it really bad first time in the spring or summer. Then, after I’d had it a few times, it didn’t seem to be as bad. I think the body develops a resistance from repeated exposure.

    Then again, I think I developed a bit of a sixth sense, after being around poison oak for a while. I could notice it out of the corner of my eye without really thinking about it. I think I was just able to avoid it more after being around it so much.

  • I agree that we just get more adept at avoiding the stuff. I haven’t (knock, knock) had a bad case since I was a child and mostly I attribute that to knowing what not to touch.

  • Being wary does not do any good if you can catch it petting a dog who has run through it or carrying wood that comes from a tree that grew near it or hell just getting hit by smoke from a fire burning wood that grew near it and some people do not develop a resistance ever. [Ya smug bastards.]

  • Whoops, didn’t mean to sound like the victims get what they deserve. Some people are really sensitive. My poor grandma ended up in the hospital from someone burning the stuff.

    What I meant was for people who usually get a reasonably bad case but haven’t in awhile, the experts say you don’t develop immunity, so perhaps the reason we aren’t getting much any more is because we have developed an awareness whereas before we didn’t have any.

  • Poor grandma. Smoke is bad smoke hits you everywhere she must have been coated.

    Me, I jump like a cat just seeing an acorn.

  • Another amazing thing about poison oak…once it gets onto your clothing, it can stay forever. Long after we moved from Humboldt County to Salt Lake City, Grandma used to get poison oak whenever she wore a certain sweater. She’s a cheapskate (er, uh, FRUGAL PERSON) and didn’t want to throw out the sweater, but finally did because of the poison oak in it.

  • that’s poison oak?! Oh man .. my worst experience ever was when I got poison oak. For weeks after I learned what it was and finally got relief, the poor pup was NOT allowed to step an inch off the walking path for fear he’d step in it and I’d pet him and have to suffer again.

  • I was just a tot when Grandma went to the hospital but I seem to remember she got it into her lungs.

    I would think washing the sweater would rid it of oils but, maybe not.

    Dogs don’t catch the stuff but boy, people do.

  • If you are helped by really hot water, the homeopathic remedy rhus tox will help you. If hot water doesn’t help then you need another remedy.

  • Years ago, Greens Pharmacy sold Poison Oak Extract in a little bottle. I took it and have not had a problem since. I believe that living here for years produces a resistance from slight contact and maybe the creek water we occasionally drink, the water having the leaves in it. I can actually pull it up out of the ground but I always wash with cold water and dish detergent. I do feel lucky but I sure don’t push it.

  • Anna, thanks for the insight.

    Ben, I think that might be a key, too. I wash when I think I might have gotten into the stuff.

  • I never got poison when I was drinking milk from our goats who ate it. Then I moved to town and got a horrible case when I pulled out blackberry vines in January, not noticing that some of the leafless branches were poison oak. The blackberry scratched the skin on my arms and the poison oak oils went right in. I thought my forearms would burst fromthe swelling. I looked like PopEye for three weeks!

  • Ouch, that doesn’t sound bearable. I would have gone crazy! The experts say that eating it isn’t supposed to work but I sure hear a lot of anecdotal evidence to the contrary.

  • Great photo Kim! I tried to post a comment on your “1 Year” post and it got all wierd on me, the screen was flashing and I don’t think it was displaying all the comments. Just wanted to thank you for doing such a great job this past year, as you know I visit very few blogs on a regular basis, and you are on the short list. I love your photography and your writing, and I appreciate your trust in your readers as you share your life. You’re the real deal, keep on bloggin’ girlie! Cheers . . . are we still on for a calendar trade? I’m working on mine this week . . .

  • That flashing thing was the disco ball when Kym pole dances but we try not to talk about that.

  • Shh! Max, my mom doesn’t know about my little job on the side!

    Steve, Now I really have to work on the calendar. I want a chance to hang those eagles of yours on my wall. I’m lobbying hard for that picture of the print a wing made in the snow!

  • This picture seriously nauseates me due to how much I hate that plant.

  • Ahh, come on. It’s pretty (pretty scary, sometimes!)

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