September 22, 2008

Poison Ivy

We live in a poison ivy and oak ridden area. Tendrils are tangled in branches, vines as thick as my wrist wrap trees, seedlings sprout in every nook and cranny of the farm. I have accepted that poison ivy (Oak, Sumac) is a part of my country life. I normally wouldn’t give it a second thought, if it weren’t for my sitting here itching like a flea bitten dog. I have a very small patch of the bubbling rash on inside of my left arm where I hugged a tree yesterday.

Truthfully there is no avoiding it here, I am exposed no matter what I do. If I do not come into contact with it while working about the farm (cutting grass, trimming hedges, pruning, weeding) I come in contact with it from the gardens, livestock, dogs and even firewood. So whom and what do I avoid touching so I don’t develop the thick little painful, itchy blisters?

Believe it or not, the vines never die. Nope, never, not even during the frigid winter months. It is alive out there waiting.

Each and every summer I get poison ivy at least once. The first year we moved to the farm I broke out in the most gawd awful case since I was a child. As the story goes, I was 8 or so, during a weekend family project of working in the yard, pulling weeds, and mowing it was discovered I was allergic, very allergic. I remember developing an itch then being rushed to the hospital. The story as my parents remember is my face turning bright red and swelling to almost twice its normal size, my eyes swelling closed and my struggling to breathe. I remember never having to work in the yard again. Continually being told that I was allergic to cut grass, specific weeds and the dreaded poison urushiol oil laden plants. This lead to my being side lined during family yard cleanups. Didn’t mind that a bit growing up.

Now here we are 40 some odd years later, I live where it lives and I am not moving.

Knowing my sensitivity from the get go, we discussed and researched how to get rid of the plant. There are some chemical pesticides that could be purchased like Round-up to kill the invasive plant, but you see we don’t do pesticides on the farm, refuse to.

Luckily we realized we were raising a natural killer of the plant. Goats! They love, love, love to eat this plant. Enter the picture, yard goats. A few select pet goats that have free access to the entire property and roam around at their leisure to eat every green morsel of poison ivy they can find. They have cleared out much of the vile oiled plant where I spend most of my outdoor time.

When I came down with my first hideous farm outbreak I didn’t go to the doctor. I realized I was still sensitive, but it didn’t seem as severe as when I was young. I started looking for an over the counter miracle cure for poison ivy. I tried every brand of topical analgesic, every tube, bottle or jar that claimed to relieve the skin irritations, tried antihistamines and allergy medications. I tried blow drying the patches, hot showers, cold showers, certain soaps, bleach, oatmeal scrubs and a few holistic and homeopathic treatments. I even tried the suggestion of rubbing a banana peel on the effected area. However, I wouldn’t go as far as using urine to clean the area. You know there are some crazy remedies floating around.

Back in 2000 that outbreak lasted all summer. Whether I couldn’t cure it or continued to re-expose myself I am not sure. Life was miserable, my skin was a horrid bubbled rash.

Each year after, I began to notice that I didn’t break out as badly when encountering a patch of the plant here and there. I began to do a bit of research. I do believe I have found out why and how I have avoided new eruptions.

Drinking the milk of the goat that ate the poison ivy.

I imagine you have heard of the health benefits in eating honey from local hives for folks that suffer from allergies. It is said that honey from a source near the sufferers home will contain a high proportion of the pollen that stimulates and causes the allergy. Eating this honey helps to build immunity to the allergens so reduces symptoms. OK, don’t know if it has been proven. But I am going to say this is why I don’t continue to suffer so severely with poison ivy.

Seriously the episodes have lessened dramatically. I am bothered more by chiggers than poison ivy now a day. That is unless I do something as stupid as I did Saturday. We were working on fencing for the new sheep pen. There was a tree next to where we were running the cattle panel. I needed to hold the cattle panel by the tree, my arms not long enough to go in front and to the side of the tree, I wrapped my arms around the tree (hugged the tree). Sho’ nuff there was poison ivy running up the backside of the tree. I imagined both inner arms would be an itchy bubbling inferno by today but no. No new break out splotches showing up either.

I have been told that as we age it is not uncommon for our systems to change, we can develop new allergies or become less sensitive to an allergen. Dunno, I attribute my building immunities to the poison ivy to the goat milk. That’s my story and I am sticking to it.

If you ever come in contact with the dreaded PI and have a serious reaction, go to a doctor. Don’t suffer through countless days trying to heal yourself.

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