Poison Oak: An itch to scratch

“Leaves of three, let them be!”

Poison oak….some start to itch at the mere utter of the word. I’m fortunate since I don’t seem to have an allergy to it. However, my counterpart and mini-counter-part aren’t so lucky. They both seem to get it when someone thinks about the plant while in the same room with them. Whether you get it or not, poison oak liters the natural landscape of western North America and is indeed a native plant. Believe it or not, while most people are trying to stay away from it, remove it from their property, or otherwise eradicate it from the landscape, poison oak is often used in habitat restoration projects. As in, “let’s plant poison oak to preserve the native vegetation–it’ll be fun!” kind of projects. I wonder if the California Conservation Corps and other habitat restoration organizations have a difficult time recruiting volunteers for that project. One positive of poison oak is that deer love to eat it which is a really great in areas where other food sources are limited for them. It’s also a strangely attractive plant, changing colors through the seasons and growing these dainty little berries as it sprawls the landscape.


Anyway, our property is one of the unfortunate properties that didn’t need a “reintroduction” or “habitat restoration” project for poison oak. Nope, we’re graced with TONS of it–EVERYWHERE!!! It’s too bad that poison oak isn’t a hot commodity because I’d sign up to be a poison oak farmer if I thought I could make money from it. I’m pretty sure if you took all of the poison oak on our property and squished it all into one area, our total poison oak land mass would be equivalent to at least 4 acres. What’s a homestead to do?

Well, I’ll tell you what we’ve been doing and you can try it out. That is, if you have a poison oak take-over problem and aren’t afraid of possibly being itchy or going into anaphylaxis. Sounds like my kind of fun. I should mention that while I don’t seem to have an apparent allergy to poison oak (urushiol is actually the oil that people are allergic to–not the plant itself), I am allergic to just about every other plant in the world. At least God gave me one plant to be friends with–that’s something. Anaphylaxis is a threat I live with every day and thanks to my handy dandy Epi-Pen I can live fearlessly from dying of allergies. I’ve never actually had to use an Epi-Pen and I don’t typically have it with me so it’s pretty much useless if I ever did need it. I’m a daredevil, what can I say… Haha! I don’t recommend that anyone actually live like this since it’s really unsafe. I should also mention that just because one may not have an allergy to poison oak, doesn’t mean one might not develop an allergy with exposure.

Back to the getting rid of poison oak: So, in order to rid our main living outdoor space I actually just pull it. Spraying it with weed killer doesn’t actually kill most poison oak plants since it grows through rhizomes that sprout up. Lighting it on fire isn’t a safe option, especially for people with allergies that might breathe the smoke, and abatement services can be really pricey! So…yep, I pull it. While I may not get poison oak, I still dress like I do. I’d rather be safe than sorry.

I dress up in a painters suit, put on good quality disposable gloves, a face mask, a hood, and good boots that can be washed with soap and water. Then, I literally pull the plant up, along with as many roots I can find and put it in trash bags. Poison oak can carry the oils that make everyone itchy for up to 5 years, so dispose of the bags at the dump while wearing gloves.

My mom and I cleared an entire hillside area where we plan to build Luka’s tree fort in just an afternoon. It was really easy to put the plant into bags with a second person’s help and little more challenging alone. I’ve watched this spot for about 6 months now and it appears poison oak free for now. I’m slowly working my way around the main part of our property by our home and high traffic areas and so far, so good. I haven’t gotten poison oak yet and it doesn’t seem to be growing back. Win-Win!

When you’re done pulling it up from the roots make sure to take a cold shower with Dawn dish soap. Cold water helps to dissolve the oils while warm water will help open your pores and allow your sking to ingest the oil. Dawn will cut the oil in the event any did touch your skin on accident. Let the cold water run on your skin for at least ten minutes. Wash your boots down the same way and allow them to air dry before putting them back on.

Goodluck and stay itch-free!



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