Why Poison Ivy is Getting Worse — And How to Avoid It

New research indicates that climate change is causing poison ivy to grow larger and more toxic to humans. A 2006 study found that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused poison ivy plants to grow more quickly and also increased the potency of the plants’ urushiol.  It appears that the greater availability of carbon dioxide allows the plants to speed up photosynthesis, putting more energy into growing new leaves and vines. Sigh…

If you like to garden, hike, camp, forage or do yard work, there’s a good chance you’ll come into contact with poison ivy or poison oak – ivy’s West Coast cousin. And if you do, most of you will develop a very unpleasant, painfully itchy rash that will end up “weeping” (oozing fluid) and will take a hell of a lot longer to go away than you might like. This is caused by an oil called urushiol in the sap of the plant that causes a horrible allergic reaction in most humans although a lucky 20% of us are not allergic to it.

I, however, am most definitely allergic to it. I spend a considerable amount of time outside in the yard, the garden, the woods, roadsides – weeding, planting, raking, foraging, picking and more. And I pull up poison ivy wherever I see it – which is everywhere… But so far, I’ve managed to avoid getting poison ivy almost entirely. And you can, too!

How, you ask? It’s pretty simple:

1. Make sure you can identify it. Poison ivy can look a number of different ways but it is helpful to keep that old maxim, “Leaves of three, let it be” in mind. Its leaves can be green or reddish and a bit iridescent. And they turn brilliant orange and yellow colors in fall. When the vines get really established, they have a woody, hairy appearance as they climb trees. And the vines produce berries in late summer and fall.

Can you spot poison ivy by Eve Fox, The Garden of Eating, copyright 2014

2. Wear gloves to pull it out. If I know I’m going to be yanking up a bunch, I’ll wear a pair of disposable latex gloves and, even though it’s wasteful, I peel them off so that I’m left with two little balls of inside-out gloves and toss them in the garbage can we keep outside.

2. Before you take your gloves off, wash the handles of any tools you’ve used thoroughly with Tecnu and give them a good rinse with the hose before hanging them up to dry. Then get rid of the gloves.

Bottle of Tecnu by Eve Fox, The Garden of Eating, copyright 2014

3. As soon as you get inside, throw your clothes in the washing machine and add a splash of Tecnu to the water with the soap.

4. Then wash any exposed skin thoroughly with Tecnu.

If you’re going to be outside, I highly recommend getting yourself a bottle of Tecnu. I also have some in little packets so I could put one in my backpack, one in the stroller, one in the glove compartment of the car so that if the kids happen to brush up against some while we’re out, it’s not a problem.

If you do end up getting poison ivy, don’t forget to wash the clothes you were wearing as the urushiol may still be on them, apply Calamine lotion liberally, and try not to scratch.

Some swear by jewelweed as a natural remedy for poison ivy and poison oak. But if it’s really bad and is interfering with your vision, your ability to breathe or your ability to sleep, go see a doctor. A short course of corticosteroids can make a world of difference.

What else can you do? Take action by signing petitions that fight climate change.


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Past Member 9 months ago

I've noticed I am affected by it more often.

Angela K.
Angela K.10 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Katherine Borghardt
Katherine Borghardtabout a year ago

After having a terrible reaction to poison ivy TWICE this summer I'm not surprised to hear it's "getting worse!" Last time I had a bout with it was 1959!!! I will have to investigate the Technu...thanx for the word.

John chapman
John chapmanabout a year ago

Well after all that, I'm fighting some now.

Got into it clearing some tall weeds with a brush blade on my weed eater.

Was into a rythen & wasn't really paying attention.

Entirely my fault & now paying the price.

Hate to have to eat crow, but that's how it is.

John chapman
John chapmanabout a year ago

If you can't tell it at a glance.

You better study.

Because it's bad stuff.

Elena T.
Elena Poensgenabout a year ago

Thank you :)

ERIKA SOMLAIabout a year ago

signed some petitions

Janet B.
Janet B.about a year ago


Mary Beth M.
MaryBeth M.about a year ago

I need to look into Tecnu. This is the second summer my husband developed a horrible allergic reaction/rash after pulling weeds/vines in our yard. It kept spreading and took 2 doctor visits and about 6 weeks to eventually clear up. I've never seen poison ivy in our yard, but it may be something similar.

Marianne R.
Marianne R.about a year ago