OUTDOOR BASICS

Can You Eat Poison Ivy? Learning to Build a Tolerance

Poison Ivy
Jerry Mueller
Written by Jerry Mueller

Many of us often wonder about edible plants in nature. What plants can you eat and which ones should you stay away from? If you’re camping and/or backpacking, you may encounter a scenario where you’ll need to eat plants – maybe you ran out of food or your backpack ended up being overtaken by raccoons.

Who knows what will happen on your outdoor adventure, nevertheless, you should be prepared for some worst-case scenarios. So, if you’re developing a list of edible plants, you need to go through all your common forest vegetation. If you’re asking yourself, can you eat poison ivy? It’s time you found out.

What is poison ivy?

You’ve probably heard of poison ivy, but not everyone has encountered it. Poison ivy is an Asian and North American flowering plant which has a pretty good reputation for causing itching, irritation and allergic rashes when touching it.

poison ivy tree in nature

The rash is caused by urushiol which is a clear liquid in the plant’s sap. Poison ivy is actually eaten by many animals, including birds, however, to humans it’s simply seen as a weed.

Why would you want to eat poison ivy?

If you’re wondering why you would even want to try to eat poison ivy, well, there are various reasons. Some people see poison ivy simply as another source of vegetation to consume. However, other people, such as backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts want to take extra precautions and prepare their bodies for possible exposure to poison ivy.

Can you eat poison ivy

In case of an emergency where you have no food, being able to eat the vegetation around you will come in need for your survival. Though poison ivy is known as an allergen, it is possible to eat it, you simply have to know how to.

How to identify poison ivy

Before we show you ways of eating poison ivy, it’s important that you know how to identify it in the wild. You may find it difficult to identify poison ivy from other plants, however, there are some distinctive characteristics which you’ll use in order to tell it apart from the others. Let’s take a closer look at some of its distinctive traits.

Look for the vine

Poison ivy is very identifiable by its thick vine. In addition, it always has a cluster of three leaves. If you’re trying to find other characteristics to go by, poison ivy isn’t so easy to spot.Though poison ivy is known for growing upwards like ivy, it can also grow as a single bush as well. So, the rule of thumb is, if it has a cluster of three leaves per vine, it’s poison ivy.

poison ivy vine on a wall

The color

Poison ivy leaves tend to be bright to dark green and have a waxy texture on top. However, from underneath, the leaves are light green and fuzzy. However, throughout the seasons they do change color.

  • Spring: the leaves are bright green
  • Fall: the leaves are bright red or orange

orange poison ivy

Does the plant have fruit?

Depending on the season, poison ivy may be blooming. In this case, they’ll have berries. Poison ivy berries are white or cream-colored with the fruit staying on the plant throughout winter and spring.

poison ivy fruit

So, why all the fuss about poison ivy? Is it really that bad? Well, first you need to know how it interacts with your body and its immune system? Now, we’re going to discuss your body’s interaction with poison ivy.

Your immune system and poison ivy

Now, many people know poison ivy for its rash-like effects when encountering it, but there’s an explanation behind it. Your body’s immune system is designed to protect you against bacteria and viruses which attack the body. However, with poison ivy, it’s different. The oil found on the plant called urushiol touches your skin and instigates an immunity response called dermatitis.

But what exactly happens in that encounter with urushiol? Immunity cells called T lymphocytes (T cells) recognize that the urushiol molecules are foreign. So, the T cells alert the body by sending out inflammatory signals call cytokines which deliver white blood cells to the area of inflammation. These white blood cells then turn into macrophages which eat the foreign substance and in the process damage healthy tissue which is why your skin becomes inflamed.

Mild skin inflammation

This allergic reaction to the poison ivy is called delayed hypersensitivity. Delayed hypersensitivity means that the allergic reaction doesn’t occur until several hours after or possibly days after the first contact.

Many people when they first come into contact with poison ivy are not affected and do not receive an allergic reaction. However, everyone has different levels of sensitivity, so reactions vary.

If you’re unsure if you’ve come encounter with poison ivy, here are some of the symptoms that are included:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Blisters
  • Itching
  • Difficulty breathing

Girl having a breathing problem

These symptoms usually depend on the amount of urushiol that has come into contact with your skin. If you find yourself having a serious allergic reaction to poison ivy, before you try to build immunity, you need to first remove the allergic reaction.

Myths about poison ivy

There are many myths floating around about poison ivy that need to be debunked. Here are some of the myths that you need to know about poison ivy.

  • Poison ivy is contagious: This is a very common belief which just isn’t true. You cannot get dermatitis from touching someone else unless they have urushiol on their bodies or clothing.
  • Everyone is allergic to poison ivy: This isn’t the case actually. Though it is a common allergen with 85% of the population having an intolerance to it, 15% of the population have no reaction to poison ivy.
  • Once allergic, always allergic: It’s a very common association to allergies that once you experience a reaction, you’ll always have a reaction. Every individual’s sensitivity varies over time and season. Many people who were allergic to poison ivy as children no longer have the sensitivity to it as adults. However, you can build immunity to poison ivy.
  • Urushiol does not spread: You may think that if you come into contact with urushiol, it’ll spread throughout your body. This isn’t true. Urushiol is a thick oil which stays only on the area is touched. You may think that it looks like it’s spreading, but that’s only because your body is developing an allergic reaction to it over a long period of time.
  • Poison ivy is not active year-round: Many people think that poison ivy is only active during the spring when the leaves are bright green. However, poison ivy is active year-round. This is important if you’re starting to work on building your immunity in the winter. So, regardless of the season, you need to start on a low consumption of poison ivy leaves.

Poison ivy during fall

Now that we’ve debunked the myths about poison ivy, it’s time we showed you how to become immune to it.

How to become immune to poison ivy

You may be wondering, how can you become immune to poison ivy? Is it even possible?  Though a large percent of the population who come into contact with poison ivy do have an allergic reaction, it’s possible to build immunity. Those that have yet to come into contact with poison ivy believe that they’ll automatically contract a rash, however, that isn’t the case.

In fact, with many allergic reactions, you can actually build an immunity to them, thus, completely eliminating the allergic reaction. Once you’ve build an immunity, you’ll be able to eat poison ivy freely and won’t have to fear contracting an itchy, red rash.

Trying to grab poison ivy

So, if you’re wondering, can you eat poison ivy? The answer is yes, you can. Can you eat a bowl of it right away? No, you need to be patient. Here are a couple ways you can become immune to poison ivy.

  • The allergic symptoms to poison ivy usually occur when you haven’t been exposed to the plant before. In order to prevent an allergic reaction, sensitivity usually decreases with age and repeat exposure to poison ivy. Once your body has come into contact with poison ivy multiple times, it stops viewing the urushiol oil as a foreign substance.
  • During the springtime, poison ivy leaves are at their smallest. Eating one small leaf a day will slowly adapt your body to the urushiol. As the season continues, the leaves will grow bigger and the dosage of urushiol will slowly increase which will help you gradually build immunity.
  •  You can make yourself poison ivy tea with fresh leaves. However, as you’re drinking it, you need to start off at a low consumption and slowly increase because you’re trying to build immunity.
  • Once you’ve developed an immunity to poison ivy, you’ll be able to use it in cooking. However, we recommend that you don’t try this until you’ve developed a strong enough immunity.

Whether you choose to eat poison ivy leaves or drink poison ivy tea, you want to make sure that you do so initially in small amounts. As time progresses, then you can increase your consumption of poison ivy. Make sure that you’re aware of your body’s reaction to the ivy so that you can regulate your consumption.

Poison ivy tea

Poison ivy remedies

If you’re trying to build immunity, you may encounter times where you drank too much poison ivy tea and now have an allergic reaction. Before you build your immunity to poison ivy, you need to get rid of the allergic reaction. Then, you can start back from the beginning and slowly increase your dosage of poison ivy. So, to get rid of your itchy, red rash, here are some natural remedies.

Aloe Vera Gel

Aloe vera is a great option that you can use to directly place onto the inflamed area. Make sure that the aloe vera gel you use is organic and high-quality. You can also use an actual aloe vera plant as well.

Aloe Vera Gel

Baking Soda Paste

Common kitchen baking soda is another great remedy to relieve itchiness from poison ivy. Place ½ cup of baking soda into a bathtub of warm water. Or you can use 3 teaspoons of baking soda with one teaspoon of water and mix it into a paste. You can apply the paste directly onto the inflamed area.

baking soda paste

Organic Witch Hazel

If you have witch hazel, you can dab a small amount onto the inflamed area. Witch hazel not only acts to relieve the itch but it also cleanses the area.

organic which hazel

Oatmeal Paste

You probably didn’t think that oatmeal paste wasn’t a remedy, however, it’s a great way to relieve the rash. You want to cook a small amount of oatmeal and directly place it onto the inflamed area. Make sure that you don’t apply the oatmeal onto the skin when it’s too hot.

oatmeal paste with baking soda

It’s the most ideal if you place the oatmeal onto the area when it’s warm. That way, it’ll be able to cool itself while on the affected area. You can also mix the oatmeal with a teaspoon of baking soda which will act as an extra itch-reliever.

Soap and water

Sometimes, soap and water just does the trick. Because urushiol is an oil, using plain water will not be able to remove it. Using dish soap will help to break up the oil that’s left on your skin. Dish soap will minimize the spread of the poison and reduce the rash.

washing hands with soap and water

Conclusion

Now that you know the remedies in case you have an allergic reaction, you’ll be well prepared to consume poison ivy and build immunity to it.

Through frequent interaction with poison ivy, tea and consumption of its leaves, you’ll be able to build immunity to it.

poison ivy climbing

But remember, in order to be successful at building immunity, you need start off with consuming small amounts of poison ivy. This make take some time until your body becomes adjusted, so be patient. As time passes, you’ll be able to ingest regular amounts of poison ivy without any problems.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jerry Mueller
Jerry Mueller

Jerry ‘Boy Scout’ Mueller spends 99% of his time camping or teaching others how to live in the wild. He became an Eagle Scout which is the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouting division when he was 17 and after that he still lives the scout life. Jerry always plans neatly every trip, takes leadership very seriously and if you listen to his tips and stories, you can learn tons of useful things.

  • Carl Anderson

    What a great article Jerry. This is really helpful especially for those who love hiking and camping. It is really important to know these kinds of information in case you encounter poison ivy. Thank you also for debunking the most common myths.I really thought that everyone is allergic to it.

  • Jon Morgan

    I think that it is really crucial to know the basics of various plants if you enjoy camping and hiking. It is nice that you have already summarized all the important details about poison ivy. As for the myths, thank you for clarifying that the plant is actually not contagious and that it is active all-year round.

  • Jerry Mueller

    Always be careful out there!

  • Jerry Mueller

    Thanks! Be careful, friend!

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