Poison Ivy Identification

If you have ever had a run-in with poison ivy you know how irritating it can be, but do you know some of the history behind it or how to identify it?

During the late 1700’s Europeans were fascinated by plants that are native to North America. As unimaginable as it may think, poison ivy seeds were sold as exotic plants.

The first written account of poison ivy was in 1624!

The gardens of Empress Joséphine Bonaparte contained poison ivy in the early 1800s and the artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté, who is well known for his drawings of flowers, drew poison ivy with its berries.

There is a chemical found in the poison ivy plant called urushiol. Members of the Anacardiaceae family all have this chemical. It is estimated that 85% of us are allergic to poison ivy. Even if you have been exposed to the plant on many occasions without any reaction, it can take multiple exposures before a rash will begin to develop. Some have reactions the first time they are exposed and for some others, it takes time before the underlying allergy actually develops. All parts of the plant contain urushiol and can still be present in dried poison ivy that’s 100 years old!
Scratching a poison ivy rash (it’s really called dermatitis) doesn’t actually spread the oils around. A reaction to poison ivy depends on the time between multiple exposes and how fast it is absorbed into your skin. This makes it look like it may be spreading, but it is not. You also can not spread the rash to other people.


Common Name: Eastern Poison Ivy, Poison Ivy
Scientific NameToxicodendron radicans
Leaves: 3 leaflets, alternate-compound, toothed/lobbed
Twigs/Vines: light brown, hairy centipede-like rootlets
Flower: Whiteish
Fruit: White berries, large clusters
Growing Time: Spring-Summer
Growth Habit: Shrub or vine
Parts Edible: NONE
Found: Throughout North America

Historic Uses

-Once used to treat paralytic and liver disorders
-Native Americans treated poison ivy rashes with… poison ivy
-André-Ignace-Joseph Dufresnoy prescribed an infusion of 12 leaves to treat various things from skin maladies to paralysis
-Poison ivy has been trained to grow into little bonsai trees


-Avoid contact at all possible. Use gloves and wear long-sleeve while handling. Wash gloves and clothing afterward as the chemical that causes skin irritation will still be present.
-Poison ivy is not limited to vines that grow up trees but will also grow as little bushes
-Pets can carry the oils and transfer it to you, bathe pets if they come into contact
-DO NOT burn poison ivy or any logs that had poison ivy on it. The smoke from burning the plant can be harmful when inhaled.
-Some people have severe reactions to poison ivy. It is important to contact a medical professional if; you know you have a severe allergy and come into contact with poison ivy if you have difficulty breathing especially after inhaling a lot of smoke from burning poison ivy, itching is severe and cannot be controlled, the rash is on the face, eyes, lips, or genitals, or if the rash shows signs of being infected.
-Do not consume milk from goats that have eaten poison ivy!


-Over the counter corticosteroid preparations
-Wet compress
-Plantain or Jewelweed poultice, lotion, and soap


USDA Eastern Poison Ivy
How Poison Ivy Works
Outsmarting Poison Ivy and Other Poisonous Plants
Poison ivy – oak – sumac rash
No Ill Nature: The Surprising History and Science of Poison Ivy and Its Relatives
-Foster, Steven, and James Duke A. Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs: Of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. 395-96. Print.
-Profant, Dennis. Trees, Shrubs, and Vines of Southeastern Ohio and Appalachia. By Bill Perine. 4th ed. N.p.: n.p., 2007. 155. Print.

Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. I am not a doctor, veterinarian, dietician, or health expert. Licensing is not available in the United States for an herbalist to practice herbal medicine.  If you wish to have advice on a medical problem, please consult a doctor. Every person is different and I cannot guarantee that any information provided will work for everyone.  You are responsible for your own health and any decision to alter your health is your own choice. Please consult a doctor before making any serious health changes.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Please Like, Comment, and Subscribe for more content!

Follow by Email