Photo: Franco Folini
Today I was riding along Pierce Street, at the base of Albany Hill. Amongst the Eucalyptus trees was some guy collecting small branches and twigs. For what I don't know.
I remarked to my sister that I wondered if the guy knew he was near several patches of Poison Oak?
Over the past few months, the annual Poison Oak crop has returned. At first, it was a nice shiny green color. However, as the temperatures have risen, and there's been less rain, it has started to dry out and turn a vibrant reddish color.
Every year the patches seem to creep closer and closer to the Pierce Street sidewalk, within arms length of unsuspecting pedestrians.
For those that don't know what Poison Oak looks like, it has three leaves, similarly shaped like Oak leafs (hence the name). The stem has no thorns. It usually grows in small bushes that spread across the ground. However, it has been known to climb up into trees too.
Photographer Hans Kellner has put together a web gallery showing several good examples of what it looks like.
The easiest way to stay safe is to remember the old adage, Leaves of Three, Let it be!
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Tolerances very from person to person. Some people are lucky enough to be immune. My great-grandfather one time picked a bouquet of this beautiful wild plant he found to take home and give to someone. He couldn't figure out why everyone on the street car was giving him a very wide birth as he got on and found a seat.
Unfortunately, not everyone is that lucky. My father was the extreme opposite. Allergic, to the point that, as a kid, his eyes swelled shut, his face puffed up and he was forced to drink soup through a straw anytime it was meal time.
And just because you don't get it the first time you encounter the plant, don't assume you're set for life. I've was pretty lucky for the longest time, especially when in Boy Scouts. Then, sometime in high school, my immunity weakened and I had a reaction.
While it was mild, it reminded me that you always need to give the plant a good healthy respect.
Should you find yourself a bit itchy after returning from your outing, whatever you do DON'T SCRATCH!! No matter how much it feels good. It's through the scratching that the Poison Oak oil is spread across the skin. And if you should break the skin, it can get nasty and infected.
For those brave enough, or who are not currently eating, here are some photos of reactions, including some that are pretty extreme.
Chances are that should you catch it, your case won't be anywhere near the worst examples, and it will clear up in only a few days.
If you find yourself in need of some quick relief, you can make a thin paste of baking soda, so even a solution of good old fashioned vinegar mixed with water, will help.
When I was growing up, one of the go-to lotions was Calamine. It looked awful, because it left you with a white paste look wherever you applied it. But, it felt so good!
Should you find yourself in need of drugs, the pill form of Benadryl, usually knocks down the urge to scratch. However, do NOT use the Benadryl lotion. If you do, you might find yourself with a reaction of some sort that's just as bad as the Poison Oak you're trying to combat.
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On the small chance Poison Oak makes itself to your landscaping, one of the simplest was to get rid of it, is by manually going at it with a hoe and pulling it out.
There are also poisons that can be used to kill the plant. But, a organic option would be to find yourself a goat! It turns out that the goats will munch away on the stuff, and never get sick. Nor will the poison make itself into their milk, should they be dairy goats.
Just make sure you are very careful around your furry friends, should be exposed to the bushes, as the oil will be picked up by their fur.