Iowa isn’t Australia. We don’t have giant spiders or killer reptiles, but who would have guessed we do have some pretty nasty plants? This particular summer one specific plant, wild parsnip, has been particularly obnoxious reeking havoc on many outdoor enthusiasts and gardeners. But there are others which can cause just as much pain and discomfort, in particular poison ivy and stinging nettles. How do you know what is what and, if you do come in contact with any of these plants, what should you do? We’re here to offer some clues and remedies to keep your summer time free of blisters and itchy skin.
It’s only fitting we begin with wild parsnip because if you’re anyone even near the Midwest we’re sure your Facebook feed has been filled with news articles and reports about the devastating effects this plant can have on your skin. The trick with this guy is how pretty it can be. Tall and slender with little groupings of mustard yellow flowers perched on top like adorable little fairy tables lure you in with the promise of a seasonal wild flower center piece. Don’t be fooled. The oil from this plant will leave you itching and covered in blisters. The oils within the plant are highly toxic when they are on your skin and exposed to sunlight, so if you see this plant while hiking, working in your yard or out for a well deserved run, stay clear and literally run the other way. It only flowers from May to July, but the plant is toxic even if it’s not flowering.
Nearly everyone living in the Midwest has heard of poison ivy and many have seen or felt it’s serious bite. A difference between wild parsnip and poison ivy is you must be allergic to the oil within the poison ivy plant to have a reaction. This is why some people can brag about their ability to roll around in the plant without a single welt, but we wouldn’t recommend pressing your luck. The majority of individuals are allergic and you’ll regret your choice while you’re slathering yourself down with chamomile lotion. If, and around 85 percent of people are, you are allergic your skin will begin burning, itching and blistering within 12 to 24 hours of coming in contact. The plant is known for its three leaf configuration, which is actually three leaflets making up a single leaf, which helps in the identification process. To distinguish it from other “three leaf” plants look for shiny or dull leaves which are 2 to 5 inches long. It can grow as a small plant, shrub or even a vine climbing a tree. This guy is versatile.
This lovely little plant is less harmful then wild parsnip and poison ivy, but, none the less, very annoying. Like the name says this plant stings you. As you wander along enjoying the beauty of the outdoors, trying to avoid the other two noxious monsters, you may unknowingly brush against some stinging nettles which then injects acid into your skin through tiny plant hairs. Adorable right? The good part is the reaction only lasts a few moments unless you end up in a mess of nettles and then you may suffer a bit longer. But overall this one is the least irritating with the shortest torture time of the three worst plants in Iowa. This guy grows anywhere from 6 inches to 6 feet in height. I once found myself in a field of nettles which were all at least 6 feet tall on my quest to find a Geocache. The outcome was quite uncomfortable.
So, you think you’ve come in contact with wild parsnip or poison ivy…now what? Immediately wash off the areas which came in contact. The quicker you get the oils off of your skin the less reaction you will have. There are a number of “poison ivy washes” you can buy to carry with you while you’re hiking. I recommend this. I know I carry some because I found out I’m a part of the elite 85 percent who are allergic. Placing a cool, wet rag over the area will also help to relieve some of the pain. If blisters do appear do not pop them if at all possible. The blister is natures bandaide and will aide in healing. We know….easier said then done. If you have a severe encounter seek medical attention. They can offer topical medications to help with the discomfort.
As for stinging nettles…suck it up buttercup. I carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer with me when I’m out hiking. It sounds nuts, but as soon as I feel a sting I rub myself down and the pain disappears.
With all of that being said…at least we don’t have poison oak or poison sumac in Iowa. Enjoy your hikes!