Eating poison ivy to gain immunity?
Has anyone tried eating poison ivy (or other urushiol-containing plants) to gain temporary immunity to them?
(And, Did you survive? )
This approach is described in Wilderness Way magazine:
Originally Posted by Randall Jones
That sounds like a bad idea to me. Since your mouth is so vascular I would think the toxins would be absorbed pretty quick. I'm no doc, but I would think you could run the risk of having a localized reaction in you mouth which could lead to the swelling of the tissues. In other words closing your airway, which is generally bad. But, maybe Randell Jones is a really smart guy and he is on to something.
I've been doing this every year since I was a kid and read about it in one of Euell Gibbons' books. Seems to work, I've only gotten very mild cases of it since. A physician friend of mine is appalled by the practice, though. He says it could cause a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction.
I did an internet search and came up with these tidbits, in no order and with no idea how valid any of them are:
"You know what poison ivy does to your skin. Can you imagine what it does to your internal organs? Eating poison ivy can be fatal. ..."
" Severe cases, especially those involving mucous membranes (eyes, mouth, throat, lungs, etc.) require medical attention.... As with many allergens, a severe reaction can be fatal if left untreated."
"There is anecdotal evidence of people desensitizing themselves to poison ivy by eating poison ivy leaves, first starting with a tiny amount and then gradually increasing the dosage until a maintenance level is reached. The most common side effect of this treatment, however, is getting the rash where the urushiol passes out of your body. It is also possible to have symptoms internally. Similar treatments in pill form can be obtained from a doctor or dermatologist, but have the same unpleasant side effects. No other immunization appears to be available at this time."
"A superstitious story recommends eating poison ivy or rubbing it on the skin as a sort of immunization. Such a practice is not advised; it could result in a fatal reaction."
"For many years, folk wisdom has held that one may gain immunity to poison ivy by eating the leaves of the plant, a practice that is foolish and extremely hazardous. Nevertheless, compounding pharmacies advertise the availability of an oral poison ivy solution developed from a German formulation, described as "Rhus Tox Oral Solution."
"... if you're determined to become resistant to something unpleasant, you could always start with poison ivy. The active ingredient in poison ivy (as well as in poison oak and sumac) is the chemical urushiol, a nasty and persistent oil contained in almost every part of the plant; contact with this stuff produces a serious allergic reaction in about 85 percent of the populace."
"... And as difficult as it may be to imagine doing, outdoors types have long advocated eating poison ivy leaves, in small amounts, as a way of building up one's urushiol tolerance; Euell Gibbons recommends the practice in his foraging guide Stalking the Wild Asparagus. Does it work? Dermatological testing says yes — ingesting urushiol made subjects less likely to break out in a rash following skin contact. The benefits decrease fairly quickly over time, so you have to keep up with it, and one noted side effect is pruritus ani, also known as itchy ass syndrome. You can also develop urushiol resistance via injections, or through occupational exposure ..."
"Myth: Eating poison ivy leaves can make you immune. Fact: Eating poison ivy is inviting reactions in the mouth, throat and anus. 'Nuff said? ..."
"Eating poison ivy was the best idea I ever found in a Euell Gibbons book, though others who have tried it call it one of the worst."
"I must share something that has helped me tremendously. An elderly neighbor told me how to get rid of poison ivy, of which I had known the horrors of. She said to me, the old timers would pick a leaf of the plant each spring and eat it. I now pick a small leaf and eat it each spring, and I can pick wild blackberries with my hands all in the poison ivy and never have a reaction. Most folks are scared of this when I tell them, but blessed be my neighbor, it works for me.
By Rexe from Junction City, Arkansas
Editor's Note: Warning! Eating poison ivy can be very dangerous and can cause shock and severe breathing problems. Advice similar to Rexe's can be found all over the internet and in some cases, this may be an effective way to increase your immunity to poison ivy. But I would strongly recommend against trying this approach."
"Every year when I was a kid, my brother and I would eat poison ivy (I'm not kidding). My mothers mother (who died when I was a toddler) was Kiowa. Their family ate poison ivy (as a preventive measure)."
"I worked with a man that would start eating one poison oak leaf per day, starting in July. He would do this in preparation for his August hunting trips. He claimed his reaction to poison oak was minimized by the daily doses of the toxin."
"Immunity not conferred by eating any plant part;
ingestion can cause serious gastric disturbance."
"One every day in the month of May."
"If someone happens to eat poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, he or she should seek medical attention immediately."
From an interview of Euell Gibbons by Mother Earth News magazine: "GIBBONS: There is. Let me give you an example. I wrote in my first book about eating poison ivy leaves to gain immunity to the plant. I eat three of the tiny little leaves—that's one leaf with three little leaflets—when they're still red. "One every day in the month of May."
I've never had the slightest ill effect from eating those leaves and, since I've been doing it, I've never gotten poison ivy during the summer. I sometimes get it on my fingers in the early spring when I dig sassafras roots or something before I've eaten the leaves . . . but I no longer contract the ailment in the summer.
Now, although this old folk remedy works for me, I made it very plain in my book that I don't consider this a safe and settled scientific practice. I merely told the truth about observations on myself and other people who turned me onto the practice. Still, people—including Kingsbury, author of POISONOUS PLANTS IN THE U.S. AND CANADA —have written telling me my poison ivy experiment is dangerous because some individuals are extra-sensitive to the plant.
Kingsbury said that I should not have published the information at all so I wrote back and told him that every drugstore in this state—and in most states where there's poison ivy—sells pills against it . . . and those pills are nothing more than poison ivy extract. They're made from the poison ivy plant, they're taken to grant immunity and it says right on the box that if you start to to break out in a rush you should immediately stop taking the the pills and see a doctor. I told Kingsbury that I was doing exactly the same thing, only I was going out and gathering my medicine instead of buying it over a drugstore counter. He wrote back the most condescending, patronizing letter you ever saw in your life. He said, "Mr. Gibbons, you apparently do not understand that this immunity pill is never given to people until they're first tested for sensitivity."
I got up and walked right downtown and three drugstores in a row sold that medicine to me. All three recommended that I take it. So I wrote back to Mr. Kingsbury and told him, "You're completely misinformed if you think everybody has to have a sensitivity test to get these pills. They're sold over the counter, no questions asked. I'll bet what's bothering you isn't the danger of what I'm doing. You're bothered because I'm going out and getting a wild plant for nothing, putting it in my mouth and eating it. You somehow feel protected if somebody is processing it, packaging it and selling it at a huge profit. Because you're brainwashed." And that's exactly where I stand."
This one from WebMD has serious implications for all us berry-pickin' bushcrafters: "The old folk tale about eating poison ivy leaves to make yourself immune is just that -- a myth. Never eat the leaves or berries of wild plants, many of which can cause dangerous reactions."
I know that if you burn a pile of brush that has it in it & my Dad is w/in 30 miles(somewhat j/k here) he gets it in his throat & lungs. Can you imagine poison ivy outbreak in the lungs? I on the other hand weed-eat bunches of the stuff every summer & have never had a outbreak.
That's interesting but I'm not going to try it. I WILL try eating mosquitoes this spring to see if I can develop a resistance to them. Maybe if I eat enough of them they'll think I'm a huge mosquito and leave me the hell alone. If it works I'll start in on deer flies, which I hate and despise even more than mosquitoes, but not quite as much as noseeums and greenhead flies.
Don't eat mosquitoes, they could be carrying a virus or some such.
Originally Posted by sbkittrell
Eating anything poisonous is generally a bad idea, especially toxins which can cause an anaphylactic reaction.
Nope. Can't say I've ate it mate. Never really needed to. I have a -really- high tolerance of that stuff. I can walk right through BUSHES of it in shorts and not get bothered. All in the draw I 'spose.
Bush Class Basic Certified
I would never eat poison ivy for any reason. I have never gotten poison ivy so there would not be a reason for me to eat it. Would eating it hurt me since I don’t get it on my skin? Maybe not but that is an experiment I am not going to try. I have a feeling that if you get poison ivy, you will always get it no matter what you do. If you don’t get it, you probably will never get it. It just has to do with the make up of each individual persons body.
I've done some more Googling, and despite the uncountable anecdotal accounts, I can't find a single news article or name of anyone who's ever died or even gotten ill from eating poison ivy. I can find actual news articles with names of people who've been killed by baseballs, golfballs, ostriches, dentists, sex with horses, a falling cactus, swallowing a toothpick and drinking too much water, but none about poison ivy.
This spring I'll do it as usual, but I'll try to be a little more scientific. I'll rub some on my arm before I eat it to see what happens, and I'll do the same later in the summer. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion.
Last edited by Oblio13; 02-04-2009 at 10:23 AM.