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Plants are a wonderful thing, and boy, they sure are useful when it comes to eating. They feed humans, yes, but they also sustain all those animals, herbivores, and the carnivores that eat herbivores, as well as the other plants that get their nutrients from other decaying plants. Then, there is that whole, huge kingdom of fungi that relies on plants as well. Plants—no one is going to argue—are the bee’s knees.
However, like all things grand, there are a few plants out there that can get a little prickly. Sure, there are thorny things like roses and berry brambles, but those are just momentary pricks. Some plants, well, are apt to cause serious damage, damage that lasts for days, months, maybe even years. Those are the types of plants, just the same as delicious plants like broccoli or apple trees, that we need to be aware of.
Source: Learn Your Land/Youtube
1. Poison Ivy & Poison Oak
They are possibly the two most unpopular plants in the United States, particularly plants native to the United States. Poison ivy and poison oak both have the reputation of having “leaves of three,” but this general rule negates that raspberry canes, blackberry canes, jack-in-the-pulpit, and trillium all have leaves of three as well.
Nevertheless, poison ivy and poison oak are irksome, to say the least. They have lots of incarnations, climbing vines, groundcovers, and shrub-like plants, which makes them sometimes hard to identify for certain.
Of course, they also have a resin called urushiol, and it’s this compound that creates the infamous rashes associated with these two plants. Pistachios, cashews, and mangoes all have the same toxin, but they don’t usually come with the same issues.
Poison ivy and poison oak can be treated with a poultice of jewelweed, a plant that often grows near them. If it is applied soon after exposure has happened, it’ll help to pull the toxins out of the skin. Regardless, a good shower with soap and water, scrubbing all exposed areas, will usually eradicate problems if taken ASAP after exposure to either poison ivy or oak.
Source: Joseph M. Reiner/Youtube
2. Poison Sumac
Poison sumac has the same toxin, urushiol, as poison ivy and poison oak; however, with a much higher concentration. For many scientists, this is the most toxic tree in the US. Inhaling burning poison sumac can even kill a person.
Poison sumac is a shrub that can get 25 feet tall and nearly as wide. It lives in wetlands, and it does not follow the three-leaves rule. It has pinnate leaves, bright red stems, and brilliantly colored foliage.
One natural remedy used to help with poison sumac is to boil cracked acorns in water for five minutes. Use the liquid remaining as a cold press on the afflicted areas. Frozen acorn water is nice as well. Rub ice cubes over the area well and treat it.
Source: Windrider Farm/Youtube
3. Stinging Nettle & Wood Nettle
There are several types of nettles, and some—including stinging nettle and wood nettle—have gotten some deserved acclaim as very healthy foods. However, they can cause a sting when brushed against human skin.
These two species of nettles have needle-like hairs on them, and these get on human skin and send chemicals into our bodies. It results in painful stings and often rashes.
The classic home remedy for stinging nettles is dock leaf, which grows nearby. The juices from these plants relieve the stinging. Otherwise, the way to treat nettle problems is to rinse the area without touching it, then gently clean the area with soap and water. If the hairs hang around, they can be further removed by using tape and pulling them out.
4. Giant Hogweed & Wild Parsnip
Both easily mistaken for Queen Anne’s lace, a member of the carrot family, giant hogweed and wild parsnip can cause some serious problems when encountered. Giant hogweed can get 14 feet tall and grows in the Northeast US. Wild parsnip is also a tall plant, and it even has edible roots.
Both of these plants contain sap that reacts with the skin to cause phytophotodermatitis, which reacts to sun and moisture. The ensuing rash, when exposed to the sun, is very painful and can cause blistering.
Unfortunately, the main treatment for exposure to these plants is to keep out of the sun, particularly the affected areas. Exposure to the sun can renew the rash, and this can last for a couple of years.
Source: Marina Hurley/Youtube
5. Gympie Gympie
Luckily, this plant is not found in the US. Like all things natural, terrifyingly deadly, it’s from Australia: the Gympie Gympie plant, aka “suicide plant”. This plant has a sting so potent it has ruined people’s lives and caused suicides. If one of the stingers from this plant breaks off in the skin, it causes years of pain.
The best treatment is to never come in contact with it and wear thick protective clothing if in places where Gympie Gympie might touch you. If contact does occur, waxing—a la the Brazilian—is the best way to remove the stingers. Yikes!
With the right mindset, a little knowledge, and some due diligence, it’s possible to coexist with these troublesome plants. However, they will keep you wondering—Why does this exist? Usually, it’s to feed the wildlife.
- Identifying Poison Ivy and Poison Oak (and Natural Remedies for When It’s Too Late)
- 7 Poisonous Plants to Keep Away From Pets
- The Connection Between Seasonal Allergies, Climate Change, and Mental Health
- Tips on Foraging for Berries
- 10 Natural Weed Killers and Suppressors
- Natural Remedies to Heal a Skin Rash
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