Thursday, June 4, 2009

Leaves of Three, You're Ok By Me


A couple years ago I worked at a farm. I regularly plunged my hands into a cold water coursing over IPM-raised lettuce. I wiped down shelves covered in farm fines (this term is usually used to describe the powder-like byproduct of mining or quarry operations. The material is so minute that it is always held in suspension while in liquid. Not great for creatures downstream like trout. Here, I use it to describe the soil that is pulverized by tractors and boots and then blows into every crack much like New Jersey's own Dust Bowl.) I broke down cardboard boxes, hoisted half bushels of apples into trucks and carried trays of herb seedlings like a waitress.

One day my beat up hands said, "Enough of the Cherry Punch and Orange Oil industrial soap. Enough of the ice cold vegetable washing and garden soils. I quit." I brushed my fingers across the counter top. "Ow." An electric shock went through my hands.

I was reminded of the lovely Southern lady who worked in Accounts Payable at the plastic pipe company I worked for years ago. Her fingers were bent from arthritis, and one careless gesture caused her pain. She held her fingers in whichever hand hurt less and winced. I winced, too.

Now I understood. My hands were swollen and red. The slightest touch was awful. Months went by and autumn turned to winter. Ouch, ouch.

I visited an herbalist. I was prescribed a homeopathic remedy - Rhus tox, which is how herbalists often nickname it. Now called Toxicodendron radicans, formerly called Rhus toxicodendron. What great name, sounds terrible! What is it?

Poison ivy.

Relief was immediate. I was amazed. Truly. Months of pain evaporated in hours.

I have never disliked poison ivy. I have an awareness of its abilities after seeing my mom suffer terribly from regular cases, and I myself having a chronic, mild case all summer, every summer. It is a powerful plant and gained my admiration.

Because of my work, I discuss invasive plants with people all the time. "Butterfly bush, barberry, Chinese silver grass... all invasive garden plants," I say. It's tough for some to hear. "Really, my purple loosestrife? I never noticed a problem with mine." Once I finish with this discussion and questions are answered... I often hear:

"Yes, like poison ivy. Invasive plants. What about poison ivy?"

"Hmm. That's a native one. Poison ivy. Yes, native. You know, I used to work at a farm..."


Many plants have leaves of three. Jack-in-the-pulpit has poisonous berries.

1 comment:

  1. You know, I often struggle with invasive plants...but I have noticed that they tend to thrive in disturbed areas and I wonder, if they are helping to build up the soil nutrients since natives have a hard time growing in disturbed areas.

    I've also wondering about poison oak...I'm not allergic to it but I have many co-workers who are (biologists) and I think about the natives who I've heard used to weave baskets with their branches which also cause some people to break out in rashes. Why are some immune and others not?

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