The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Barn damage due to poison ivy vines?

poison ivy damage to the structure of a barn

Turns out some of the structural damage to our barn was due to poison ivy vines.

The vines were exposed to falling water, which got conducted to various spots for what I'm guessing is decades.

It wasn't a problem for our new hired hand. He's been immune to the effects of poison ivy since he was a kid.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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We have poison oak in our neck of the woods. I can truthfully say that I have never seen branches the size of your poison ivy on our poison oak.
Comment by Mona Thu May 10 17:09:55 2012
Mona --- Doesn't it make you itch just looking at it?
Comment by anna Thu May 10 19:02:17 2012
Please tell your handyman not to get too over confident that he will not get poisen ivy. I never got it when I was younger. My sister would get it bad. I could handle it and demonstrate it and never was bothered. However, when I was in my 50s, I took some out of a pine tree in my yead at the time, taking every precaution I could and ended up with a bad case that needed steroids to get rid of it. The day I contacted it I left for Florida for a week long seminar and two days later I had blisters the size of a silver dollar and half an inch high. Once I broke the blisters I was fine, but needed the steroids to get rid of it.
Comment by Sheila Thu May 10 21:42:50 2012

Back in 1970 I was maintaining a piece of property inland from Pescadero, CA which had a lot of Poison Oak on it. We were trying to get rid of it by digging it up. The roots were as big as the branch in your picture with with an outer layer that pulled loose easily and bled sap all over you. I used a tincture of the leaves that I got from a local pharmacy, starting with 5 drops in a glass of water per day and building up to 30 or so to prevent all itching and rash. The commercial product isn't available any more but there are directions for making your own and at least some pharmacies will make it for you.


  1. Try a google search for "poison oak tincture oral hyposensitization"





This sounds somewhat scary but the only side effects I have heard about were some reports of pruritis ani which seem to be associated with use of oil based solutions rather than alcohol based ones, which are absorbed faster and not expelled where they get onto the skin.

Comment by John Thu May 10 23:04:37 2012

It makes me itch just looking at it! I must admit I have a terrible fear of poison ivy, and I wish I could convince myself it was irrational, but my mum has become so allergic to the stuff that she was horribly sick most of last summer (as in a rash over most of her torso and face, plus nausea, exhaustion, etc.), and that was just from petting cats who had rubbed up against it. When I suit up to go pull poison ivy (which I pretty much have to do a couple times a year), I look like I'm on some kind of haz-mat team!

Which is a long way of saying that those poison ivy logs are pretty terrifying and I'm glad that it's not my job to deal with them!

Comment by Ikwig Thu May 10 23:14:27 2012
When I was a kid (one of our many moves when I was young), my parents purchased a home (in town no less) that was covered in poison ivy vines like this. They weren't quite as big but almost. I don't think that it ever occured to my dad to check the structural integrity of the house where the vines had been. It was quite an old house, and I'm sure if he had, he would have found a nightmare!
Comment by MamaHomesteader Fri May 11 01:39:22 2012

I actually told Bradley something very much like what Sheila said (although not so extreme), and he replied that he used to be allergic to poison ivy. He got into it so badly as a kid that he had to have a steroid shot, and he hasn't gotten it since. I didn't realize poison ivy allergies could go in that direction (overexposure making them less, not more), but that may be similar to what John is writing about.

Ikwig --- I'll be hoping you stay out of poison ivy! My mom's a bit like that --- she barely has to look at the plants and she'll get a rash.

MamaHomesteader --- Probably a good thing you don't live there any more. :-)

Comment by anna Fri May 11 07:22:16 2012

My experience with other sensitizers (especially epoxy resins and hardeners) is that once your immune system starts to repond to the material, it doesn't go away. And with repeated exposure, the reaction gets worse.

When handling plants that contain urushiol, it is best to adhere to the clean working practices commonly used when handling irritants;

  • Wear long trousers and sleeves, do not expose your skin. Preferably multiple layers or something that is water resistant.
  • Use thick rubber gloves, preferably butyl rubber. Wash the outside of the gloves with water and soap before removing them.
  • Also clean your tools with water and soap before removing your gloves.
  • If there is possibility of eye contact, wear safety goggles.
  • If you get urushiol on your clothes, change them before it reaches the skin.
  • Wash contaminated skin immediately with water and soap. (it takes a couple of minutes for the stuff to penetrate your skin and trigger the immune response)
  • Wash contaminated clothing with detergent. before wearing them again
Comment by Roland_Smith Fri May 11 09:41:02 2012

I hope those vines haven't actually become a structural element of the barn themselves over time!

I get poison oak out on the West coast just by looking at it, but on our recent trip out your way, I purposely rubbed poison ivy on my forearm and waited to see what happened after a set number of time increments and had no reaction! Thrilled to not be allergic to it (at least at this point in my life).

Comment by mitsy Fri May 11 13:30:59 2012

Roland --- That's what I'd always heard too --- that your resistance could go away with prolonged exposure. I used to be 100% not allergic, but have noticed in recent years that I do get a very small rash if I'm exposed now.

Mitsy --- Bradley shored up that area just in case.... Glad to hear you're immune to poison ivy!

Comment by anna Fri May 11 16:16:48 2012

Another thing to be concerned about is disposal of any branches or roots that accumulate from clearing your property. If you attempt to burn them or if they are piled anywhere that fire could get to them, you should be aware that the oils can be carried in the smoke and cause problems if inhaled or deposited on the skin.

A good source of information on dealing with these plants would be anyone in the forest service who has dealt with them in the context of forest fires.

Comment by John Fri May 11 16:21:32 2012
John --- We're going for the "let it rot off in a corner where no one will bother it" method. :-) Much easier on our sprawling farm than it would be in a city, which is probably where people get into trouble for burning the vines.
Comment by anna Fri May 11 20:02:46 2012

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