Eating poison ivy will make you immune to it?

A friend swears that a person will become immune to the effects of poison ivy if they eat it before they reach the age of 10.

I think it’s B.S., and dangerous to say the least. Is my suspicion correct?

Well, it’s not quite B.S., but it’s grossly simplified from the truth, and that’s dangerous enough. There are those who have developed a tolerance by eating small amounts of poison ivy, or by drinking the milk of goats that have grazed on it; Euell Gibbons describesit in Stalking the Wild Asparagus. It’s a risky proposition, as people have differing reactions, and even a small amount can kill some people. Many of those who have done it did it as adults, so the “10 years old” thing is right out.

Here is an article I found at the Wilderness Way magazine site that gives step-by-step instructions for “self-immunization”:

Seems like a lot of trouble and risk to go through on annual basis.

Gut reaction here, no cite, I’m just a California farm kid who grew up running through the poison oak (same poison as p.ivy): I don’t believe it. Some people might luck out, but I heard second-hand of someone who tried it and ended up in the hospital.

You note the wwman cite publisher puts a comprehensive disclaimer at the bottom of the article. Note also, when the writer says “But, I never found or have heard of anyone having a physical problem occurring from this method of poison ivy immunization.” he does not specify how many people tried it, whether they were resistant or susceptible before trying it, or any other specifics.

Gives an appearance of ‘lack of science’ to the whole thing, and I don’t eat poisons on just a stranger’s say-so.

I’ll go with nametag.

And this response isn’t as cite-based as I’d like, but you can say the poison-oak natives don’t do this procedure, and they oughtta know.

This approach is based on theory. Perhaps a good one, perhaps not. What is lacking is actual evidence that this sort of protocol really works. So anyone who tries it is being their own experimental guinea pig. Perhaps for the better, perhaps not.

I’d advise avoiding it.

Evidence-based medicine! Yup, I’m for it.


Poison ivy doesn’t care where it gets you. I had a teacher once who would get poison ivy in his throat from the pollen in the spring if he didn’t go to the doctor before spring started and get on his medication. I also heard tell of a fellow breathing in smoke from burning poison ivy and nearly dying of the allergic reaction in his lungs.

I am allergic to the extent that all I have to do is get down wind of the stuff. I don’t know the exact range, though I doubt it is over ten or twenty feet.

All of this to say:
Eating the crap could do you some serious harm if you are severely allergic to it. Don’t self treat, go to the doctor or stay the hell out of the woods.

I have heard of people (my brother, for one) getting injections of some sort to build up a resistance to poison oak. It takes a while, and doesn’t last long if you stop taking the injections, but if you’re going to be clearing a lot of brush or working as a fireman in the hills, it could be very handy.

Friends of my parents in California had a housewarming party. They needed some long, thin sticks to make hot dog roasting sticks. Not being acquainted with the local flora, they used poison oak.

They were not immune. It’s been 40 years and people are still bitching about it.

QtM, When I was a teen I had a job offered me ( In Marin County CA ) to do some lumber cutting work. As a kid I was VERY allergic to Poision Oak. Always seemed to settle in the groin area. :slight_smile:
I couldn’t turn down the Job so I went to my doctor, who gave me a " Poision Oak" shot. To this day I don’t know what it was, but it worked for me. Finished the job even while working among the three leaf bitch witout even an itch!

Yea Calimine Lotion!!!

Then there are people like me who never drink goat milk or eat poison ivy, and poison ivy still has no effect on me. Muah ha ha ha ha ha

I can work all day with fiberglass insulation and not get itchy too! What’s up with that!?

Back in the old days 1950s when I was a boy scout, I was told of a scoutmaster who was a doctor . He gave every new scout a poison ivy leaf and told them to eat it because he didn’t want to treat poison ivy while on field trips…
I thought about that for years and finally,when I was dating my wife who was from the same town as the old scoutmaster I asked some guys about it. Their reply–“Yep he sure did. He gave it to all of us.”
I didn’t question the guys as to their immunity to poison ivy though.

Wow, evidence, huh? So like what exactly? You want to get a hundred people together, who are not you, and tell them to eat poison? Good luck with that. Please let us know if you ever convince a hundred people to eat poison while you periodically rub even more poison on their skin every week and measure the size of the heinous rashes that break out as a result of your experiment. Good plan there.

Or you could just eat it yourself and find out that way. That’s fair, right? He who wants the knowledge should take the risk. That’s what I did. For 3 months during spring, I was camping alongside a hill, abreast with poison oak. Inevitibly, it got everywhere. For 3 months, I was constantly itching, and took my mental control to a new level as I learned to ignore the discomfort rather than scratching my skin to ribbons and spreading it around worse.

So one day, I tried eating the tiniest leaf–it felt exactly as one would expect. Imagine everyone of your cells in your entire body itching as badly as any poison ivy rash you’ve ever had on a mere arm or long. Imagine every nerve cell you’re aware of screaming out in agony for hours, tracing fiery tendrils in your blood. It knocked me out. I don’t know what happened–I thought I was going to die, until everything turned to blackness. I didn’t dream that night.

When I woke up, I felt hungover, yet amazing. Many of the scars around my body had healed. It was if every cell in my body had shed a layer of skin, and I’ve never felt fresher. Incidentally, the allergic reaction that urishidol causes is simply cell aptosis–literally cells shedding their skin and remaking themselves again. So it shouldn’t be any wonder that I felt that way. Probably knocked a year or so off my hayflick limit (the total number of timed cells can replicate before their DNA wears out) but it was worth it.

tl;dr After that event, I would walk straight through thigh high fields of poison oak, and it never once bothered me again. It even smelled different afterwards.

Note to Lyme: This thread is 12 years old, but Evidence-Based Medicine hasn’t changed.

Evidence-Based Medicine means your anecdotal story is worthless.

But if it works for you, go for it. Just don’t expect anyone else to care about your personal experience, because, uh…it’s worthless.

I obviously stole your natural physiological responses. Would you like them back?

Cells do not have skin, because skin is made of cells. Cells do have a cell membrane, but a cell that loses its membrane is dead, and will not be remaking anything.

He/she ain’t no friend.

FWIW i use to get poison ivy pretty bad every year, and several times a year. One time I got a massive dose climbing up out of a rock crevice on a vine that was (unknowingly) PI. Woke up the next morning with a eye swollen shut and very congested, got the PI rash across my face and in places all over. After recovery I hardly ever get anything besides a isolated PI blister or two.

Not a way I would recommend, but happy some real benefit came of that suffering. And not that was not eating it but breathing in the oil seemed to have a similar effect and I would guess some did end up in the digestive tract. and also FWIW I was older then 10 when it happened.

Lots of people think they are “immune”, it doesn’t work that way. Repeated exposure will eventually cause a reaction. I can’t imagine eating poison ivy. For even worse reactions our friends down under have a native species called Gympie Gympie whose reaction is said to be a combination of itching, burning, and electric shock and a true medical emergency. One person is said to have committed suicide after using the plant for… toilet purposes. Yikes.


Urushiol (found in poison ivy/oak) causes allergic contact dermatitis, involving a complex immune system response that involves a variety of cells, cytokines, and most important T-cells, some of which retain a “memory” of the offending substance and are mobilized on subsequent exposure.

I probably don’t need to point out the bogus nature of Lyme’s other claims (including the one about scars magically healing overnight), but would emphasize that eating poison ivy in an almost certainly useless attempt to induce tolerance is a dangerous, dangerous idea.

yup. I grew up in place that had no poison ivy and then moved as an adult to a place that was infested with the stuff. It took about 6 years of regular contact before I started reacting. I suspect if I’d eaten it it would have sped up the sensitization process.

Level 5 evidence. Used in the absence of higher level evidence. “worthless” only for certain values of “worthless”.