How to Identify Poison Oak


Poison oak and ivy can be identified by its three leaf cluster. It can be found from sea level, up to an altitude of 5,000 feet. It may be a spindly plant, a climbing vine or a bush. A common saying is "leaves of three, let it be."

 In the spring, look for light green leaves with whitish green flowers on the stems. In the summer, the leaves change color to yellow-green, pink or red and the flowers are replaced by white or tan berries. In the fall, the leaves turn bright red and brown. In the winter, the leaves are all but gone and the sticks remain.

Winter time is the period of time when some people say the bush is dormant. But for those with a low immunity to the plant, it is common to catch the rash from a single contact with the urushiol-oiled sticks that carpet the slopes of western Oregon and northern California like hair on the back of a hog. What makes the plant so poisonous in the resin found on the plant.

Urushiol (ooh-roo-she-all) is the toxic, resinous oil found in the roots, stalks, leaves and the white berries of the poison oak plant. When the colorless oil comes in contact with skin, it binds within 20 minutes and becomes difficult, if not impossible, to get off the skin with soap and water. The rash, which shows up within one to five days, is the body’s natural reaction to the poison.

Available at pharmacies and grocery stores, Tecnu and Tecnu Extreme are the best products I have found to get rid of urushiol. Tecnu was developed in the Cold War, designed to wash away the radioactive dust from a nuclear blast. Since that hasn’t been a real problem since 1945, Tec Labs turned their attention to that other bane of human existence – urushiol.

 Get rid of the oil and the risk of a rash in two steps.

 1. Remove it from skin - hands first, then wash face and other areas that may have been exposed. Rinse hands, apply a small amount of Tecnu or Tecnu Extreme and gently rub for 15 seconds then rinse.

 2. Remove poison oak and ivy oils from gear and clothing - put on rubber gloves then rinse and scrub leather and vinyl with Tecnu Original. If washing affected clothes in a machine, combine Tecnu Original cleanser with ReviveX Pro Cleaner for a one-two punch that will knock urushiol out of cottons, polyesters and other fabrics. 

Gary Lewis can be reached at

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