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.