Itching for a Creative Salad?

Know your plants

November 2010 Feature Shannon Stockwell

It seems most who enjoy the outdoors are well-versed in some of the more typical poisonous plants to avoid; poison ivy, poison sumac, poison oak, stinging nettle, etc. If you're not familiar with those, information abounds online to help identify and avoid them. If you're not lucky enough to avoid, there are first aid tips for treatment to exposure. Hint: if you have been out enjoying nature off the boat, and you find you're a little itchy, consider the possibility of having run into some of these green monsters while on the shore. It happens.

What to do? The following helps for contact with poisonous plants were listed at

  • Wash skin thoroughly with soap and warm water as quickly as possible. The resin enters skin quickly, so try to have it washed off within 30 minutes of exposure. You can try a product such as Tecnu for removing the oils. 
  • Be sure to scrub under fingernails with a brush to keep resin from spreading to other parts of the body.
  • Wash clothing and shoes with soap and hot water as the resin can linger.
  • Promptly bathe animals to remove the oils from their fur.
  • Stay cool and use cool compresses to avoid sweating, which can aggravate itching.
  • Use calamine lotion and topical hydrocortisone cream to reduce blistering and itching. A tepid water bath with one cup of a product such as Aveeno oatmeal can reduce itching. Soaking in aluminum acetate, Domeboro solution can help dry rash and reduce itching. 
  • Antihistamines can help if the bathing, creams and lotion aren't stopping the itching.
  • Severe rashes may require a prescription from your physician.

Beyond just running into poisonous plants, there are those who will venture to choose other plants to either cook for dinner or maybe for making an innovative salad. Some would still just lobby for lettuce from the grocery store. Dandelion greens, for instance, are fairly popular in a green salad these days. Some of these plants work out nicely to add a splash of green to your dinner table. Others, not so much.

Before you get excited and start picking every weed you see because it may just go good with dinner, know your plants. A good place to start is with your local extension agency. Most states have Master Gardeners on hand, as well as full-time professionals in the Agriculture industry available to answer your questions. Ask the people in the area who know before you start boiling your greens.

You don't want to end up poisoning your dinner guests. Houseboating was designed to be a relaxing and fun experience. Don't add a trip to the hospital to the agenda. Also a good-although not completely comprehensive-resource for information on poisonous plants can be found at There you can search for information on particular plants, such as mushrooms, and find resources to help you decide if you should really eat a certain green. For example, there are types of mushrooms that may cause acute yellow atrophy of the liver.

There are also some varieties of bulbs, seeds, rhizomes and berries that pose health threats as well. Should you suspect that someone has ingested a poisonous plant, you'll want to call 911 and administer first aid immediately.

The following steps for first aid from poison plant ingestion are noted at

  • Check, and if necessary, clear the airway.
  • If victim is unconscious, check breathing and pulse; resuscitation may be necessary. Then place them in the recovery position, as they may need to vomit.
  • It is noted that you do not want to attempt to induce vomiting.  
  • If in doubt as to whether or not the victim needs a medical practitioner, err on the side of contacting the emergency service when not needed, rather than taking the chance of having to live with the "what ifs" of not calling, resulting in more serious consequences. 
  • Keep samples of the plant and any vomited material to show the medical practitioner or to send with the victim to the hospital. 

Hopefully you aren't taking risks that could result in having to take this type of action. The bottom line really is that you should ask professionals at the local extension office, local university or agriculture specialists whether or not plants are safe for consumption.

Every lake you go to could have a plant that looks interesting enough to make a person, especially someone who likes to serve a little more exotic salad, consider throwing it in the pot. This really isn't an instance in which you'll want to put the "trial and error" theory to test. Know your plants before they end up on the dinner table.


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