Delicious Poison Ivy

So it has been a little while since I have posted. In an attempt to get away from the cold and take a vacation before the craziness of spring and building a house this summer, my husband and I ran away to Costa Rica for 12 days. I had originally wanted to write at least 1 post while there but couldn’t find anything about vacationing in the tropics relevant to this blog, and I didn’t really see any reason to make everyone jealous of the sunshine and warmth 😉 However on our last day there I realized that maybe the tropics and West Virginia do have a little bit in common.

I guess to start this story, I need to mention that the major reason we decided on going to Costa Rica was because I have a number of friends from Costa Rica (AKA Tico’s) that I worked with years ago in Colorado during my ski bum phase. For  years I have been promising that I would visit. So, lucky us, we had a free place to stay while in the San Jose area at my friend Alejandra’s parents’ house. Even though they lived in a suburban area, they have a large yard with a bunch of fruit trees….see, there are already some similarities between them and us, haha. The largest tree in the front yard was a huge mango tree. Last year when we went to Thailand we were surprised, and disappointed, to find out that Thai’s eat their mangos green, not ripe. Apparently, Ticos do the same thing and Alejandra’s father was determined to show us how delicious it was. So out to the yard we all went and picked some green mangos, right off the tree. As a warning, our host made sure to show us that if you don’t pick the mango correctly, they will spray out a milky white liquid that if you get on your skin can cause a mild reaction. We were careful. We went went inside and he prepared the mango in thin slices, covered in lemon juice and salt. I have to admit, it was pretty good; probably better if you don’t imagine that it was a mango and should have been sweet and juicy. Nevertheless we ate up and then packed up and went to the beach, where we stayed in a cheap hostel, drank local beer, and got nice and burnt to a crisp the way only a gringo who hasn’t seen the sun in 4 months can.

Mango tree in Alejandra's front yard

Mango tree in Alejandra’s front yard

Have I lost you yet? Are you confused what any of this has to do with poison ivy or similarities between the tropics and West Virginia? I promise I am getting there.

So the next morning my husband woke up in our hostel with tons of red, itchy spots all over his arm and both legs. Uhhg, we had only been in a foreign country for 2 days and he gets bed bugs? Yuck. For the remained of our trip he itched and itched; the heat and humidity didn’t help. We figured it had gone systemic and was a bad reaction to the actual bites because more started to show up here and there, just as the original spots were finally disappearing. Even upon returning to our friends house, her parents and aunt who is a nurse agreed they were bed bugs. Uhhg.

I kept getting frustrated however that new spots kept popping up. And I thought it was really strange that they were only on 1 arm from the elbow down, and both legs from the knees down. Everything covered by shirt sleeves and shorts weren’t affected. But we were assured poison ivy, which my husband is pretty allergic to, doesn’t grow in Costa Rica. We didn’t want to doubt the locals.

Finally on our last day there I looked up on the internet “Costa Rica plants that cause allergic reaction.” I came across a page that mentioned someone who would have weird reactions when they ate green mango when they visited Costa Rica. Hmmm. I did anther search of reactions to green mango. There was something mentioning “Urushiol.” Sound familiar at all? Anyone who has been affected by it probably knows what it is. Urushiol is the oil in poison ivy, oak and sumac that make you break out and itch like crazy. Yep, mystery solved, mango leaves, stems, sap and sometimes the skin of the fruit contain urushiol, which can cause contact dermatitis, especially in people who have a history of reacting to poison ivy. Wikipedia has a page on mango and on urushiol that discuss this. Most people from the states don’t know this fact probably for a few reasons: 1) we don’t eat green mangos, and 2) even if we did, they are most likely treated and washed before they would make it to our markets. Why didn’t our Tico hosts know this, or even heard of anyone having a reaction? My guess is that while they are exposed to the oil in low doses when they pick them, prepare them and eat them, if they were to have a reaction from the oil, it would be subdued by these low doses. This theory of mine comes from other materials I have read how for generations, Native Americans have eaten the new, shiny leaves of poison ivy in the spring, when the amount of urushiol is low. This helps their bodies grow immune to the effect of the oil. Personally, I have never tried this. I don’t react very much to poison ivy, but in the past my husband has taken homeopathic treatments similar to this where he bought a few vials of liquid that contained low doses of the oil and were supposed to lessen, or stop, your reaction to the plant for that season. Similar to vaccinations we receive at the doctor’s office for many other diseases. A low, or weakened, dose introduces the vector to our body so that our body knows what to fight.

Its funny how things like that work. My husband thought he would be safe eating a fruit that he loves and has enjoyed many times in the past. Little did he know poison ivy’s cousin was lurking in the dark. At least we learned something, and of course its better than having bedbugs!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s