Curing An Extra Itchy Case Of The Gardening Stupids

I would bet that most gardeners have a list of a few things that they do, out of habit, that are counterproductive. For me it’s gardening without gloves or long sleeves. I almost never wear gloves or long sleeves. I love to work the soil with my hands, I weed bare handed and I harvest bare handed. Most of the time I end up in the garden working without having planned on it (which is why I’m usually dressed for Texas summer weather and not gardening!) Most of the time I can get away with this habit with minimal issues. Yesterday was not one of them!

My wonderful but itchy okra! If you wondered about your okra plant’s smell: Yes. The entire plant, including the pods, have a distinct cat pee like smell. It’s part of the plant’s defense and easily rinses off the pods using just water.
All of the okra goodness is under those big spiny leaves!

In high summer heat everything in my garden seems to have some sort of defense. Tomatoes, beans, squash, melons, cucumbers and okra (especially okra!) have spines or hairs that can break off in your skin (like the irritating glochid fuzzy hairs you can find on cacti) and cause a rash on your arms and hands (or whatever part of your body that brushes up against the plant.)

The hairy underside of a poona kheera cucumber leaf.

I also grow some things with sap that can irritate. I have figs whose milky sap can cause itching and then there is the parsnips that can cause a chemical burn if you rub up against the leaves and stems. Yesterday I got into all of the above with no gloves or long sleeves to protect myself. My “duhhh” factor was in full swing and I was miserable by the time I came inside!

The breba crop of a fig tree that I got a start from in my neighborhood.

It was like an instant poison ivy rash. I was itching so enthusiastically I was sure I was going to break the skin on my arms! I believe the main culprit was the okra spines I got into while reaching across the plants to harvest some pods but, I also carried in an arm full of figs. It’s entirely possible this was a cumulative rash from the many bad decisions I made that day to handle things without gloves or sleeves.

Regardless of the cause: I needed a cure, and fast! I first grabbed a tube of anti-itch cream from my husband’s dopp kit and applied enough to cover a large farm animal, with no results. The itching was completely uncontrolled with the cream so my mind started racing looking for an alternative to what I had already tried. I washed my arms repeatedly with castille soap because I was afraid it was sap from the arm load of figs I’d gathered (since my arms were sort of sticky.) That didn’t help much either. That’s when I remembered we have a can of instant oatmeal in the bathroom to mix in my kid’s baths when they get viral or allergic rashes. I was desperate at this point and I was ready to try anything.

I was beginning to wonder if I’d gotten into fire ants. This was sooooo bad! The itching was insane!

The fuzz on tomatoes and beans make the plant leaves a little bit like Velcro!

I have used oatmeal in baths before for my kids, but what I was dealing with was not going to be relieved by my soaking in a tub with just a little bit of oatmeal. I put the oatmeal in a small cup and added enough water to make a paste. I rubbed it all over my poor bright red, itchy arms and hands. It was a messy process but:

I had instant relief!

My son said this was zombie skin. To me: I see relief. This was after I’d let it dry and knocked off the big chunks of oatmeal. You would think I might have tried this at one point over the last forty some years! But this was the first time I’ve used it as a paste, and an oatmeal paste will be what I turn to first…next time!

I left it on long enough for it to start drying and then rubbed off the big chunks of oatmeal over the kitchen sink. What I was left with was a thin powdery coating of the oatmeal paste (my older boy noted that my skin looked like a zombie.) I left this coating on my arms for about an hour and then rinsed it off. I’ve never reacted to okra like this before, but in gardening: there are always first times for everything. I had complete and total itch relief. Now I have a new (old fashioned) cure for when I walk into another plant that my skin decides to violently dislike!


Lastly, over the years: this has become a bigger problem for me. If you are getting crazy itching on your forearms every time you get dry skin or after you are out in the sun for a while: you may have something called Brachioradial pruritus. You would need a doctor to diagnose that, but it’s getting diagnosed more frequently. Ice helps. I keep a dish sponge, cut in half, soaked with water, in zip lock bags, in my freezer or use a gel freezer pack.

Or just a baggy of ice. The cold REALLY helps!

I keep several frozen to help because the itching was becoming a problem several times a week. I also only moisturize with either an oatmeal baby lotion

or something equivalent to Cetaphil lotion and I make sure to do it after every shower or bath: before the itching has an opportunity to start! I cover my arms too, when I’m outside, so the sunlight doesn’t have a chance to start the intense itching.

Cetaphil brand is expensive. This is the pump Walmart version.
This is a Cetaphil knock-off tub from a random grocery store.

Since the disorder above is also light sensitive it finally makes sense why my bare arms were crazy itchy after being out in the sun gardening. I no longer use any soaps or detergents on my lower arms and I have gotten a little bit of control over what I have (which actually IS what I linked to above.) Since pinched nerves can cause this: I also believe my chiropractor helps when he adjusts my neck.

This itching is worse (or equal to) poison ivy but there’s currently no treatment or cure. Try the above suggestions, and if this is becoming frequent for you: see a doctor. It might be something else, it might be serious or you might have what I have and these suggestions will save you hours of misery. Good luck! Let me know how this works for you!


51 thoughts on “Curing An Extra Itchy Case Of The Gardening Stupids

  1. I used to be a veterinary technician, and sometimes repeat contact with an exotic animal would give you an allergy to it, over years of exposure. Perhaps this is the same thing. I am glad you found the cure!
    That fig shot made me so hungry. Figs don’t grow where I live now, and I miss them so much!

    1. I am wondering about that possibility too! It was bad enough that I swore I’d never work out there without the long gloves I have. But, as many of my attempts to change have ended: I got some okra spines in my arms again today! I tell you what, old habits are hard to break. I’m still trying to remember my gloves. I may hang them by the back door to visually cue myself! Thanks for coming by! I appreciate the visit.

    2. I hate gardening with gloves on more than I hate the scratches, pokes and itches that come from gardening. There is nothing like the textures of soil and plants! I will remember your remedy for next time – since there is always a next time.

      1. I totally agree! I’m glad I could help with the resulting itchiness from bare handed (arms too!) gardening. Thanks for coming by, I appreciate the visit!

  2. I don’t wear long sleeves but do wear glove 99% of the time only because I’m in the garden so much my hands get to looking so bad it is embarrassing to go out in public. I’m not a vain person, but when it looks like you haven’t washed your hands in days, it’s bad. LOL 🙂

    1. You know my mom’s hands get like that, but mine don’t. I got my dad’s skin and maybe that is why. If my mom doesn’t wear gloves you can tell for a week. My hands rinse right off. It is why this is a bad habit for me. There are certain plants that remind me to go put them on though! Thanks for coming by and commenting! I appreciate the visit.

  3. I always mean to wear gloves but somehow it never happens. Luckily about the worst thing that has happened so far is very dirty hands and nails!

    1. I have naturally tough nails. I think if mine broke or bent while I was out there I would have learned to wear them. As it is, I only recognize a need for them after I think: “I’ll just do this one thing before I go in” and the one thing is always something where it would have been smarter to just stop what I was doing and get my gloves! I’m happy to know I’m not alone in my lack of glove wearing! Thanks for the visit. I appreciate it!

  4. I am a little anal and tend to wear gloves, long sleeves (sun sensitive!), hat and sunglasses! I look like a rather shady individual when I am on the allotment but it does work – although I do like to ‘feel’ the earth and the plants but I have got a pair of gloves that are pretty effective but thin enough to work in. Good idea about the oatmeal – I wish I had this information two weeks ago as my granddaughter had sunburnt shoulders and I think this might have given her some relief.

    1. I have a few big floppy hats, gauntlet gloves and regular garden gloves, sunglasses and long shirts that I intend to wear but never do. I live in South Texas and some of our days are triple digit (Fahrenheit) and 50% humidity outside. I am lucky to survive those days without heatstroke! The heat here makes putting on anything extra, really hard to want to do. You’ll have to let me know if the oatmeal works for sunburns! I’d be interested to hear. Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate the visit.

    1. As I’m aging my skin is getting more sensitive. I think I’ll eventually start remembering my gloves. The kind of skin I had in my youth is not the type of skin I have now. Earlier this year I went out to cut some roses (in the dark. Every once in a while I get the urge to go on some garden adventure after dark. That is the “crazy” in my green thumbs!) and I reached in the bush and cut a few flowers to take inside. I got fire ant bites all over my hand and I snagged my skin on the backs of my hands with rose thorns. I looked like I had some horrible disease. It took 3 months for the red patches to fade. A few years ago that kind of injury wouldn’t have phased my skin. I’m starting to see the point in protecting myself! Thanks for coming by. I appreciate the comment and the visit!

  5. I got used to wearing thin clear plastic gloves for painting when using solvents, and find them useful for handling compost etc – find they’re better than nothing!

    1. I’ve got a box of latex gloves (like you would see at the doctor’s.) I love to use them for crafts but I hadn’t thought of trying them to mix soil! Great idea! My gardening gloves are porous so they aren’t that great for really wet gardening tasks. I will definitely wear the latex gloves next time I mix up potting soil. Thanks for coming by and commenting! I appreciate the visit.

  6. The only way I could wear the right thing every time is to have the gloves in the pocket of my long-sleeved garden smock hanging with the garden tools. Unlike you, however, I’m not the main gardener in our household and so I just decide not to garden when I’m not dressed right. You came up with a very clever “cure”. Well done. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

  7. I like your okra photos! I’m growing some for the first time this year and I’ve been wondering what the pods will look like. My plants are in a container on my balcony and not as far along as yours.

    1. I love okra! Most of it doesn’t make it inside because it’s one of my favorite fresh snacks in the garden. They make excellent dill pickles. (They aren’t so slippery when canned.) I may post my okra pickle recipe on here soon. Good stuff and worth the spiny plants! Thanks for coming by. I appreciate it!

      1. It’s related to hibiscus and you will see the family resemblance when it blooms. Make sure that the pods you eat and harvest are small (3-4 inches) or they get woody. Also make sure you rub the spines off of the pods before you eat them raw!

      2. That’s exciting, thanks for the info! I keep thinking it’s going to bloom but it’s another leaf that unfolds. Looking forward to the flower and the pods!

  8. I love okra, I’m going to try growing it next year, thanks for the tips. My dad was from Texas, he showed me how to fry it with cornmeal. I love it in minestrone.

    My husband and I grow lots of tomatoes and love them, but they give me an excema rash that can really get out of control. I’ve learned to pick very carefully or wear a long sleeve shirt and gloves. Whenever I handle tomatoes in the kitchen I try to remember to wear gloves. But sometimes, you know how it is – you can’t be perfect every minute.

    I love the oatmeal idea and will try it, but about a year ago I found aloe vera sap is GREAT! A friend gave me one plant years ago, and once I found out how wonderful it is, I’ve been propagating it all over my patio in various pots. I cut the leaves open and rub the sap all over my hands and arms. It’s instant relief, it dries fast without residue, and the cracks all over my hands are gone. It’s even calmed my psoriasis, gotten rid of a couple of chronic sores. A-may-zing!

    And the plants are a beautiful addition to my patio, I just try not to butcher them too badly when I’m cutting my morning leaf.

    Thanks for the garden talk!

    1. I’ve got aloe outside too and I agree it’s a wonder plant! I mainly use it on burns (for both sun and heat burns) and I love it for that. Tomatoes are supposed to be bad for arthritis. I have fibromyalgia, which is a totally different kind of inflammation, but I go easy on my tomato consumption because I figure they probably aren’t too good for it either. It’s hard to turn down a ripe tomato though! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I appreciate the visit.

  9. Just found your site. Thanks for the great post! It must be a trait where we somehow just can’t resist the urge to do “just one little thing”. I buy a bottle of Renew by Melaleuka every month to deal with all the sensitivity and abuse my skin takes. I have been using it for so long now I have l no idea what my skin would do without it. It keeps things manageable at least.
    Thanks again!

  10. Oh my goodness what a terrible experience! I’m glad you were able to find relief. The only issue I have in my garden is with nettles. I, too, like to weed without gloves, unless I’m in an area with nettles! I didn’t know about those issues with okra or figs! I am hoping to try growing figs this year, so it is good to know! 🙂

  11. Good to know! I always take gloves to the garden only to pull them off within a minute of putting them on. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m doing it. Just can’t seem to garden with a barrier between my fingers and the soil. 🙂 btw, thanks for stopping by my blog!

  12. Great tip on the oatmeal.
    My 92 year old daddy insists we pick his Giant Brown Turkey figs-itchy, sticky, gums up your shoes and then wasps sting.
    Ever been stabbed by a squash or a Meyer lemon? Painful.
    Oh that slimy itchy okra. But my mother down in south Alabama would batter it and fry it crispy. Very tasty with collard greens and hot buttered corn dodgers.
    Sorry for your allergic reactions. They do seem to grow with exposure. I always wear a hat and try to remember gloves also-black widows around here.
    And I don’t want to wear away my bass guitar calluses.
    Thanks for the post.

  13. If it was contact with poison ivy or other plant washing the area with Fels naphtha soap will strip it off the skin. If it is sun sensitive you will know the next time you are out in the sun. I get a rash at the beginning of summer from the sun. After that I am okay.

  14. Thanks for checking out my site.
    I would love to be able to garden barehanded and in short sleeves. Unfortunately, my garden plot was hacked out of a patch of Blackberries, stinging nettles, and poison hemlock! Yowza!

  15. I am so glad you posted this. I have encountered this intermittently with my okra, but today I managed to really pull a stupid and apparently rubbed my eyes and got some of those darned invisible tiny okra needles lodged in my eyelids…. so… I suppose this is the equivalent of seeing your “garden stupid” and saying “here, hold my beer.”

  16. My arms and hands are stinging so much right now! I was just elbows deep in my zucchini plants and now they feel like they are on fire. Benedryl anti-itch cream isn’t working at all. I’m wondering if I should take an allergy pill to combat this from the inside out. Every spot that brushed up against the thorns are red and inflamed.

    This also happens if I get scratched by a rose bush. Strangely I can eat cooked zucchini with no allergy response

  17. I found your blog while searching for information about the plants in our garden and it’s fantastic information! I will definitely be keeping the oatmeal trick handy! Thank you!
    There’s something else you may not know about and it involves a product that the FDA claims is “GRAS”, or generally recognized as safe, glyphosate. My husband and I suffer from BRP and fibromyalgia and have a hypothesis that BRP and fibromyalgia are either exacerbated, or caused by, ingesting glyphosate.
    He started having BRP about 15 years ago and it was so bad that his arms are now severely scarred from his scratching in his sleep until they bled. Not going to go into the long dissertation that would be required to explain it all but after studying the many factors about glyphosate that are ignored by the FDA, it’s become apparent that it builds up in the body over time, affects the nervous system over time, and is in virtually everything that we eat, unless you grow and make it yourself at home. We’ve stopped consuming anything store bought that is made with high fructose corn syrup, US grown wheat (we buy Italian pasta and flour, glyphosate is banned in Europe), corn, soy or sugar products except on rare occasions and have seen the symptoms of both fibromyalgia and BRP vanish and only return if we eat enough of things that have glyphosate contamination for it to build up in our systems again.
    The worst of it is that even the organic produce is contaminated because organic farmers aren’t being supervised, they self report and aren’t checked up on. Another problem is that the form they fill out doesn’t require them to report if they are using glyphosate as a desiccant at the end of the grow to improve crop yield, and many play the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” game.
    We had to make a complete lifestyle change, but it has been worth it to be able to not have to deal with the pain and suffering. We are currently trying to build a food Forest that will help us to eat healthy and remain itch and pain free. Hope this information helps somebody!

    1. I forgot to mention that his celiac disease, “gluten intolerance” and heartburn cleared up as well just simply by switching to Italian wheat products. It has really been a game changer!

      1. My sister in law had celiac disease and noticed she didn’t react to bread when she was in Italy. I am carb free so this doesn’t relate to my diet, but she started importing her grain too. I have a serious swallowing issue with grains and so I just don’t eat them, but if I were to go back to bread I’d probably try European grain sources too. Thanks for the comment! I appreciate the visit.

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