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.

A Mexican bird of paradise. Probably my very favorite flowering plant that I can grow down here! Lots of spines, but worth the trouble!

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 Clemson spineless okra! (It says “spineless” but it’s still full of pokey parts and hairy spines.) 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.
Fresh okra is my favorite savory summer treat in the garden.

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 spikey fruit of a poona kheera cucumber.

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!

Figs with latex sap that can irritate your skin.

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 that 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.

Leaf and stem of a melon vine.

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!

20150716_213136
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.)

Pokey hairs on the stem of a Butternut squash vine.

Since pinched nerves can cause this: my chiropractor helps when he adjusts my neck. (As an update, after receiving regular chiropractic care I don’t have this anymore. If you can find a great chiropractor: it’s definitely worth trying to remedy this through adjustments. It isn’t easy to find a great chiropractor. I gave up for about 6 years. Then I couldn’t stand the pain anymore and the next guy I tried was stellar. Keep looking if you don’t get relief!)

This itching is worse (or equal to) poison ivy but there’s currently no medication for 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!

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9 Comments Add yours

  1. Irene says:

    Loved your photos and post. Thinking I need to try my hand at gardening. 😊

    1. I totally enjoy tending plants and communing with mother nature. Gardening is the only healthy addiction I can think of. Maybe running would qualify, but if you see me running: something is very wrong! I’m glad you feel inspired! Thanks for coming by! I appreciate the visit.

  2. hcmorris77 says:

    I too, garden without gloves. I rarely have problems. One year, I got into fire ants…they got into my clothes. Luckily, we live in the country and I was able to ditch my clothes outside and run to the shower. My mom was laughing!!

    1. Oh my! I can see that happening to me, but I live in suburbia! I have given birth in training hospitals, with tons of students milling about, so I’m no longer shy. If I were covered in fireants you can bet I’d strip down and run too! And I can just see my mother laughing at me, too! That’s too funny! Thanks for coming by and sharing! You made my day!

  3. I too have the itching condition on my arms and I am so pleased to finally have a name for it. I use Biofreeze to alleviate the symptoms as I have found this to be the only thing that helps. I also discovered that a few visits to the chiropractor will end an episode, but when I try to explain this condition to him, he just looks at me like I am crazy and then kind of indicates “whatever works”.
    I also hate wearing long sleeves in summer but I have surrounded my community garden plot with sunflowers and I have to push past them do do anything in the garden so my arms get super itchy. I keep a tube of diphenhydramine cream in my gardening bag.
    Thanks for the oatmeal tip as well, I will certainly try it.

    1. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) does not work for me for this. I haven’t tried a cooling gel (I have fibromyalgia and cold is usually miserable for me) but it sounds like this may be the one thing I’d enjoy it for! I use ice baggies, but I constantly have to reposition them because the itchy area is most of my lower arms and the baggies just aren’t big enough. I’d guess the gel would be more effective for large areas. The itching truly is miserable and I’m glad you’ve found relief with chiropractic, as well. Anything to stop the itching is good in my book. Thanks for the idea! I’ll definitely try it!

  4. tonytomeo says:

    I only wear gloves for pulling blackberry brambles. However, I will not work with English primrose or the various species of Grevillea, because I am allergic to them.

    1. I’m allergic to corn pollen but I still grow it. I have a clethra I put in for the bees and it ended up being as bad for my allergies as oak and cedar. But, nobody in my area has much to offer our bee population, so I’ve kept it. The bumblebees especially like it. I think we’ve all got something that doesn’t sit well with our immune systems! I agree with gauntlets for brambles! You can really get nasty cuts from those! Thanks for coming by.

      1. tonytomeo says:

        I am fortunate that pollen does not bother me. I just have those nasty skin allergies. Poison oak grows wild here, but that just goes with the territory.

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