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 long 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 Benadryl type of 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.

If you get latex from a plant like a fig, and you can’t get it off, try kitchen counter cleaner spray. Then rinse that off with soap and water and start treating your skin from there.

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!


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

  1. Oh goodness! I am fortunate that these things do not bother me much past the fews few minutes. It is less annoying than gloves or long sleeves. Azalea is about as bad. However, for me, various species of Grevillea are worse; not right away, but afterward. It is a majorly itchy allergic reaction for me.
    Sadly, the poinciana, or Mexican bird of Paradise, seed that you sent to me did nothing. What is worse is that someone came by and ate the seed that came to the surface of the flat. I put what remained, with their medium, in a can, and will set them aside just in case something germinates later. If nothing happens by next year, I will give them some heat from below. The esperanza seedlings are growing slowly, but should be very sufficient.

    1. I’m sorry to hear about the Poinciana. I have had luck with scarifying them and starting them in the ground. I sprouted some one year in a bowl of water and then put them out in flats and they failed for me too. You can try writing to Texas A&M agrilife extension office: and see if they have some advice on starting those. Since the plant is everywhere down here I’m sure they have someone who would volunteer some information. I’m glad the esperanza did better. I can always send you more seed if you are interested.

      1. Thank you so much; but I will try to get what remains here to germinate. I do not get much information about them, but I did find that they can maintain dormancy for several years before germinating.

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