RHUS DIVERSILOBA

RHUS DIVERSILOBA

FAMILY :: ANACARDIACEAE
POISON OAK: A very pretty shrub or vine with shiny dark green, leathery leaves turning bright red in the fall. Reputed to be a stimulant, but I haven’t tried it. Foliage is very poisonous to the touch for many people. The smoke from burning poison oak can cause blindness or lung complications. I used to be very susceptible to poisoning from this plant until an old woman who lived down the road from me told me how people in her tribe kept from being affected by it. She said that in the early spring they would chew the stems. (Usually I treat with caution any such information from people whose ancestors my ancestors had tried
to annihilate, but we were long-time friends.)

Since I was sensitive to it (not to mention not being as macho at the thought as I would have liked) I devised my own method: In the early spring I would take small new-growth buds and put a few in peanut butter sandwiches. These I ate one a day for a week. Now whenever I’m exposed to it I get it rarely, and then only mildly. If you try any method such as the two previous, you’re on your own and don’t say that you read it here.

Native Californians used the stems in their basketry; the black dye produced from the bruised stems was also used in tattooing. If their ritual of tattooing was anything like that of today’s, they were probably whacked out of their skulls anyway. The sap was used to remove
warts.

As an aside, “poison oak” is a term the local rednecks in some parts of California use to describe “outsiders” who have recently (within the last 50 years) settled there. Hardy and easy to grow, if you should so desire.