Monday, 27 January 2014

IRRITANTS by Mavis McQuade

As gardeners and lovers of the outdoors it is a good idea to understand which plants we should avoid or take precautions with when handling.

Some people are not susceptible to the toxicity of poisonous plants but others are so vulnerable that only a brief contact with an offending plant can be dangerous.

Risk is generally higher for people with fair or sensitive skins.

There are Four distinct types of Defense Mechanisms used by the plant world to protect themselves.

     These are plants with sharp thorns,barbs or razor sharp leaves.

     These pierce or cut the skin and sometimes break off. They are not usually dangerous in             
      themselves but broken skin is a portal for infection.

      In this group we find Cactus, Berberris,Blackberry, Pyracantha,the Rose and Thistle 
      families, the Accacia family, Agaves and Yuccas. Also some Grasses such as Pampas.

     Saskia is going to deal with the important subject of ingestion and poisoning.

     Chemical defenses are the largest group of irritants.

     Some portion of the plant structure can enter the skin without an open wound.  
     Dermatitis usually shows up within a few hours. Saps and juices can cause painful 
     irritation,rashes and blisters and sometimes permanent damage especially if it gets in the    
     eyes. Some can also cause us damage if burnt, since the chemical is released in the 
     smoke and enters our mucous membranes and lungs. The worst offender is Oleander.

     Typical plants are Euphorbias( including poinsettias) strawberries, tomatoes and 

     When I went through my RHS Encyclopedia of plants the list was endless for plants 
     which could cause problems with irritations.

    In this group the plant itself does no damage to the skin on it's own but will react violently 
    when exposed to sunlight. Just brushing against plants in this group in bright sunlight can  
    cause serious reaction. Photocontact  dermatitis is from the interaction of UV  radiation 
    and photosensitising compounds found in various plants. This type of dermatitis is called

    The most common plants with this effect are in the Umbelliferae family: Parsnips, carrots,
    celery,parsley,fennel and angelica. Also Citrus, Rue and Figs.

   This group is more sophisticated, using two methods to disburse toxins, providing an entry 
   point for the chemical, the best example of this is stinging nettles.


So now the obvious thought is protection.

It is so easy to wander round the garden and bend down to examine a plant and casually 
touch it or pull out a weed and then find we have a surprising irritation. Covering up all 
the time can be tedious. But if you know you are sensitive you should do the obvious and

  1. Wear gardening gloves.
  2. Wear long sleeves and trousers to the ankles.
  3. In some cases protective glasses.
  4. Sun cream block for the phototoxic problems.


If you feel you have been accidentally exposed, immediately wash the area twice with soap and water or the eyes with clear water.

If inflammation begins use creams or lotions to calm itching or burning.

If symptoms persist consult a doctor.


1 + 4. Mechanical and mechanical / chemical irritations.

As this is for cut or pierced skin you need something against infection so use any antiseptic plus an antibacterial cream and AUREOCYDE was suggested.

2. Chemical.  (rash or blisters enter skin without a wound

Here the suggestion was Sederrouyl for mild irritations. For more severe cases use Cortisedermyl ( cortisone ) Cetirizine allergy tablets. These can all be bought without an ordinance.

3. Phototoxic. (skin irritated when exposed to sun)

Same remedy as number 2 but important to us a sun block

If  I gave you the list of plants which could cause skin problems you would never go in the garden. There are very few people who are hypersensertive, mostly those with fair skin.

If you do develop a rash or irritation after gardening,think back to what you have been doing and register the plant that has caused the problem so as to take more care in the future.

I do not like gardening in gloves but I know that I get a bad reaction to one of my favorite species Euphorbias. I once actually developed a rash around my wrists and realized that though I had been wearing gloves I had a gap between the gloves and my shirt sleeves.

Have any of you had problems with plants in your gardens ? And have you any idea what caused it ?

Do you have any remedies to recommend ? 

I hope this has been useful to you.

I wish you all a happy and safe gardening !

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