The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Plants That Can Cause Skin Reactions

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

Every time I work in the garden I emerge with some battle scars. I get a little too close to that raspberry bush or a rose cane. I normally don't worry about it too much and just consider it my red badge of workage. However a week ago I emerged with more than just a few scratches. Soon after working in the garden, I developed blisters on my arm reminiscent of poison ivy. But I knew it had to be something else. A Master Gardener reminded me of the rue plant in the garden. I had heard of people being allergic to rue, but I had never had a reaction previously.

Rue is a very common plant in ornamental and herb gardens. It was once used for medicinal purposes. However now it is considered unsafe to use medicinally and has been delegated to be an ornamental. It has lovely small, blue-green leaves and grows to 3 feet tall.

Now, I understand why I hadn't had a reaction to rue before. Rue has glands throughout the plant that contain a volatile oil that reacts with the sun (specifically UltraViolet - A) to produce itching, burning, red spots and/or large blisters in some people. The reaction can occur within hours of exposure to the plant and sun. That's the catch - the reaction requires exposure to the sun. The oils in rue seem to be predominantly located on the surface of the leaf so it is easily transferred. In addition, the oils can be transferred to clothing and pets. Some people may get a similar reaction from wild parsnips, cow parsnips, mayweed, gas plant and celery.

You may decide to eliminate these plants from your garden. Or you could work around the rue to reduce sun exposure, or when working in the garden wear long sleeves and gloves. In addition after working in the garden, immediately wash with soap and water and wash all clothing. If you have questions about plants and skin reactions, please contact your physician. In addition, The Honest Herbal by Varro Tyler is an interesting book about plants and their good and bad reactions.

State Master Gardener Conference

Last week the weeds in Illinois joined in a collective sigh of relief as Master Gardeners from throughout the state took a break from their gardens and participated in the 1998 Master Gardener State Conference held in Champaign and Urbana. Over 250 people enjoyed workshops and toured of U of I farms and local gardens.

During the conference 45 Master Gardeners received the State Award of Excellence and 17 received the State Award of Sustained Excellence. In order to be eligible for the sustained excellence award, a Master Gardener must have previously received the State Award of Excellence. Master Gardeners are involved in many different projects including school gardening programs, data retrieval systems, and demonstration gardens.

In Champaign County, the State Awards of Excellence went to Bette Hughes, Joan Lane, Carol McClure, Marilyn Parkhill and Mary Schroer. The State Awards of Sustained Excellence went to Phyllis Brussel, Susan Humphreys, and Theresa Meers. Congratulations to all the Master Gardener Award winners. What a great job they do for their communities throughout the state.

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