Friday, May 31, 2013

The Goat, Her Milk, And The Poison Ivy

Back in the days when The Mother Earth News was my bible, I came across an article that said that goats not only love to eat poison ivy, but if you drink the milk of a goat that has eaten the plant, you will become immune to its effects.

We had plenty of poison ivy in our yard, and it was difficult to teach our two toddlers to stay out of it. Worse, Madge, our Irish Setter, was forever running through it and getting the oils on her red coat.  Teaching the girls to refrain from petting the dog was beyond hopeless.

We also had two goats whom I milked, and who consumed exorbitant quantities of hay.  By feeding poison ivy to the goats and then drinking their milk, we would get rid of the scourge, develop immunity to it, and save on our hay bill.  The elegance of the Mother Earth scheme made my head spin.

Not wasting a moment, I sharpened my sickle, put on my gardening gloves, and rushed to the poison ivy patch.  It was a hot summer day, but I was working in the shade and feeling very close to Mother Earth.  As I cut down the ivy I meditated on the beautiful economy of simple living.  How much more satisfying on so many levels was this method than spraying some horrible herbicide!

When I had gathered a big armful of ivy I took it to the goat yard, and the goats attacked it with all their might, stuffing great wads of it into their mouths, then going for more.  In a couple of minutes it was all gone.




At dinner that night I poured the milk with some ceremony.  "This," I told my family, "is magical milk.  Drink it, and you will never have poison ivy again."  We all emptied our glasses.

At dawn the next day, I was awakened by an intolerable itching.  My arms were red and swollen, covered in the telltale blisters of poison ivy.  Too late I realized that, in my enthusiasm, I had neglected to cover my arms while cutting the ivy.  Evidently the inoculating properties of a single glass of milk had not been sufficient to counteract the exposure.

I never did find out if drinking poison-ivy-infused milk confers immunity.  From then on I relied strictly on an avoidance-based strategy, with only mediocre results.  It was an itchy, oozy summer, and we all went around looking like members of some exotic tribe, our faces, arms and legs adorned with flaking streaks of pink calamine.

4 comments :

  1. I so enjoy these little vignettes. It's like having someone serve one little bite of something wonderful, so that all your attention and senses are focused on it.

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  2. Poison ivy has never been my friend. I've got a few patches in my back yard that I try to rid myself of every year, but it is a hardy species. I use avoidance combined with a quick soap washing following possible exposure. But, each year I make an attempt at digging it up by the roots. Maybe this year it will work. It hides among the Virginia Creeper.

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  3. I agree with the soap-and-water method, if one can remember it.

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