What Is Poison Sumac?
Poison sumac (Salix alba) is a species of tree native to North America. It grows in the eastern United States from Maine to Virginia and northward into Canada. Its wood is used for furniture, flooring, cabinetry, musical instruments, and other crafts. It is also used in medicinal products such as ointments, salves, tinctures, poultices and creams.
The leaves are edible when cooked or eaten raw but they contain toxic alkaloids called quinine compounds which cause severe diarrhea if ingested. These toxins have been known to cause death within hours after ingestion. If consumed in large quantities it may lead to kidney failure and even death due to renal failure.
How Does Poison Sumac Affect Humans?
Ingestion of small amounts of poison sumac berries causes mild gastrointestinal upset. However, larger doses may cause vomiting, abdominal pain, nausea and diarrhea. Death occurs within 24 hours if the toxin is not removed by treatment with fluids and supportive care. The symptoms begin within 10 minutes and last up to 12 hours depending upon dosage. Symptoms include severe dehydration, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure and shock.
What Are the Symptoms of Poison Sumac?
The major toxic components of poison sumac are called mucous membrane irritants (alkaloids), which typically cause an itchy red rash and blisters. The rash is not contagious like poison ivy and does not cause permanent scarring like that from a burn. It may take anywhere from 12 to 48 hours after coming in contact with the skin for a reaction to occur.
How Can I Treat a Poison Sumac Rash?
The main treatment is to treat the symptoms; there is no specific antidote. This includes rapidly removing or diluting the toxins from the skin and preventing infection. Antihistamines can help relieve itching.
Do not scratch the rash because it can cause permanent scarring and there is a risk of further infection. If blisters appear, they should be left intact to decrease the risk of further infection. To clean the skin, gently wash with warm soapy water.
How Do You Prevent a Poison Sumac Rash?
You can prevent a poison sumac rash by avoiding the plants altogether. Even dead leaves and stems can still contain the toxins so it is important to avoid all parts of the plant.
To identify poison sumac, it can look similar to other harmless species such as the yellow wood or the spicebush (both of which are also inedible). To tell the difference, you can crush the leaves and check for an aromatic smell or rub a leaf on your skin. If it causes a rash, it is poison sumac.
What to Do If You Encounter Poison Sumac
If you come in contact with poison sumac, wash the affected area immediately with soap and water. If there is a lot of exposure, seek medical attention immediately as it can be absorbed through the skin causing serious symptoms within a few hours.
What to Do If You Think You’ve Ingested Poison Sumac
Do not induce vomiting. Immediately seek medical attention.
How Can I Protect Myself From Poison Sumac?
If you are going to be in an area where poison sumac may grow, the best protection is to wear protective clothing such as long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, boots and gloves. You can also check with local authorities to see if there have been reports of poison sumac in the area before going hiking or camping.
What if I’ve come into contact with poison sumac?
If you think you may have come into contact with poison sumac (e.g. you brushed against some plants while hiking), immediately remove your clothing and wash the area of skin that came in contact with it. If there is a lot of skin exposure, seek medical attention.
If you have ingested the plant, do not induce vomiting unless advised to do so by a healthcare professional. Also seek medical attention.
What if I’ve inhaled poison sumac?
If you suspect that you have inhaled poison sumac, move to an open air space. If the exposure was low, you may experience minor respiratory irritation. If the exposure was moderate or high, you may experience respiratory distress or failure resulting in death. Seek medical attention.
To prevent the inhalation of poison sumac, seek an alternative route or wait until the plant is dead before hiking in the area.
Are Sumac Plants Poisonous?
Poison sumac plants (Toxicodendron vernix) are part of the Anacardiaceae family, which also includes cashew and mango trees. It is native to North America.
While there are multiple types of poison sumac spreading throughout North America, they all cause a similar reaction (see below).
DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this site is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have any concerns at all about your health, you should always consult with a medical professional.
Always seek the advice of your doctor before changing any medication that you are taking.
Sources & references used in this article:
Poison ivy and poison sumac. by DM Crooks, LW Kephart – 2019 – Good Press
Poison Ivy: Leaves of three? Let it be! by WC Muenscher – Extension Bulletin, 1930 – cabdirect.org
Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac: Identification, Poisoning, and Control by DL Goerlich, JG Latimer – 2018 – vtechworks.lib.vt.edu
Field Guide to Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac: Prevention And Remedies by DL Klingman, DE Davis, EL Knake, WB McHenry… – 1983 – conservancy.umn.edu
Poison ivy (Toxicodendron) dermatitis by SC Hauser – 2008 – books.google.com
Structural stability and architecture of vines vs. shrubs of poison oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum by L Prok, T McGovern, DF Danzl, J Fowler – 2014 – uptodate.com
History of allergies among adults with glioma and controls by BL Gartner – Ecology, 1991 – Wiley Online Library