Poison Ivy: Very good?

Recently my father came in contact with one of the most troublesome plants on the planet, Toxicodendron radicans , better known to most of us as poison ivy. His mishap set my mind working. Poison ivy has been bothering mankind since he fell in the Garden of Eden. How could God call His Creation very good when this bothersome, poisonous plant existed in it? It is that topic I wish to address today.

Before getting into the theological details, it would be well to understand exactly how poison ivy works and what it is.  Most people are familiar with the old adage “leaves of three, let it be”, but there is much more to poison ivy than old wives tales. The plant comes in many forms. It can take the form of a true, climbing ivy, a leafy shrub, or a low growing ground cover, all with the same effect. That being said, it is not a true ivy but is instead a member of the cashew family.  As a leafy plant, it does die back in the fall, with the leaves turning a brilliant shade of red.  However, if untouched, it will grow back next year. Something many people may not know is that poison ivy is not actually poisonous.  In fact, many animals enjoy poison ivy as part of their regular diet. So why does it bother humans so much? The answer is in the sap.

Poison ivy has a deserved reputation for being an itchy nuisance that can turn fatal if it gets into the airways.  So what causes this painful condition? The itch is caused by a special chemical produced in the plant sap called urushiol. Urushiol is not one chemical, but rather a grouping of numerous chemicals of similar structure, which perform the same function. An example is below.


Urushiol is not actually a poison. It functions in poison ivy as a hindrance to water evaporation from the surface of the leaf. Not all humans are even susceptible to urushiol. I have never gotten the rash from poison ivy despite multiple exposures.  This is because urushiol does not poison the skin. Instead, the rash is caused by an allergic reaction on the skin. The urushiol causes the immune system to trigger, attacking the skin which has been exposed to the urushiol.  The chemical is very easily spread. A mere brush of the infected skin against another exposed surface will transfer the urushiol. It also can lay dormant in unwashed fabric for several years so it is important to wash any clothes worn by one afflicted with the ivy.

How can this nasty irritant be termed very good? Well first and foremost, we need to understand that when God says “very good” He means it. “God is not a man, that he should lie” Numbers 23:19a says. Thus poison ivy, in the beginning, must have been very good.  The second thing to note is that everything, in the beginning, was made perfect.  Therefore an allergy, which is due to the immune system essentially unnecessarily attacking some substance, in this case, urushiol, would not have been present in the Garden. Simply put, Adam and Eve had no allergies. Urushiol would have been no problem for them, as there would have been no allergic reaction.  And since God had a plan for after the fall as well, it is possible that poison ivy has medicinal properties, though so far only herbalists have made such claims.

To put this in perspective, urushiol would not have been a problem for man in the Garden of Eden. However, evolutionists have no obvious answer for the development of urushiol. It is certainly understandable how a planet could benefit from such a defensive mechanism. However, how such a mechanism came into play has no answer.  Poison ivy existed in the Garden of Eden, likely quite similar to how it is today.  It was no danger then because allergies did not exist and its itching mechanism is allergenic, not poisonous.




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