Q. Are there any ways to kill poison ivy without using chemicals?

- Diane, MI

A. On a scale of one to ten, how happy are the memories you associate with the words “calamine lotion”? Most of us put poison ivy right up there with ticks and mosquitoes — it has no real right to live, and should burn in H-E-double toothpicks (Figuratively! Burning the vine can be seriously dangerous for the respiratory system.). And while chemicals are certainly the easiest, quickest fix, you don’t have to go around spraying herbicide all over the place, giving surrounding vegetation and wildlife the toxic treatment by proxy.

Instead, try white vinegar. In fact, let’s have a moment of appreciation for vinegar: Isn’t it just the best? It’s natural and safe, and yet kills so many of the things we hate, like salmonella bacteria on the kitchen counter and poison ivy in the backyard. What you want to do is pour some plain, white vinegar into a garden sprayer and take careful aim at the unwanted leaves-of-three in your yard/woods — vinegar will take a bit longer than your average can of chemicals to kill the bad guys off, but it’ll do the trick sans environmental hazards.

Then there’s the salt-and-soap technique. We’ll call it the ‘soap and run.’ Mix 3 pounds salt, one gallon of water and ¼ cup of liquid soap, and then get out that same garden sprayer and go crazy.

Some people like to apply boiling water to the plants’ roots every day until they’ve died a slow and painful death. If you go this route, remember that the dead plants still have itch-inducing oils on them, and should be removed with tongs.

Lastly, if you think you’re tough, just pull the hateful vines right out of the earth and chuck them somewhere out of the way to decompose. If the vines have grown so big and strong that you can’t just pull them up, you may need to dig them up at the roots. Use disposable gloves for these hands-on techniques, and throw your clothes right in the washer as soon as you’re done.

May you never itch again, and may your calamine lotion expire in peace in your medicine cabinet, as nature intended.

Story by Tobin Hack. This article originally appeared in Plenty in April 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.

Copyright Environ Press 2008