I truly believe that they are the fruit of the gods. I remember my first mango with a clarity akin to a first kiss. I was standing in the kitchen of a condo on Oahu with a bowl of fruit next to me. My friend Lisa had access to a tree that was giving her more produce than she could ever hope to eat, and I was a willing participant in helping her get rid of the excess in her life.
That first slice was glorious, and I soon found myself stuffing my face with whole halves, juice running down my chin as I slurped up every last bite of goodness. The pile of mangoes was diminishing at an alarming rate, three and four a day was the norm for several weeks. Several glorious, never to be repeated weeks.
At first, I thought maybe a new soap or shampoo wasn’t agreeing with my skin. I had itchy blisters forming on my hands, especially around my wedding ring. I went to a physician over in Waianae, and she agreed – it was probably a new shampoo. Everything was new, we’d just moved to Hawaii, and it was hard to figure out what would cause these blisters. A few weeks and some salve didn’t seem to help. I began to wonder if I was just allergic to the entire island of Oahu.
About this time, another friend, Clell, heard of my passion for mango and offered us free reign of his fruit laden trees. “You can keep anything you pick,” said this dear old soul. We arrived with bags and a ladder, leaving Clell with 2 bushels of just picked fruit, and hefting several of our own.
I climbed that massive old tree like I was 10 years old, eager to grasp every fruit within reach. Each time a mango popped off in my hand, a shower of sap would rain down on our whole family. We laughed at the joy of gathering fruit in the bright August sun.
The laughing ended the next day. My face was twice its normal size, my chest was covered with a terrible rash and that salve the Dr. prescribed was almost gone. I returned to Waianae and my physician just shook her head. No idea what was wrong. I was starting to get worried.
Two days later we attended a dinner party in Kapolei where yet another bag of mangoes awaited my arrival. I walked in and our host asked what on earth was wrong with my face?! I was almost in tears as I clutched my bag of fruit, “I don’t KNOW!” It was about this time another guest started laughing.
“Oh haole girl, you’re allergic to MANGOES!”
I didn’t want to believe it, but after some time digging into credible sources, I realized it must be true. I was very familiar with the type of rash covering my body, as I grew up in an area thick with poison oak, but I was 100% certain I’d been nowhere near that nasty plant recently. As a child, I could just look at poison oak and start itching, but I’d only had this type of severe rash one other time, and that was when I tried to roast marshmallows over the pretty bonfire my dad had going in the backyard. It was a bonfire made up of dead poison oak. I still itch just thinking about it.
Urushiol is the name of the chemical found in poison ivy, poison oak, and in the sap of mangoes. It causes fairly identical reactions in those that are sensitive to its properties. A new doctor, some strong steroids, and a little time had my face and skin returning to normal, but it was a good reminder that chemicals are everywhere. Those chemicals are not all designed to help us, and some of them just might kill us.
Until some geneticist starts a little side project to come up with a modified mango that doesn’t contain urushiol, I will continue to handle my mangoes in the following manner:
2 latex gloves, 1 knife (that will later be sterilized), and EXTREME CAUTION!
Monsanto, are you listening? My birthday is coming up, and urushiol free mangoes would make a fabulous gift.