Late summer means clutching on to the last of the season’s warmth by signing on to twilight dinners and after-work drinks—and the bug bites that come with them. Needless to say, we were eager to get our red, itchy hands on The Natural First Aid Handbook, a guide to holistically preventing and treating buggy irritation of all kinds. We’ll be putting these homegrown concoctions to the test on the last of our summer trips.
Preventing bug bites naturally
Mosquitoes and other insects are repelled by many natural substances. They include:
A drop or two of cedarwood, citronella, lavender, or tea tree essential oils can be applied topically to pulse points such as the inside of the wrists, behind the knees, and behind the ears every hour or so to repel buzzing bombers. If you don’t have essential oils, you may rub aromatic plants such as artemisia, lavender, or rosemary on your body.
Place a few drops of citronella, eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, rosemary, or tea tree essential oil in a diffuser to discourage flying insects inside. You can also mix a glass of water with about 30 drops of the oil to use as a room spray. You can also hang a bouquet of dried tomato plant leaves in the room to repel mosquitoes.
2. Tweak your diet.
Taking a 500-mg garlic capsule three or four times a day will make you an unappetizing target for anything that bites. Avoid large amounts of sugars, alcohol, and tropical fruits and juices when you know you’re going to be outdoors. Some people feel that these items attract bugs.
An herbal insect repellent.
Instead of soaking your body with a potentially dangerous chemical, try this natural insect repellent. You can make up a bottle before mosquito season and keep it handy in the refrigerator all summer long.
Simply combine ¼ cup (60 mL) almond or sunflower oil with 5 drops each of eucalyptus essential oil, lavender essential oil, tea tree essential oil, citronella essential oil, and rosemary essential oil.
Easing bug bites naturally.
1. Ants and bee bites.
Treat ant bites topically with apple cider vinegar, green clay moistened with vinegar or water, cucumber juice, or try your hand at making a plantain leaf poultice. You can also try applying mud, lavender or tea tree essential oil, or a paste of baking soda and apple cider vinegar to help neutralize the formic acid in the bite.
2. Caterpillar and centipede bites.
When brushing off hairy caterpillars, do so from tail to head, or irritating hairs may remain in your skin. Apply lavender essential oil to their bites. Echinacea tincture can also be used topically and internally (1 dropperful 3 or 4 times daily).
3. Mosquito bites.
Apply mud, witch hazel, lemon juice, moistened vitamin C powder, apple cider vinegar, peppermint, plantain leaf poultice, and lavender or tea tree essential oils to the bite.
4. Tick bites.
After removing a tick, wash the area and your hands well with antiseptic soap and water, dry, then apply a few drops of infection-fighting echinacea tincture or lavender or tea tree essential oil. As a precaution, if you are bitten by a tick, take 1 dropperful of echinacea or red root tincture 3 times daily for a few days to give the immune system a boost. You might also want to drink calendula and cleavers teas. Calendula is antiseptic and helps treat infections deep in the body, while cleavers reduces fever.
(Note: Ticks have been a cause for special concern in the past few years because of their ability to transmit Lyme disease. The longer an infected tick remains attached, the greater the chance for infection. Symptoms of Lyme disease, which can take from two days to two weeks to manifest, include achy joints, chills, rashes, facial palsy, headaches, swollen glands, fatigue, numbness, irregular heart rhythms, and a bite mark that resembles a bull’s-eye. The longer Lyme disease remains undiagnosed, the more difficult it is to treat, so go to your doctor right away if you suspect that you have been infected.)
A warm bath to soothe itchiness.
If you have lots of itchy bites, any one of the following ingredients added to a warm bath may provide some relief:
- 1 cup (240 mL) apple cider vinegar
- 1 pound (454 g) baking soda (use half as much for children)
- 1 gallon (3.8 L) infused tea of peppermint, white oak bark, or cleavers
- ½ cup (120 mL) sea salt
- 1 cup (240 mL) cornstarch
Soothing bee, hornet, and wasp stings naturally.
1. Garden remedies:
Some of the simplest topical remedies that relieve pain and swelling can be found right at your feet. They include mud, green clay, and freshly crushed plantain leaf.
2. Kitchen remedies:
Other remedies to reduce pain and swelling are found in your kitchen. Try mixing papain powder with water into a paste, and paint over the wound with your fingers.
You can also mix baking soda with vinegar into a thick paste, and plop it on the wound, cut fresh onion and lay it over the wound, or dip a clean cloth in cold milk, wring out, fold, and apply.
A dropperful of echinacea tincture taken 3 times daily can help reduce swelling. Two drops of lavender essential oil or a moistened tobacco leaf are also effective when applied topically to neutralize the venom.
Based on an excerpt from The Natural First Aid Handbook by Brigitte Mars, used with permission from Storey Pubishing.
Brigitte Mars is an herbalist and nutritional consultant of natural health with more than 40 years of experience. She teaches herbal medicine at Naropa University and Heilseimestraskollin in Iceland, and she has taught at Omega Institute, Esalen, Kripalu, Sivananda Yoga Ashram, Envision and Arise Festivals, and the Mayo Clinic. She is a founding member of the American Herbalist Guild and blogs for the Huffington Post and Care2. Mars is the author of many books and DVDs, including Natural First Aid. Mars and her daughter run Herb Camp for Kids in Boulder, Colorado.