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(Nuisance) Bug Bites and Stings

Since biting insects can harbor disease (malaria, west nile, lyme disease, etc)—and its annoying to be scratching anyhow, it is better to simply avoid getting bit in the fist place. Around the home one can eliminate places where mosquitoes can breed, make sure that screens are in good condition, and plant plants that pests dislike. In areas where this is difficult, protective clothing should be worn. Chemical insect repellents can also be used, or there are herbal alternatives.

Bug Repellant

2 oz vodka or carrier oil
15 drops lavender essential oil
15 drops citronella essential oil
10 drops eucalyptus essential oil
5 drops cedar essential oil (optional)
5 drops lemongrass essential oil (optional)

Mix and spritz on exposed skin (if in alcohol), or rub on exposed skin (carrier oil)…avoid clothing as oils can stain/discolor. (Remember, no insect repellent is effective against all bugs all of the time–essential oils are volatile, evaporate quickly, and must be reapplied regularly.) If you use a carrier oil, try infusing catnip into the oil prior to mixing the essential oils.

Sometimes though, you get bitten anyhow.  And itchy is annoying…so try this recipe out!

DIY “Calamine”

1/2 c betonite clay
1/4 c baking soda
1/8 c kaolin clay
20 drops of lavender, tea tree, or some combination of the two
10 drops of chamomile, yarrow, calendula, or some combination of the three
1 teaspoon of powdered goldenseal or echinacea or some combination of the two
witch hazel to desired consistency

Mix, store in a jar (its not necessary to refrigerate, but it feels awesome if you do, and it lasts longer), apply to bug bites and other itchy ouchies (poison ivy, chicken pox, etc) as needed.

Other remedies!

  • Pest repellent plants for the garden include basil which deters mosquitoes and flies (and it tastes and grows well with tomato as a companion plant), henbit which is a general insect repellent, the mole plant which doesn’t deter bugs but will deter moles and mice, tansy deters ants and flies, peppermint deters flies, mosquitoes and ants (and also rats), and pennyroyal deters fleas (but is not meant to be ingested, so keep away from where kids and pets can ingest it).
  • Essential oils citronella and its cousin lemongrass, eucalyptus, bay laurel, lavender, thyme, geranium, and mint family plants (catnip, peppermint, etc) can be diluted in a carrier oil (you can also try infused oils of these plants), or added to aloe vera gel or witch hazel as a spray to repel insects.
  • Real vanilla extract (as opposed to the flavoring) is reported to deter mosquitoes. Real vanilla extract is also expensive…not sure the effectiveness of this, much less if it works in dilution (but at least it smells yummy…and is baby safe)
  • Bentonite clay and echinacea tincture or powdered echinacea and lavender essential oil combined to form a paste/plaster to apply to insect bites and stings to relieve itching.
  • Fresh leaf poultices can be made from plantain, chickweed, sassafras, or willow and applied to bites (to make a fresh leaf poultice, be certain you have identified plant properly, pick leaf, chew, apply to bite, cover with band-aid if needed to hold in place).
  • Apply witch hazel to a cotton ball and cover with a band-aid to hold in place as a sort of mini compress to bug bites.

Other bites (and stings)…

Getting bit can be bad.  There are some bites that can do serious damage or even be fatal.  Know what care to give and when to seek medical help for some of the more common bites and stings:

  • Bee stings–Normally, bees and wasps aren’t that big of a deal…but for some people, their sting can be deadly.  If you are watching someone else’s kids (or they are playing at your house, or you coach a team, etc) make sure you find out if they are allergic to bees or wasps, and that (if so) they have an Epi-pen (or other appropriate intervention) and that you know what to do if they get stung, and that you have an emergency contact for the parent.  (and if your child is the one with that allergy, make sure the people they are with know those things)
  • Snakes–If you are in North America, there are 4 families of snakes that are venomous–coral snakes, cottonmouths (aka water moccasins), copperheads, and rattlesnakes.  About 8,000 people a year are bitten, and most of them are bitten because they are being stupid–if you see a venomous snake, don’t try to pick it up, leave it alone.  If it somewhere that you don’t want it to be because it creates an hazard (like your bathtub) and you need to make sure it is gone, call animal control.  And, if you are in an environment that you are likely to share with a venomous snake, practice due diligence….The Hubby was once bitten by a rattlesnake, but due to luck and clothing, it only got his boot.  If you are bitten, DO NOT PANIC, and DO seek immediate professional help at a local hospital.  (with the exception of #7, this is a pretty good guide of what to do (and not to do) if you get bitten by a snake…if you are wondering why # 7 isn’t a good idea, check out “don’t” #9)
  • Mammals–Generally speaking, the most common mammal bite that one is likely to have is a dog bite, followed by a cat bite, followed by the bite of a wild animal such as a bat, raccoon, rodents, etc.  Some things to keep in mind: while a dog is more likely to be the source of a bite, a cat is more likely to cause an infection (due to their dental structure they cause puncture wounds), also if you are bitten by a raccoon, bat, skunk, or fox, you have the highest probability of rabies (compared to other mammals).  The best way to deal with a bite by a mammal is to avoid getting bitten!  If, however you are bitten, you need to think about the possibility of infection, and know the risk factors and signs of illnesses that can be caused by animal bites in order to make the appropriate decisions about seeking medical assistance.  For immediate care after a minor bite, thoroughly wash the wound with soap and water, and apply some antibiotic creme with a bandage.  With a serious wound, apply pressure with a clean, dry dressing and seek medical attention.  If you are at all unsure of the immunization status of an animal (or know that they are not immunized), the official recommendation is to seek medical attention.  Also, the CDC recommends that you seek medical attention if you find a bat in or around a sleeping area, whether or not you find a bite mark, as bat bites can be difficult to spot.
  • Spiders–World-wide, there are only about a dozen types of spiders that are dangerous to humans, and in North America, there are two groups to worry about–the widows (which include the black widow) and the recluses (which includes the brown recluse).  These two spiders, when they bite, do so because we have startled them and invaded their space.  (By the way, one study suggests that 30% of “spider bite” legions have actually been MRSA infections.)  The space they prefer happens to be warm, dry, dark, undisturbed areas like woodpiles, closets, sheds, etc.  If you suspect a bit from one of these insects, seek medical attention.  For more information about the spiders and symptoms of their bites, check out this site.
  • Miscellaneous–Depending on where you live (or visit), you may have other animals around that might be a bite risk.  People have been bitten by alligators and crocodiles, sharks, and all sorts of animals….and (I’m going to go out on a limb here and invent a statistic) I’m willing to be that 9 times out of 10, when they get bit, its because they did something stupid and frightened the animal or because (in the case of sharks) they were mistaken for food.   Leave wild animals alone.  Know the animals where you live, know how to behave around them, and know what to do if you have an adverse encounter with one.

Other Herbal Remedies posts: Anxiety & Stress, ENT issues, Funky Feet, for Babies