Even for the most ardent nature lovers, it's hard to appreciate the myriad of bugs that so love us. Although most other creatures have developed effective means to deter insects -- lots of hair, thick skin, tails, scent glands, and mud baths -- human beings come poorly equipped. Tailless, thin-skinned, hairless for the most part, and with scent that attracts rather than repels, we make inviting meals for hordes of insects.
Our response has been to design all manner of chemically based sprays and lotions to fend off insects and soothe the bites. We're discovering, though, that many of these products do as much harm as good for our bodies and the environment. This summer, as insects drone and hum around you when you're out in the woods, working in your garden, or strolling through a meadow gone wild with flowers, consider their importance in the natural scheme of things.
Rather than dousing them with toxins, use a nonchemical spray like Bugs Be Gone to keep them at bay. If they do bite or sting, try one of the simple remedies listed below. They're safer than chemical products -- and, as you'll find out, they're highly effective.
But, an occasional sting is inevitable. To help stop itching, swelling and irritation, hold the cut end of an onion against the infected area for 15 to 20 minutes. Common ailments are often cured more quickly with home remedies than over-the-counter drugs, and they have fewer side effects. If you're super sensitive to chemicals, home remedies for bug bites and stings are the way to go.
Bananas are also a source of remedy when it comes to stings and bites because of its antioxidant properties. Apply the banana peel fruit-side down, and hold it on the bite or sting until the burning subsides.
Composed of mineral deposits, clay helps soothe the itch and sting of insect bites. Having weathered endless sunrises and sunsets, great storms, and the passing of millenia, a small amount packs a lot of healing qi, or energy. Clay is found in nature, of course, but you can also find it in powdered form at natural-foods stores and many pharmacies. There are a variety of types of clay in a range of colors -- white, blue, green, red, and pink. All are effective, but herbalists tend to prefer green or red clays; darker clays contain higher mineral content and thus more healing properties. To use, form a paste by mixing the powder with a small amount of water or peppermint tea and apply directly to the bite.
Among the most versatile household remedies, baking soda quickly eases itchiness. To use, mix a few teaspoons with a small amount of water to form a paste and apply directly to skin. If you have multiple bites or stings, try an anti-itch bath: Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of baking soda to warm bath water; soak for 15 minutes.
Lavender, peppermint, or tea tree essential oil
These concentrated oils neutralize toxicity and reduce inflammation and itchiness. Add a few drops to the clay or baking soda mixtures to increase their effectiveness, or apply a drop or two directly to the bite. Any of the oils can be mixed with honey (a few drops of oil to a teaspoon of honey) for additional disinfectant properties.
The common plantain, a weed found in many yards and along roadways in the United States, has powerful "drawing" properties. You can use the fresh or dried herb, available at herb stores or online (try mountain roseherbs.com). To use, mix chopped herb with a small amount of water and apply to the bite or sting. Within minutes the area will become warm as toxins are drawn from the skin. Add more plantain as needed until the pain and swelling have subsided.
Although most health-conscious people avoid it, tobacco is worth keeping around for its medicinal properties. Applied topically, loose tobacco eases pain from bites and stings almost instantly. To use, mix enough water and/or apple-cider vinegar into a small wad of tobacco to make a paste and apply directly to the bite. Leave on until the swelling is gone. (Safety note: If redness or irritation occurs, remove the tobacco.)