Bug Off! Natural Repellents and Bite Treatments
Mosquitoes, spiders, and ticks ... summer is crawling with pesky, unwanted guest. When they bite, here are a few natural alternatives that will relieve itching, control swelling, and reduce redness and irritation....plus a few ways to keep them at bay!
First, soothe the bite. Here's a clever idea that will keep your fingertips from freezing: Use ice frozen in a film canister! Wash canister with soap and water beforehand, fill with water (allowing room for its expansion), cover, and freeze. To use, run cool water over the canister, then uncap, and gently squeeze to loosen the ice. Apply like you would a stick of deodorant.
To get rid of ants, dampen a cotton swab with a few drops of orange essential oil, then wipe it on baseboards and entryways. This will deter whole armies from entering, since the compound d-limonene in the oil is toxic to them.
Composed of mineral deposits, clay helps soothe the itch and sting of an insect bite. 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.
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.
Applied topically, loose tobacco eases the pain from a bite 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.)
The common plantain, a weed found in many yards, has powerful "drawing" properties. You can use the fresh or dried herb, available at herb stores or online (try mountainroseherbs.com). To use, mix the 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.
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.
Close encounters of the buzzing kind are inevitable when you spend time outdoors. But you'll find quick relief in the fruit bowl. With its high antioxidant content, "banana peel can calm inflamed bug bites, especially itchy mosquito bites," says David Grotto, R.D., author of "101 Foods That Could Save Your Life." Keep bananas around on the deck, on the porch, or by the pool, he advises. Try It Apply the banana peel, fruit-side down, directly on the bite and hold it there until the itching or burning subsides.
Coconut and Calendula Oil
Here's a home-made solution you can reapply all day to keep bugs away:
Coconut oil solidifies at 76 degrees, so when cool, it will be a balm. Run the tightly closed jar under warm water for an oil. Place 1 cup coconut oil in the top of a double boiler and heat gently until the oil turns to liquid. Add 2 cups dried organic calendula petals, making sure they are submerged. Cover and simmer 6 hours, or until oil turns orange. Using a piece of muslin to catch the leaves, strain oil into a glass jar, squeezing the fabric to get every last drop. Close tightly. Refrigerated, the balm will keep for one year.
Make your own DEET-free insect repellent by blending five drops of patchouli essential oil, 2 ounces of witch hazel, and eight to 10 drops of cedarwood essential oil in a spray bottle, says essential-oil educator Andrea Butje. Apply it frequently.
Of course, it doesn't hurt to repel them before they ever get near your skin. Keep wasps and mosquitoes away from your outdoor gatherings this summer with the help of these two elegant vessels from Red Envelope. Colored-glass bug catchers lure and trap flying pests when filled with sugary water and hung from trees. Triple-wick citronella candles, adorned with Moroccan-inspired prints, dress up the picnic table, while repelling mosquitoes and other biting insects.
You may be able to ward off wasps by fashioning a fake hive out of an inflated brown paper bag. Embellish it with marker lines, and hang it upside down in your yard; the territorial stingers might think another colony has already claimed the spot.