Natural Remedies for Summer Complaints
You've waited six long months for summer's return dreaming of days at the beach and pool, evening barbeques in the backyard, and having your kids playing outside. Then it happens – your youngest is slapping mosquitoes in irritation, your eldest is sunburned, your partner is scratching poison ivy, and you are experiencing hay fever. Suddenly, enjoying the good weather has taken a turn for the worst and you wonder what you loved so much about summer in the first place. Before you run off to the drug store – again – you might find you have most of what you need to safely ease summer complaints right at home. And if you are a parent concerned about using chemicals and synthetic products with your children, creating your own natural remedies can be both the safest and most economical choice.
I’ve read that early Native Americans smeared themselves with awful smelling bear grease to keep the bugs at bay. And, I've met many folks who've told me that eating lots and lots of garlic will deter the little buggers as well. These cures are probably great if you don't have to be around people, but there are some more pleasant, natural alternatives you can make yourself:
REFRESHING ALOE MINT BUG-BE-GONE: I got this idea from an herbalist friend and I love it! Mix 4 oz of aloe vera gel with 20 drops of peppermint essential oil and apply to skin.
WITCH HAZEL BLEND: These are nice creations that don't leave a sticky feel: 4 oz Witch Hazel and 30 drops citronella, eucalyptus, or lemongrass essential oil.
SWAMP OIL: This is for serious mosquito problems: 4 oz of olive, grapeseed, or neem oil blended with 60 drops eucalyptus oil (a long lasting repellent). Additional essential oils to blend in include lavender, pennyroyal (avoid if pregnant), thyme, rosemary, and basil.
EASY AND MILD LEMON SPRAY: Juice and quarter two lemons in 6 oz of distilled water. Let sit overnight. Remove peels and place solution in a spray bottle. This remedy is useful for those sensitive to essential oils and is especially good for using on pets as it deters fleas as well!
NOTE: Whenever using essential oils for the first time always test a patch of skin for any allergic reaction and remember that children require only half of the adult strength. Don't get oils in the eyes or mucus membranes. Many of these mixtures can be sprayed on clothing instead of skin.
SMOKEY DETERRENTS: The days when my professors at Paul Smith’s College passed out cigars to their students on an especially buggy field trip are probably gone; but it's nice to know that you don't have to blow smoke to keep bugs off at the cookout or campfire – try adding bundles of rosemary, sage, cedar, or lemongrass to your fire or grill for an aromatic bug repellent.
Help for Sunburn
Everyone knows that sunburn is dangerous – but it happens. The best defense is a good offense; so keep covered in loose, sun protective clothing, wide-brimmed hats, or stay in the shade. I know at least two herbalists who swear by St. John’s wort oil as a good sunscreen and I plan on trying it this summer while doing my own gardening. So far I can only attest to its fast relief for painful burns, sores, and strains.
SUNBURN RELIEF: Try sponging on white vinegar or aloe vera gel (or use both alternatively allowing for some drying time in between). Keep hydrated – drink plenty of water. For a serious burn you can add several drops lavender essential oil to the mix.
SIMPLE HOMEMADE SUNSCREEN: Mix zinc oxide (the kind sold for diaper rash ointment) with your favorite body lotion.
NATURAL SUNSCREEN: Melt together a ¼ cup coconut oil and ¼ cup shea butter. Add 2 tsp of sesame oil or a mix of sesame and avocado oils. When melted, stir in two teaspoons of zinc oxide (powder is best, but the cream form will work).
Coconut, shea, and sesame oils all offer some protective properties from the sun’s harmful rays, but the zinc oxide offers the most. I'm told that this recipe will produce a sunscreen of about 30 SPF and is full spectrum.
Also, eat plenty of green and red vegetables to support the skin's own defenses. Other less proven, but reputable, natural ingredients for topical lotion sun protection include avocado, green tea, St. Johnswort oil, and carrot seed oil.
Poison Ivy and other Itchiness
Believe it or not, I've walked barefoot in poison ivy and have never succumbed to reacting to the plant's volatile oils. I used to think I was immune but then learned that I probably just haven't reached critical threshold levels yet! I use caution now – especially since it grows on my property. Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), also known as Touch-me-nots, is a remedy for both poison ivy and stinging nettles and can usually be found growing nearby. Jewelweed plants contain a wonderful gel in their stems that is soothing and relieving and can make a poison ivy outbreak less severe. I make a jewelweed gel itch remedy every summer to dab on my children's itchy complaints of all kinds.
JEWELWEED GEL: Gather and slice several jewelweed stems. Using a small spoon or even your finger, push gel out and down the stem into a bowl until you have at least an ounce of goo. Add several drops of peppermint or lavender oil. You can also dilute this remedy with Witch Hazel.
OATS: A paste of natural oatmeal or a tepid oatmeal bath is an old-time remedy for itches and rashes that really works. Many people don't realize that oats are also good internally for anxiousness and the irritability that comes with the itch. Because oats support and relax the nerves, it's good to take some internally as well.
AMMONIA: A few drops of ammonia can offer relief for a really itchy or stinging bite.
When I was a kid my twin brother stepped in a yellow jacket's nest. Unfortunately, I was standing right in front of him. My grandmother made a paste out of meat tenderizer and dotted it all over my rear end. It helped. For dinner, I got to sit on a pillow. I don't know too many people who keep meat tenderizer in their kitchens anymore, but there are other quick home remedies. Stings can be dangerous so keep a watch for serious reactions like face swelling, difficulty breathing, or a fever which require immediate medical help. Expect general swelling and redness in the area of the sting. Remove any visible stinger carefully with tweezers or, better yet, use a credit card to push the stinger out as quickly as possible. (However, the fear of squeezing the venom pouch and causing further irritation is, apparently, an old wives’ tale.) Clean the sting area with mild soap. For general reactions, these remedies can help:
PLANTAIN POULTICE: Plantain (Plantago species) is an herb that grows in a rosette of ground level leaves and is extremely abundant in most yards, gravel areas, and even in the cracks of the sidewalk. Select a few leaves, clean them and either macerate them in a food processor or if in the field – just chew them up into a paste in your mouth. The poultice can be placed directly on the sting. If stings are common around your home you can make some up ahead of time, freeze in ice cube trays, and keep the paste cubes in the freezer for cooling relief.
Also try these others: Lavender essential oil also provides relief. Alternate with ice cubes every few minutes. Vinegar can soothe a sting. Toothpaste is alkaline and cooling and will relieve the sting. Honey is antibacterial and healing on the skin.
Hay Fever and Allergies
Allergies can arrive with the blossoming of only one plant species or can include the pollen of many plants all season long. Because allergies are an immune system reaction, nutritional support to help strengthen your immune system is the best defense. Herbs like echinacea and goldenseal, as well as Vitamin C, garlic, and dark leafy greens can be very helpful. You will also need to get extra rest and lessen stress.
I know many people who take nettles (Urtica dioica and the closely related Urtica urens) either in capsule, tincture, or tea to remedy summer allergies. For real relief, the nettles must be taken a couple of weeks ahead of your hay fever so you need to know what plant or tree is causing your problem and when it blooms.
Locally raised honey, because it will contain small amounts of pollen from the plant that irritates your symptoms, is by far the tastiest remedy!
Angela Cannon-Crothers is a contributing writer to Rochester Area & Genesee Valley Parent Magazine. She is an an educator at Herb Haven in Crystal Beach as well as a writer and author. She lives in Upstate, NY. You can visit her website at angelacannoncrothers.webs.com
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