One of the downsides of summer is the proliferation of winged assailants – wasps, midges, horseflies, mosquitoes – which can make a walk through a wildflower meadow or an evening barbecue more like an exercise in self-defense. Our country lanes are currently full of people waving large shrubs above their heads in a bizarre-looking cross between modern dance and kung fu.
Apart from the shrub-waving we have insect repellants on our side. However ( and there's always a 'however' just to bug you isn't there....) the chemically-based products are pretty toxic both for us and for the environment.
There are, luckily plenty of natural alternatives which do work. What has worked well for me is Yarrow tincture. This amazing plant (Achillea millefolium) is found along our native hedgerows in summer and has many wonderful healing properties. It stops bleeding, eliminates pain, and promotes healing, so can be used to very good effect for wounds, especially deep cuts and gashes. It also counters and prevents infection. Yarrow has been shown to be effective in killing all manner of bacteria, including strep and staph. It is also a highly effective insect repellent. In fact the US Army found that tincture of yarrow outperformed DEET in repelling ticks and mosquitoes. It did not remain effective for as long, so in places where there are lots of insects, you may need to reapply it as often as every 20-30 minutes. A bit more work but worth it, as DEET is a known skin irritant and can have adverse neurological effects in some people.
You can buy Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium) tincture from herbal suppliers like Baldwin’s in the UK but you can also very easily and cheaply make your own.
To do this all you need is:
A glass kilner jar or similar
Yarrow flowers and leaves
Some muslin or a fine tea strainer
Amber jars or dropper bottles for storing the tincture.
Yarrow is in plentiful supply along our hedgerows at the moment. Here’s a picture:
METHOD: Gather some of the flowers and leaves, place in a large sealable jar (1/3 to 1/2 of the jar) and fill three -quarters full with vodka. Seal the jar, keep in a cool, dark place and shake twice a day for about 4-6 weeks. Strain the contents through some muslin into a jug and pour into amber glass bottles or jars (available from the above suppliers).
To make your own effective natural insect repellant put some yarrow tincture in a small spray bottle (also available from Baldwin’s or from Jean Blake at www. homeopathysupplies Ireland.com) with a little witch hazel (optional) and I like to add about 20 drops of a mixture of either lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus or lemongrass essential oils which also have insect repellent properties. If I don’t have any oils I just use the tincture and it works very well, just doesn’t smell quite as nice! Spray liberally and often.
IF ONE GETS THROUGH (AND THERE'S ALWAYS ONE)
If you do get bitten, chances are it will be a bit itchy and annoying for a while then you'll forget all about it. Here are some natural remedies to relieve the discomfort:
Plantain is fantastic for bites and stings. It is commonly found in hedges and lawns – it’s the one with long thin ribbed leaves and tall flowerheads that we used as kids to play ‘soldiers’. You can make a tincture as above, or for a quick and effective poultice, chew a plantain leaf and place it on the sting.
Aromatherapy oils which are good for treating stings are lavender, eucalyptus, chamomile and tea tree.
Some people are particularly sensitive or even allergic to insect bites and stings and can develop more serious symptoms. In these situations homeopathy is very effective. The following are the most common remedies we use:
APIS: This medicine is good for swollen, red, inflamed insect bites from which you experience burning or stinging pain that is worse by heat or warm applications and relieved by cold or cool applications. It also deals with allergic reactions to insect bites.
HYPERICUM: If you develop sharp or shooting pains from a bite or sting, consider this remedy.
LEDUM: This is the most common medicine for itching bites or stings from mosquitoes, bees, wasps and spiders. The itching from the bite or sting can feel cold to the touch and is relieved by cold applications. It can prevent sepsis.
STAPHYSAGRIA: When mosquito or other insect bites itch excessively or become large welts, this medicine should be given. (Staphysagria can help people who tend to get bitten unusually often but this treatment should be overseen by a professional homeopath.)
Dosage: Put a 30c pillule into a small bottle or glass of water. Sip regularly, shaking or stirring vigorously between doses. Stop taking the remedy as soon as the symptoms subside.
WARNING:If your symptoms continue or worsen, or if you have a severe allergic reaction contact your homeopath or doctor immediately.