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Friday, June 20, 2014

insect bite relief

Bugs like to bite me. Especially mosquitos. Ugh. Inevitably, in spite of the most careful repellant and frequent application, I get bitten every year. By something. Somewhere. The first bite of this year was on the back of my hand after watering the garden late evening. It was irritating me during the night but didn't really start to itch until I had shaken the grogginess from my head this morning. Most likely mozzie, in which case the remedy is pretty simple.

I'm going to give you a few suggestions for different types of insect bites. However -- and I feel I must especially say this for my fellow Arizona desert readers where many, many poisonous crawly things also live -- my advise is not intended to replace good medical practice. If you get bitten 5 times by a black widow spider and fail to phone the ambulance as soon as humanly possible while dipping the tourniqueted bites in activated charcoal, I will weep for you and have pity but very little sympathy at your funeral! Use common sense at all times. Medicate wisely, and get to know about these suggestions of mine before they become needed so that in the event of an actual emergency you are mentally prepared.

Mosquito bites
The pictured plantain ACV (apple cider vinegar infused with plantain) I like to keep in a spray bottle in the fridge door. It doesn't need to be kept chilled, but the coolness sprayed onto itching skin works magic. Plantain ACV used neat, undiluted, is good for all kinds of topical skin itching, whether from sunburn, mosquito bites, gnat and other small fly bites, or poison ivy rash or other form of contact dermatitis. Plantain soothes itching, reduces inflammation, and ACV is just about the ideal pH level for skin. I like to use a spray bottle top rather than a tincture dropper so that application is at its easiest without touching the skin, and so that the vinegar covers a wide area. This is the first remedy I run to when at home and discover an insect bite that is obviously not from a poisonous spider.

Rapha Salve is a good go to for all these insect bites, too, as a follow up after the initial treatment, or Black Rapha Salve for really bad mozzie bites. Or, keep a 5 ml bottle of lavender essential oil in your pocket when working in the garden or out on hikes and apply one drop neat directly to the bite. Lavender is somewhat insect repellant as well as being wonderfully soothing to stings, burns, and skin irritations.

A non herbal practical remedy my little brother swears by is the hot spoon trick. Run a metal spoon under hot water until it is very hot to touch, but not enough to burn the skin. Press the bowl to the bite. The heat alters the proteins in the wounded area and the itching sensation should go away quickly. I find that this works brilliantly on new mozzie bites, but not old ones. So remember this trick next time you have access to a kitchen, but it might also be prudent to keep a little lipbalm tube of Rapha Salve handy, as well as wearing a good insect repellant, if you plan to be further afield. 

Horse fly bites tend to feel a little more painful than those of more regularly sized flies. Children may find that the plantain ACV just doesn't cut it quickly enough. Immediately apply one drop of lavender or tea tree essential oil to the bite and then set about making a poultice from comfrey, if you can. If growing fresh, chew up some comfrey leaf and apply the masticated green goo over the bitten area in a spit poultice. If fresh is not available, warm up a couple Tbs of dried comfrey leaf with just enough boiling water to make it soggy, place in the center of a cheesecloth, handkerchief, or paper towel, and wrap over the bite. Leave the poultice on for at least 15 minutes and reapply both fresh poultices and essential oil through the day as needed.

I am grateful that I have never experienced a tick bite. I've never lived in an area where they do. Leeches in North India, yes. Ticks, no. I hear they're not much fun, though, and a deer tick in the ear can cause some significant damage to the entire nervous system in short order until neutralized and removed. Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be caught by ticks, too, neither of which are pleasant diseases. My grandpa has told me of finding ticks burrowed under the skin in itching, hard lumps. A strong batch of Vinegar of the Four Thieves is a good preventative measure. Spray repellant all over skin, soak shoes and socks, and repeat every few hours. But once you have a tick bite, what then? 

First, the tick needs to be removed. Use tweezers and a magnifying glass. If you are not confident of doing this yourself, or if you are unable to remove the little insect completely, a doctor can do it for you. Clean the wound by flushing with a little witch hazel with tea tree essential oil added, and apply Rapha Salve antiseptic. Keep an eye on your symptoms for the next 24-48 hours, and if anything such as rash, fever, stiff neck, or flu-like symptoms appear, see a doctor promptly. 

Bee stings hurt, but unless you are allergic they are generally only a bit irritating. My son was stung three different times before he turned three, all from poking with too much toddler vigor at a busy little bee in a garden flower, and each time the sting was somewhere on a hand. I also sat on a bee last summer by mistake, hunkering down to relax on the clover-littered grass at the park, and was bitten on the back of my thigh. First bee sting for me. 

Once you have ensured all the stinger has been removed, Rapha Salve is a pretty easy grab here. A plantain spit poultice will work well if you're in need, but Rapha always seems to do the trick the fastest. Second to that, one neat drop each of eucalyptus and lavender essential oils directly on the sting site will soothe pain and reduce inflammation. Repeat as needed, and apply ice. In the case of a child stung on their sitting parts, as I was last year, run a mildly warm bath with a cup of baking soda and 15 drops of lavender essential oil added under the running water. Let them soak as long as they care, and then apply treatment again after bathing. 

For those with real allergic reaction to bee stings, or for anyone stung in many places, do not replace holistic medicine with herbal medicine entirely. Once anaphylactic shock has been treated appropriately, or the injured has seen the doctor and does not need prescription meds or hospitalization for dangerously stung areas, then care for the inflamed tissues at home with salves, oils and baths. 

Spider bites
A Black Salve made with detoxifying herbs, activated charcoal, and bentonite clay can really help here. It's not just for pimples, people. All kinds of poisons can be drawn out and the body aided by the application of activated charcoal, which is a very finely powdered charcoal of white willow, the herbal aspirin tree, and Black Salve is just about the easiest grab. A few years ago, before I started this blog spot, I was bitten on the top of one foot. I react strongly to mosquito bites so initially we thought it was merely a mozzie irritation, but after several days of persistent icing and a citronella and lavender gel from the local health food store didn't prove to rid me of the now golf ball sized bite, my husband took a better look and said, oh, yes, that's a spider bite. Probably a common garden spider or we would have seen more serious health implications by then. But really, all spiders are poisonous. It's simply that the ones we think of as poisonous have a higher concentration of poison, therefore toxicity, in their venom than certain others.

Now, I would rush right to Black Salve made with tea tree essential oil and plantain and lavender herbs, and smear it all over my foot. I would also make a spit poultice from fresh comfrey and plantain if possible, or from dried if that's all I could get, bandage it in place for several hours or a couple of days as needed. I would also make myself a pot of tea decocted with echinacea purpurea root to boost my systemic white blood count immune response, and dandelion and yellow dock to purify my blood.

Poisonous spider bites are a different story, however. Black widow and brown recluse spiders are not native to the UK, but they are here in the desert. When moving some wood in the garden just last weekend, my husband killed four widows including a large egg sac, over which one of the widow spiders was protectively hunched. Thank God for brave husbands! And when my son was about 16 months old, my husband yelled for me to come see. I ran outside, hearing the tension in his voice, and he showed me a brown recluse on the sidewalk, with which our son had been playing, catlike, by tapping it on one side to make it skitter sideways, and then on the other side, back and forth. Once I was done shuddering and the spider was pulverized to a messy squish on the underside of my man's boot, I phoned our favorite bug buster man to come spray the house again with his natural but effective treatments for all the thresholds and nooks.

The bite of a brown recluse spider forms a nasty blister like a target, with white and red rings around the bite. Black widow venom is similar to that of rattlesnakes, to give you an idea how dangerous these spiders are. The bite can cause spastic muscle contractions, localized tissue death, and if a person is bitten in the right place on the body, or if they are child sized, the bite can prove life threatening. If you plan to be out in the desert, dress properly, practice safe habits, and carry a snake bite kit, which should be used for black widow bites as well as for poisonous snakes.

If without a snake bite kit, such as at home when you didn't anticipate needing one, first make a tourniquet and restrict the blood flow from the bite back to the heart. Slow the spread of the poison. Smear Black Salve thickly over the bite, but do not ice as this can aid tissue damage, and get to the Emergency Room quickly. If a child is bitten, it is a good idea to give them water and calm them down, but don't offer sugary drinks or foods until you have seen a doctor. If the ER is some distance away, you might consider bleeding the bite by making a small, controlled cut with a clean, sharp knife to allow the blood flow to start ridding the body of poison so it has less chance to spread before you reach help. (This is only for extreme circumstances, and only on the arms or legs. If you have not done due research ahead of time, please do not try this.) In a life threatening situation, massive doses of vitamin C, causing an ascorbic acid flush, can be of great benefit.

Scorpion stings can also be quite dangerous. Most cause only discomfort of pain and swelling, some numbness near the sting site, but more serious stings can cause vomiting, muscles spasms, fevering and sweating, heart irregularities. Once again, little bodies need to be given extra care. Tourniquet the bite from the heart, apply Black Salve and go to the ER. If you are quite, quite sure that the sting is not serious, and the patient is of a full sized adult, a soak in epsom salts water and then reapplication of Black Salve may be all that is required. However, keep a close eye on your systemic symptoms as well as on the wound, and seek professional care if anything at all seems to not be improving, if the skin turns any color but normal, healthy pink, if you start to sweat or have any other symptoms.

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