It’s that time again, folks! Mosquito, spider, ant, and biting pest season. Sitting outside at a BBQ, camping, and just trying to relax and enjoy the nice weather outside can be a bit frustrating when you become the object of dining for the insects that come around this time of year. How bad are they where you live? The commercial products that are made to keep bugs off of us can wreak havoc on our immune systems and liver. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have plants that help turn off the body’s natural histamine reaction, relieve the itching and welts that occur, and repel the insects altogether. With the exception of Grindelia, the rest of these plants grow in most places around the country.
Plantain – Plantago ssp. Plantain is my go-to herb for relieving the itching and welting of bug bites. It provides super quick and effective relief! Plantain is best used fresh. It is not very effective dried or as a tincture or medicinal oil. The best way to use plantain when you get a bite is to simply grab a leaf, and roll it between your fingers until the leaf is nice and juicy. Now use that to scratch that bite! You get the aaaaaaaaahhhhh!!!! satisfying feeling of that initial scratching of a skeeter bite, and then poof!, in a minute or two, the itch is completely gone, and the welt subsides. To preserve the fresh medicine of plantain to keep the medicine on hand, gather as many leaves as you can and juice them. My two favorite ways to preserve the juice is by freezing and making a succus. A succus is a juice that is preserved with alcohol – 20% by volume. That means, if you have 10 ounces of juice, add 2 ounces of 100 – 151 proof alcohol such as vodka. Keep it in the fridge and it will stay viable for up to 2 years. You can then soak a cotton ball or paper towel with the plantain juice and apply it to any bug bite for swift relief. To freeze fresh juice, simply pour it into ice cube trays, freeze, and put the herbsicles in containers or ziplock bags for use as needed. There is something very gratifying about rubbing one of these little plantain juice ice cubes fresh out of the freezer on a bite.
Yarrow – Achillea millefolium. Being an aromatic herb, yarrow makes the bugs bug off! It has a very good anti-inflammatory effect, which helps eliminate the welts that arise after a bite and combats allergic reactions. Use both the leaves and flowers.
Grindelia – Grindelia integrifolia. Also called Gumweed, grindelia helps to combat the itch and welting of bug bites, hot spots, skin rashes, and reactions to poison oak and poison ivy. Utilize the medicine in the sticky resiny yellow flowers and leaves.
Tansy – Tanacetum bipinnatum huronense. There’s a mouthful, hey? When I had my sheep and goats, I hung tansy in the barn to repel fleas, flies, mosquitos and other biting insects that plagued my animals. My llama loved to eat it, so I had to keep it well out of reach of him in order to keep the bugs away. Tansy is very aromatic. In fact, in “olden times,” people would strew this plant onto their floors, and as the tansy was walked on over the course of daily activity, the bruising would release the aromatic oils to ward off pests. The entire above ground plant is employed as the essential oils are present in the leaves, stalks and flowers.
Essential oils are a great benefit for relieving bug bite symptoms and for deterring them as well. Lavender and peppermint essential oils are my 2 favorite to apply to an insect bite for swift relief. Citronella oil what is commonly used in candles to fend off mosquitos and other flying insects.
To make an effective Quit Buggin’ Me spray that is safe for everyone, gather the herbs in equal parts. Chop them finely and fill a wide mouth jar. Fill the jar with rubbing alcohol or witch hazel, put on a label with the herbs used, the date made, and the date 2 weeks in advance. Let it sit until the 2 weeks are up, then strain. Add 1 teaspoon each of peppermint, citronella, and lavender essential oils per pint of your antibug remedy. Shake it up, pour into spray bottles and spray it on your clothes, outdoor or indoor furniture, even your pets to keep away insects and soothe the itching and welting that happened because you forgot to spray yourself before you got bitten!
Well there you have it, folks! Be well, have a happy, safe, and bug free summer! Until next time, I leave you Wild About Plants!