Published June 26, 2012
Unless you live in a tropical environment, the winter months usually provide some respite from bites and stings from insects. But when the warmer season hits, it’s bug heaven. Creeping, crawling, flying and otherwise mobile insects are out and about, and often they decide to take a bite out of you, or sting you for seemingly no good reason.
For some bugs, like mosquitoes, we are part of their diet. Mosquitoes live for our blood. And when they bite, they leave an itchy, red mark. For creatures like bees, hornets and wasps, we are unwanted invaders who must be dealt with harshly. These creatures sting, leaving a painful sore that can be very sensitive. And then there are the arachnids, or spiders. Many simply take a bite, leaving little pinholes and red marks. But some spider bites can be serious, as in the cases of black widows and brown recluse. In some parts of the world, centipedes and scorpions, both toxic, are also a worry.
When you are bitten or stung, the result is not just a puncture, but a wound that may contain bacteria or other microbes imparted by the bite, or venom, as in the case of wasps and scorpions. This can lead to infection, or in some cases eating away of skin. Most times, the result is an inflamed area and discomfort. In all cases, it’s a smart idea to practice first aid and apply something to the afflicted area.
So the question is, what do you do when you are bitten or stung? For relief of bites and stings of various kinds, I recommend the following natural remedies. I can tell you that, as a medicine hunter traveling in a variety of environments in which I receive bites, stings and a variety of insect-related insults, I have had plenty of time to work out what helps. Here are some of my favorites.
Tamanu oil (Calophyllum inophyllum)
This oil from the nut of a tropical tree relieves pain and itching from bites very fast, possesses anti-microbial properties, and heals skin quickly. Tamanu is powerfully anti-inflammatory, reducing redness and swelling. Tamanu kills bacteria, viruses and fungus, and is also what is known as a cicatrizing agent. That is, it causes the formation of new, healthy skin tissue. I have applied tamanu oil to more bites and stings than I can recount, with excellent results. Tamanu oil is available online and at natural food stores. I never leave home without it if I am traveling to a natural environment. Consider tamanu oil medicine number one for insect-related skin problems.
Manuka oil (Leptospermum scoparium)
This oil from a bush that grows wild in New Zealand is an increasingly popular first aid remedy. Manuka stops the pain of bites and stings, and helps to kill any infections. Thin and bearing a pleasant aroma, manuka oil is potently antibacterial. So if an insect drops some bacteria into your skin, manuka will kill the germs before they have a chance to multiply. On one occasion, I was rudely awoken by a scorpion sting. The pain was extreme, and my toe, where I had been stung, instantly had a pea-sized red welt. After I mashed the offending scorion into oblivion, I reached for the manuka oil. Despite the searing pain of the sting, in just a minute after applying the oil, the pain was virtually gone. The angry redness subsided, and within an hour there was no visible mark. That is some serious first aid. Keep manuka in your medicine chest, right beside the tamanu oil. It is available online and at natural food stores. Manuka is also great for eradicating pimples.
Do you know that vinegar is vin aigre, or sour wine? Virtually everybody has vinegar in the kitchen, most often used for making salad dressings. But vinegar makes a nifty first aid treatment when other remedies are not at hand. Though not as potent as tamanu or manuka oils, vinegar will relieve the pain of a bite or sting and tighten the skin. Consider it a first step until you can get your hands on the big guns. And no, you don’t have to use an expensive balsamic vinegar. Plain white vinegar is right for this job, and apple cider vinegar will do as well.
Stuck outdoors away from the medicine cabinet? No worries. Mix some soil with a bit of water, and apply it directly to bites and stings. Perhaps the oldest skin-healing remedy known, mud soothes the pain of bites and stings, and reduces swelling. I have done this, and it works remarkably well. Mud will help to draw toxins out of skin, and it definitely comforts irritated areas.
An occasional bite or sting is inevitable, unless you spend all your time in a sealed indoor environment. Keep remedies on hand, and travel with them. Then, when you are attacked, you’ll have something to help you to recover quickly.
Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide. His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at www.MedicineHunter.com