Natural Foods Merchandiser

Do-it-Yourself Relief for Summer's Irritants

Herbal Insight

Working in the garden, camping in the woods, walking on the beach or simply dining outdoors—your customers are going to be spending a lot of time outside this summer. But it seems every outdoor summer activity has its hazards, in the form of sunburn, insect bites and stings, and poison oak and ivy rashes. This season, lead consumers to your bulk section to help them ease common summer skin problems with fast-acting, easy-to-prepare herbal remedies.

Cool Sunburn
We all know that slathering on sunscreen is essential to prevent skin damage and premature aging. But sunburns still happen, despite our best intentions. A green tea and chamomile bath may help cool a burn and prevent long-term damage. Green tea (Camellia sinensis) is a potent source of antioxidants that can neutralize some cellular damage caused by sun. Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) has anti-inflammatory properties and eases the heat of a burn.

Dried bulk herbs can be prepared for a bath by steeping 1/2 cup each of green tea and chamomile in 2 quarts of boiling water until cool. Strain the liquid and add to a cool bath. To obtain the most benefits from green tea, in addition to topical applications, drink several cups daily while recovering from sunburn. However, when used as a beverage, it's best to steep green tea only three minutes. Any longer, and it becomes unpleasantly bitter.

Aloe vera (Aloe vera) is perhaps the best-known herb for treating burns. The slippery gel found inside the leaves contains compounds including salicylic acid and magnesium lactate that stimulate skin healing, ease pain and relieve inflammation. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) also promotes skin healing and eases inflammation. A cooling sunburn spray contains 8 ounces bottled aloe juice mixed with 1/4 teaspoon lavender essential oil. When refrigerated, the mixture can be used as a refreshing skin mist throughout the summer.

If recommending a manufactured topical burn cream to a customer, an herbal gel is the best choice during sunburn's initial stages. Herbal ointments, creams and oils are excellent for skin healing but should only be used after redness and burning have ceased. Applying an oil-based preparation too quickly may make a burn feel hotter because it keeps the heat in.

Other excellent topical herbal anti-inflammatories include calendula (Calendula officinalis) and St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum).

Soothe Bug Bites And Stings
Bites or stings from mosquitoes, no-see-ums, biting flies, wasps and bees can ruin a summer outing. Although bugs vary in size, they all leave behind itchy, red welts that may persist for weeks.

It's a good idea to clean bug bites and stings with an antiseptic to prevent infection. Two effective herbal antiseptics are echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia) and tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia). An alcohol extract of either essential oil should be dabbed onto bites with a cotton ball. In addition, echinacea extract taken internally may provide an immune system boost to help the body ward off infection.

A clay and herb poultice applied to the affected area after cleansing helps draw out toxins, which may relieve itching and prevent infection. This is especially beneficial for bites or stings from wasps, bees or biting flies. An instant poultice of cosmetic clay with enough aloe vera juice or gel to make a spreadable paste should be left on for 30 minutes and then rinsed off.

Herbal anti-inflammatories such as lavender, peppermint (Mentha piperita) and witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) calm the irritation caused by insect bites and stings. Peppermint essential oil also is excellent for itch relief. Many natural anti-itch formulas rely on peppermint (or menthol, peppermint's active ingredient) as an essential ingredient.

A simple remedy to relieve insect bite itching, made from 1 ounce witch hazel extract, 20 drops peppermint essential oil and 10 drops lavender essential oil, can be applied to bites as often as needed.

Heal Plant Rashes
The itching, burning and oozing rash caused by the irritating oils of poison oak and poison ivy plants calls for a soothing, cooling and drying remedy.

Grindelia (Grindelia camporum), also known as gumweed, is a first-rate herb for treating rashes caused by plants. The herb contains resins and tannins that help relieve pain and itching. It's available as a liquid extract and should be applied to the affected area at least four times daily. Other herbs that cool and soothe poison oak or ivy rashes include chickweed (Stellaria media) and jewelweed (Impatiens capensis). Astringent herbs such as goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), white oak bark (Quercus alba) and witch hazel calm inflammation and itching. The strong tannins in these astringent herbs also encourage a weeping rash to heal.

An oat (Avena sativa) bath with lavender or chamomile essential oil can relieve itching and soothe the nervous system. Drinking calming herbal teas such as chamomile, catnip (Nepeta cataria) and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is also helpful. The best way to prepare oats for a bath is to grind them into a fine powder with a blender. Add 2 cups of the powdered oats to a bathtub of tepid water, along with 10 drops essential oil. The skin shouldn't be rinsed following the bath, but gently patted dry.

If itching is severe, a poultice of cosmetic clay, aloe vera juice and peppermint essential oil can be applied to the rash. Cosmetic clay is drying, aloe vera helps heal skin, and peppermint oil is cooling and temporarily relieves itching. To make the poultice, mix 2 tablespoons cosmetic clay and 2 drops peppermint essential oil with enough aloe vera juice to make a thin, spreadable paste. Apply the mixture to the rash and allow it to dry. Let the poultice flake off naturally, or rinse it off with cool water.

Laurel Vukovic is an herbalist and columnist, a contributing editor for Natural Health, and author of Herbal Healing Secrets for Women (Prentice Hall, 2000) and 14 Day Herbal Cleansing (Prentice Hall, 1998).

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 5/p. 36

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