Natural Foods Merchandiser

Relief for Summer Maladies, From Bugs to Burns

Herbal Insight

It?s summertime, and the livin? is easy—except for the inevitable bug bites, sunburn, jet lag, motion sickness and rashes that accompany the season. Whether your customers are packing for a camping trip, a vacation in Bali or lounging in the backyard, you can help prepare them by providing the ingredients for a natural herbal first-aid kit.

  • Ward off bugs with natural repellent. Just about any summer outdoor activity involves biting insects, so a good repellent is essential. The dangers of diethyl-meta-toluamide, or DEET, are well known: It can damage brain cells and may cause seizures and even death. Natural insect repellents are an effective alternative, as long as they?re applied frequently and liberally (as often as every two hours). Most are based on citronella. Unlike the strong, chemical odor of DEET, citronella has a lemony fragrance. If your customers prefer to make their own repellent, here?s a simple recipe: In a 4-ounce spray bottle, mix together 1/2 teaspoon each of citronella, eucalyptus and lavender essential oils. Add distilled witch hazel to fill the bottle, shake well and spray on exposed skin, avoiding eyes and mucous membranes.

  • Stop itching with peppermint oil. Natural anti-itch remedies usually include menthol, which is derived from peppermint essential oil. Menthol is cooling, anti-inflammatory and mildly anesthetic. For a no-frills remedy, a drop of peppermint essential oil can be dabbed directly onto insect bites to curb itching. For sensitive skin, it?s best to dilute essential oils before applying: Mix 20 drops of peppermint oil with 1 ounce of distilled witch hazel in a small bottle and shake well.

  • Heal scrapes with calendula. Calendula salve is excellent for healing minor cuts and scrapes. The bright yellow-orange flowers contain compounds that fight infection and encourage healing. Comfrey is also often included in herbal salves. Comfrey is rich in allantoin, a compound that speeds cell regeneration. To prevent infection, cleanse wounds with an antiseptic. Combine 1/2 ounce of echinacea extract (Echinacea purpurpea) and 1/2 ounce of calendula extract in a 2-ounce spray bottle. Fill with distilled witch hazel and shake well.

  • Cool a burn with aloe. Burns are best treated with aloe vera. The plant?s leaves contain gel rich in compounds that soothe inflammation, ease pain and encourage healing. Other herbal anti-inflammatories often found in burn remedies include lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), St. John?s wort (Hypericum perforatum) and calendula. To make a cooling burn spray, combine 1/2 teaspoon of lavender essential oil with 1 tablespoon of vodka in a 4-ounce spray bottle; add 4 ounces of aloe vera juice and shake well.

  • Heal poison oak and ivy rashes. Grindelia (Grindelia camporum), also known as gumweed, contains resins and tannins that help relieve the pain and itching of plant rashes. It?s available both as a fluid extract and in formulas specifically for poison oak and ivy. Other herbs for treating poison oak and ivy include chickweed and jewelweed, which cool and soothe the rash, and astringent herbs like goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), white oak bark (Quercus alba) and witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), which calm inflammation and itching. To make a simple spray for plant rashes, combine 1 ounce of grindelia extract, 1 teaspoon of vegetable glycerin and 5 drops of peppermint essential oil in a 2-ounce spray bottle. Shake well. Add distilled witch hazel to fill the bottle and shake again. Apply to the affected area at least four times a day.

  • Prevent jet lag with Siberian ginseng. The disorientation, irritability and sleep disturbances characteristic of jet lag are caused by the body trying to reset its internal biological clock to a different time schedule. Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) can ease the transition and help the body adapt more quickly. Take 1/2 teaspoon of Siberian ginseng extract, 1 gram of powdered root, or 100 milligrams of standardized extract, three times a day for several days before traveling, and continue for several days following the flight.

  • Get a good night?s sleep with passionflower. Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) contains passiflorine and other natural sedative compounds. The herb makes a pleasant-tasting tea; it also can be taken as a concentrated fluid extract, which provides a more potent dose of the calming compounds. A general dosage for insomnia is 1 teaspoon of extract 30 minutes before bed.

    Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is an even more powerful herbal sleep aid. In clinical studies, valerian has been shown to be as effective as prescription sedatives, but without the negative side effects. The only drawback is that for a very small percentage of people, valerian can have stimulating instead of sedating effects. Take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of valerian extract 30 minutes before bed or 300 to 500 mg of powdered root in capsules.

  • Settle an upset stomach with ginger. Ginger is a multi-purpose remedy: It relieves indigestion, contains enzymes that promote healthy digestion and eases nausea. Sipping a cup of ginger tea after meals will relieve indigestion; carry tea bags in a backpack or purse. Crystallized ginger is also convenient and delicious. Powdered ginger is best for preventing motion sickness: Take six 500 mg capsules about 45 minutes prior to departing on a journey.

    When traveling, especially to a place that has questionable sanitation or water quality, goldenseal can help prevent the misery of traveler?s diarrhea. A powerful antimicrobial, goldenseal is effective against a wide range of micro-organisms that cause diarrhea. It also has astringent properties that help to soothe irritated mucous membranes in the digestive tract. To prevent parasites, it?s best to take goldenseal for the duration of a journey, as well as for one week prior to leaving and one to two weeks afterward. Take one to two capsules or 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of liquid extract two to three times a day for up to two weeks. Pregnant women shouldn?t use goldenseal because it is a uterine stimulant.

Laurel Vukovic is an herbalist and author of Herbal Healing Secrets for Women (Prentice Hall, 2000).

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 5/p. 40

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