Botanical Treatments for Insect Bites and Stings
I’ve gone over this a little bit in previous posts on injuries and surviving in the Southwest, but it bears repeating in it’s own post.
Ants – We’ve got big red ants with great big hill castles. These critters are fierce and full of formic acid. I’ve seen many an ant attack swell up to amazing proportions, sometimes even bruising or radiating pain into joints, the lymph system or turning into an instant mind-crushing headache. Especially when children are involved, it’s important to treat right away because it is possible for an allergic reaction to occur. Usually the only treatment needed is a single drop of Larrea oil. This usually results in nearly instant resolution of pain, and a quick reduction in swelling and reaction. If there’s a more systemic reaction happening, I have the person chew a few Yarrow leaves, which usually takes care of it. If not, I give them a small chunk of Osha root or a few drops of the tincture.
Mosquitoes – Prevention is the best medicine, and I’ve found that rubbing myself with Monarda, Yarrow and Catnip leaves tends to discourage the little suckers (yes, a very bad pun) quite well. Some people prefer a stronger essential oil mix with similar herbs. You can also make a spray with Yarrow tea or diluted tincture. On the other hand, wearing yummy smelling flower fragrances like Honeysuckle and Rose will make them flock to you. I usually treat bites with some mix of infused oils, especially Lavender, White Sage, Mugwort and Larrea. A Plantain spit poultice also works very well. And my own personal preference is diluted or neat tinctures of Rose and Mugwort, goodbye itch.
Scorpions – Our scorpions are not deadly, unless you have a rare reaction. Generally, their sting causes a great deal of initial pain followed by numbness, itching and irritation. If you get stung multiple times (Wolf once got stung about six times on his legs, all at the same time) you’re more likely to have an immune reaction. For the actual sting, Larrea infused oil is ideal, re-apply every fifteen minutes to half an hour until symptoms lessen appreciably. If you are in the SW, get stung and by some horrible mishap don’t have any Larrea, then a spit poultice of Yarrow, Mugwort and Plantain is probably the next best thing. For any kind of allergic reaction to the scorpion I suggest Osha, Yarrow or even some Peach.
Cone-Nosed Kissing Beetle – You really really want to avoid these. After the initial bite (which you probably won’t feel) you’ll be afflicted by a ferocious itch for at least twenty-four hours. It’s that annoying can’t sleep, eat or think kind of itching too. If you do get bit and realize what’s gotten you you can treat it with (come on, guess!) Larrea oil and cut the itching intensity at least in half and reduce the duration to a few hours, sometimes bypassing it all together.
Spiders - If you leave them alone, they’ll usually leave you alone. Here in the Canyon we have Black Widows, Brown Recluses, Tarantulas and lots of other fun eight leggeds. They’re mostly very laid back and unseen but it is possible to get bitten. The Tarantulas are what you’re least likely to get bitten by, seeing as they stay in their little dens most of the time, so don’t worry too much about them. Spider bites have an annoying tendency to get hot, swollen and hard very quickly. They can also infect rapidly so I like to use a drawing poultice first thing on all spider bites. Plantain is my very first choice, chewed up, placed on the bite site, covered and then changed every 15 minutes in the beginning. This works best if the bite is found and treated right away. A few fresh Yarrow leaves or a couple drops of Larrea infused oil added in can also be quite helpful. The Plantain is the magic here though, and I’ve tried all the other treatments without the Plantain with far less satisfactory results. Osha and Yarrow can be used internally if the swelling starts to get out of control. If the bite proceeds to necrotize or does not respond to treatment, you should probably go to a doctor.
Hornets and Bees – These respond very well to lots of herbs. Plantain spit poultice is quick and effective. Rose tincture, Lavender oil, Larrea oil…. If there’s a potential allergic reaction then lots of Yarrow should be chewed (by the person who was stung) and then used as a poultice too, being sure to swallow the juice. Osha is the next step up. After that, probably benadryl is a good idea. Anaphylactic shock is no fun.
Caterpillars – You know the spiky looking kind with tortuous, itchy hairs that lodge in your skin when you touch them? Rhiannon’s always getting into these and Larrea oil is the best treatment I know of, it takes the itch down from screaming and yelling level to a small whimper.
Robin Rose Bennett also showed me this summer that fresh Grape Leaves made into a warm poultice can also work very nicely on a variety of insect caused swellings and pains.
I’ve heard jim talk about using Peach for lots of bites and stings, and while I’ve tried this a little bit, I’m looking forward to exploring it more. We had several somewhat serious bites and stings this Summer and I was worried enough to stick to what I know, and thankfully, all the cases resolved just fine. Wolf did have a spider bite lump the size of Texas at one point, but it did resolve, quite nicely, with Larrea and Osha.
A note: My apologies to anyone who’s written to my gmail address and hasn’t gotten an answer yet. That account is malfunctioning at the moment and I’m not always able to access it or write from it.