Nix the Itch of Summer

beeMuch as we love nature, outdoor encounters sometimes put us face to face with burns, itches and ouches. Herbal remedies can help.

With the joy of gardening comes the challenge of fending off biting bugs, harmful sunrays and irritating plant oils, as well as healing the damage to our skin. To be well and at ease outdoors, we humans just have to be smarter than the natural forces that surround us. With a little planning and discipline — plus the tips and recipes we offer here — you can make it through this summer with minimal impact to the skin you’re in.

Defend Your Skin

Our first line of defense is internal. Drinking lots of water will keep you hydrated in hot weather. During the gardening season, eat garlic and increase your intake of vitamin C for energy and a healthy immune system. If you notice the beginning of a poison ivy rash, or get some bug bites, use Echinacea tincture for several days to boost your immune system.

lady Your level of protection may depend on the type of gardening you do, and the length of time you spend in the garden. Tina Marie, a full-time gardener in Arkansas, takes the more cautious approach: she applies Antiseptic Insect Repellent Oil to her entire body before dressing; wears white, long-sleeved blouses; wears trousers, gloves and boots; tucks pant legs into the tops of her boots and secures them with elastic straps that fasten with Velcro (available in sporting-goods stores); waterproofs boots with Insect Repellent Neat’s-foot Oil; dusts feet and inside of boots with Gardener’s Foot Powder; and drapes white cotton tea towels sprayed with insect repellent across the back of her neck to absorb perspiration and reflect the sun’s rays.

Susan, on the other hand, is more comfortable wearing minimal clothing and going barefoot in the garden. If you are more inclined to this relaxed approach, make sure to take plenty of showers, use protective lotions and salves, and wear a hat. When possible, work in the morning or evening rather than the heat of the day, and use Jewelweed Vinegar with Insect-Repellent Herbs to keep biting flies and mosquitoes away.

Stop Chiggers, Mosquitoes and Ticks

It is hard to imagine anything itchier than a chigger bite. Also known as red bugs, these soft-bodied mites pester gardeners in the temperate, humid areas of the United States. As we work in the garden, chiggers climb onto our bodies, find a nice tender place and take a nip. Rather than burrowing in and taking up residence under the skin, as some believe, chigger larvae feed by injecting an enzyme into the skin. The enzyme simultaneously breaks down the skin cells and creates intense itching at the site of the bite. To kill them before they bite you, frequently brush up and down to rub the soft-bodied mites off your skin and clothing when you’re working in the garden.

Mosquitoes and ticks can carry seriously debilitating diseases, such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease. Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk; ticks tend to be most active in the heat of the day in locations where animals, such as deer, cattle and even lizards, roam. Adjust the timing and location of your gardening activities to limit exposure. When you come in from the outdoors, use a doubled-over piece of wide masking tape and run it up and down your legs and arms to trap any ticks that might be on you. Be familiar with the symptoms associated with tick- and mosquito-borne diseases: Rashes (sometimes, but not always, a “bull’s-eye” rash with a clear center); swelling; fever; chills; sweats; joint pain; fatigue; or sore throat. When you get bites, treat them aggressively and seek prompt medical attention if any of these disease symptoms occur.


  • Always test for allergic reactions before applying homemade remedies to your entire body. Put a little of the remedy on the inside crease of your elbow, and wait 15 minutes to an hour. If no reddening or blistering occurs, you should be safe to use the remedy.

  • No insect repellent is effective against all bugs all of the time. Essential oils are volatile, which means they evaporate quickly and must be reapplied regularly. If you get mosquito or chigger bites, rub tea tree oil on them for quick relief. Tea tree oil generally is safe to apply directly to the skin, but do an allergy test first.

Mosquitoes and ticks can carry seriously debilitating diseases, such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease. Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk; ticks tend to be most active in the heat of the day in locations where animals such as deer, cattle and even lizards roam. Adjust the timing and location of your gardening activities to limit exposure. When you come in from the outdoors, use a doubled-over piece of wide masking tape and run it up and down your legs and arms to trap any ticks that might be on you. Remember to combine frequent tick checks and chigger killing with water breaks. Be familiar with the symptoms associated with tick and mosquito-born diseases (rashes — sometimes, but not always, a “bull’s eye” rash with a clear center — swelling, fever, chills, sweats, joint pain, fatigue or sore throat). When you get bites, treat them aggressively and seek prompt medical attention if any of these disease symptoms occur.

Caution: Pregnant and nursing women should use essential oils with caution, under the supervision of their health-care professional. The information included in this article is not meant to take the place of professional medical advice.

Antiseptic Insect Repellent Skin Oil

Oregano, thyme and tea tree oils are very strong and pungent oils, so we suggest a skin test first; if it burns when you apply it, dilute it further or don’t use it.

1⁄2 cup almond, walnut or grapeseed oil
6 drops oregano, thyme or tea tree oil
4 drops each of up to four insect repellent oils (Tina prefers lemon and cedar oil in combination with vetiver, patchouli and sandlewood.)

Add oil to a small clean bottle, preferably dark glass. Drop in the essential oils of your choice and shake well. Label and keep in a dark, cool place.

Insect Repellent Neat’s-foot Oil

This is Tina’s recipe for applying to leather work boots, which conditions the boots and helps repel insects.

7.5 ounce bottle neat’s-foot oil
1⁄2 teaspoon each orange, eucalyptus and citronella essential oil

Add the essential oils to the neat’s-foot oil bottle and shake well. Apply to boots as directed on bottle.

Gardener’s Foot Powder

Keep your feet sweet while you work the peat.

1⁄4 cup cornstarch
1⁄4 cup baking soda
10 drops each lavender and tea tree oils

Put the cornstarch and baking soda in a jar, add the essential oils and stir to combine.

Herbal Insect Repellent Vinegar

We pour our vinegars into spray bottles for easy application.

2 cups fresh insect-repellent herbs such as orange peel, lemongrass and eucalyptus (See “Insect-Repellent Oils and Herbs”)
2 cups apple cider vinegar

Crush the herbs with a mortar and pestle. Place herbs in a glass quart jar and cover with vinegar. Use a plastic lid to seal the jar (vinegar corrodes metal). Shake every day for 3 to 7 days. It is best to filter the vinegar within a week and use it up within the year. The essential oils of the plants are volatile.

Antiseptic Essential Oils and Herbs

Calendula Patchouli
Eucalyptus Rose geranium
Garlic Rosemary
Goldenseal Tea tree
Lavender Thyme
Lemongrass Vetiver
Oregano Yarrow

Astringent Herbs

An astringent herb dries tissue and reduces discharge and secretions. Most astringents contain tannins.


Jewelweed Vinegar

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) grows in the wild, wet places in the Eastern United States. The juice of the plant is a traditional remedy for all sorts of skin ailments. We use it because it grows prolifically in our gardens. To use it, we simply crush the leaves and stems and rub the juice on itchy spots. To preserve and keep it handy we make this vinegar.

1 cup fresh crushed jewelweed
2 cups apple cider vinegar

Place jewelweed in glass quart jar. Cover with vinegar and seal jar with a plastic lid (vinegar corrodes metal). You can use it in a day or leave the herb in for up to four weeks. Pour vinegar through a cheesecloth-lined strainer. We add insect-repellent and antiseptic essential oils to the vinegar, ten drops each to a one-pint sprayer. The spray is kept nearby to subdue itchy fits and to re-apply insect-repellent oils. As a variation, we make Herbal Insect-Repellent Vinegar to mix with the Jewelweed Vinegar. The vinegars are good for about a year before losing their potency.

Lemon Pie
Poison oak

Poison ivy and poison oak

First of all, learn the rule, “leaves of three, let it be” to identify poison ivy and poison oak. Wear gloves in the garden as much as possible and wear boots and long pants when going into the woods. If you discover you have been walking or working in a poison ivy or poison oak patch, it is essential to remove the plant’s oily, poisonous (urushiol) from the skin as soon as possible. Wash with a strongly detergent bar soap as soon as you get back to the house. Wash all the way up your arms and down again with cold water. If you have been wearing flip-flops or are barefoot, then scrub up to your knees and back down. Pat dry, don’t rub. Wash tools, gloves, shoes and all clothing, and then wash your hands again.

Next, immediately use one of the following to get rid of any remaining urushiol on the skin: alcohol, jewelweed vinegar or witch hazel. We’ve tried using all of them and this extra step really does seem to help prevent getting poison ivy.

Healing the Rash

If you develop poison ivy rash, take these steps to heal quickly: Dry the blisters, soothe the inflammation and kill microbes that cause secondary infections. Drying agents include alcohol, witch hazel, vinegar, oatmeal and green clay. The very best remedy for drying poison ivy is going to the beach and swimming in the salty ocean; it really does wonders.

For those of us without an ocean handy, take a tepid shower or soak in a bath with oatmeal or baking soda. (Put a handful of oatmeal in a cheesecloth bag or the cut-off toe of a pair of stockings, then swish in the water.) After patting dry, apply jewelweed vinegar or antimicrobial washes, such as alcohol or witch hazel, as well as antiseptic and anti-inflammatory herbal infusions.

If all preventive measures fail and you end up in poison ivy’s itchy throes, try adding herbal infusions to oatmeal or green clay to make a paste to slather on the rash. Make infusions of mucilage-containing, anti-inflammatory astringent herbs — such as calendula, jewelweed, comfrey, flax seed, aloe, oatmeal, mullein, yarrow or plantain – by soaking them for about an hour in water or vinegar. Also, you may add additional antiseptic herbs or oils (see: “Antiseptic Essential Oils and Herbs”) to your infusions to boost their germ-killing properties. Add your herbal infusion to oatmeal or green clay and slather on your rash repeatedly. Once paste has dried, you can rinse off and rub gently to remove residue.

When your rash dries up, use salves and creams to help tissues heal. Try herbal salves of chickweed or calendula, or vitamin E oil. Oil-based remedies trap moisture in the skin and should not be applied until blisters are completely dry. Do not use on open sores or scabs.

Soothe Your Sunburn

In the summer, when you wear less clothing, always try to use sunblock. Even so, sometimes a day in the sun equals sunburn. To cool sunburn, cut a leaf from your aloe plant, slit it open and apply the gel directly to the skin, or scrape the gel from the leaf and mix it with a little water and vitamin E oil for easier application. Or purchase a bottle of aloe vera gel at the health food store; keep both leaf and gel in the refrigerator, wrapping the leaf so it doesn’t dry out.

Insect-Repellent Oils and Herbs

spiderDilute these oils in a carrier, such as vinegar, witch hazel or a skin-nourishing oil (olive, almond, grapeseed, sesame or walnut) to deter mosquitoes, chiggers, gnats, ticks and biting flies.

East Indian lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus)
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus)
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia and L. xintermedia)

Lemon thyme (Thymus xcitriodorus)
Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum albescens)
Orange peel (Citrus sinensis)
Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus)

Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin)
Vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanioides)

Sandalwood (Santalum album)

Article reprinted with permission from The Herb Companion magazine, a division of Ogden publications.
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Recipes for Natural Purfumes Body Sprays, Solid Perfumes and Aromatherapeutic Dusting Powder


A standard perfume — the kind you’d purchase at your favorite department store — usually contains about 15 to 30 percent aromatic oils diluted with alcohol and dispersants. A perfume oil uses a carrier oil rather than alcohol. The carrier oil slows the evaporation process, and the resulting mixture holds its fragrance longer than an average perfume.

Jojoba oil is an excellent carrier oil because it is actually a liquid wax. It does not go rancid as quickly as other oils. Jojoba oil has little or no fragrance of its own and is readily absorbed into the skin. Sweet almond oil and apricot kernel oil are good choices for the same reasons, but they have a shelf life of only three to five months. If you use one of these two oils, make small batches that can be used within that time frame.

Garden Delight Perfume Oil
Makes about 1 teaspoon

18 drops grapefruit essential oil
12 drops lavender essential oil
4 drops vanilla absolute
60 drops jojoba or sweet almond oil

In a 1⁄8-ounce glass container, combine grapefruit and lavender essential oils and vanilla absolute. Shake well and let mixture sit for at least 1 week before adding jojoba or sweet almond oil. Dab the oil on your pulse points to release scent. Store in a glass container (plastic will absorb some of the fragrance).

Orange Delight variation: Use 8 drops sweet orange essential oil and 16 drops bergamot essential oil instead of the grapefruits, lavender and vanilla.

Spring Rain Solid Perfume
Makes about 1 1/2 ounces

Solid perfume is simple to make, travels well and has great staying power when worn. It looks similar to lip balm and can be stored in a metal lip balm canister, a recycled pillbox or a small jar. Just be sure not to accidentally use it on your lips.

15 drops lavender essential oil
8 drops oakmoss essential oil
5 drops neroli essential oil
4 drops rosemary essential oil
2 tablespoons jojoba or sweet almond oil
2 tablespoons grated beeswax or beeswax beads

In a small double boiler, heat all oils together until just warm. Stir well until completely blended. Stir in beeswax. Continue to stir until completely melted. Pour into small glass, metal or plastic containers. Let perfume cool completely. To use, rub finger over surface of perfume and then onto your pulse points or wherever you like to wear fragrance.

Lavender variation: Use 25 drops lavender essential oil instead of the others. The resulting perfume is very relaxing and especially soothing if you have a headache.

Rose Geranium Dusting Powder
Makes 1 1/4 cups

Body powders are an inexpensive, yet luxurious way to wear a light fragrance. They are made up of just a few ingredients found in most grocery or health-food stores. A 50/50 ratio of rice flour to cornstarch produces a silky powder that does not cake up. The optional addition of arrowroot provides an extra softness to the mixture. Body powder can be stored in a shaker jar, canister or a small box with a powder puff.

This recipe calls for fresh leaves of rose-scented geranium (Pelargonium spp.). If you do not have any scented pelargonium leaves, you may substitute the fresh petals of two very fragrant roses. For a minty refreshing powder, try substituting leaves of a peppermint-scented pelargonium (such as P. tomentosum or ‘Peppermint Lace’) and peppermint essential oil for the rose scents. Mints are cooling to wear on hot summer days.

4 fresh rose-scented pelargonium leaves
1/2 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup arrowroot powder (optional)
15 drops rose geranium oil
1 shaker jar or powder puff container

Use a paper towel to pat pelargonium leaves completely dry. Tear leaves into 1-inch pieces. Combine all ingredients in a glass jar. Cover and shake well. Set aside for one week. Sift out the geranium leaves and spoon powder into a glass shaker jar or other container. Keep container closed between uses to preserve fragrance. Keep for up to 6 months.

Body Spritz
Makes about 8 ounces

You can duplicate fancy herbal body sprays found in boutiques and bath shops at home for a fraction of the cost and make different scented spritzes to give away as gifts. Spritzes work well with single fragrances such as bergamot, lavender, peppermint, rose geranium or spearmint. Or you can combine two oils such as lavender and bergamot, or vanilla and rose. A peppermint spritz, kept in the refrigerator, cools and provides a refreshing lift to tired skin at the end of the workday.

1 cup distilled water
10 drops of your favorite essential oil

Pour ingredients into an 8-ounce glass or plastic spray bottle. Shake well; then spray on skin after a shower or any time you need to feel refreshed. Keeps for up to 6 months.

Article reprinted with permission from The Herb Companion magazine, a division of Ogden publications.
To learn more about The Herb Companion magazine please see…..
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Aromatherapy: Another Approach Cold and Flu Season

There was once an herbalist I knew who swore off illness. He believed that illness was a state of mind. He claimed that he had not been ill for years. Perhaps it was his state of mind, and perhaps it was the fact that he was a hermit living in a remote part of New Mexico with no kids, not a lot of friends and no mate. The reality for most of us is that we will get sick this winter. How we handle it is our choice. Because there is a wealth of information given on herbs for colds and flu, this article is dedicated to some of my favorite heavy-hitting essential oils and formulas to help brighten those dark winter months; the months that are often spent coughing and sneezing, or worse.

The Theory

French aroma therapists wished to formulate specific oils for infection, and were surprised by their findings. Doctors took the same strain of viral and bacterial samples from many different people. They combined these samples with single essential oils to see what was most effective. They discovered that different essential oils were effective against the infection on a per person basis. Meaning that one person with strep may respond well to cinnamon oil, while another with the same strain of strep didn’t respond to cinnamon as well, but responded to thyme. This information can make it difficult to get specific. But based on their studies, the French have given us an excellent general marker of essential oils most effective against certain strains of bacterial and viral infections.

Using just that specific oil is not enough. Illness is multi-dimensional. A part of the proof is in the symptom picture. If we view illness as a dissonance that is created in the body, we must admit that it takes more than one note to create that dissonance. The germ is doing many things to thrive. We then create a formula that restores harmony. And finally, after a bit of work, we come to the point where homeostasis is restored.

When using an aromatherapy formula for relief of an acute illness I recommend several paths to support health: first, know your symptom picture and choose oils accordingly. It is tempting when dealing with alternative modalities to throw everything at the illness. But keep your formula simple to make a powerful healing agent that saves resources and cuts costs.

Secondly, chose oils that are effective immune boosters. Unbeknownst to many, adding one from this category makes a world of difference. It can often mean the difference between getting full-blown sick, and being a bit under the weather.

Finally, when possible, employ the use of essential oils as anti-infective agents that are specific to what you believe you may have or have been diagnosed with.

The Oils:

I will give a brief introduction to the oils. This information is in no way complete, but merely an example of what these oils can do for you. Following that, I will list some general formulas I have used in my practice and how to incorporate them into your treatment. I encourage people to pick their own formulas based on the information given.

The List

Bay laurel, chamomile, cinnamon, eucalyptus globules, frankincense, lavender, lemon, marjoram, myrrh, thyme and vetiver.

I would only add oregano to this list as I’ve used it many times during cold/flu season, or when I felt a bit ill, and it seemed to work wonders.

Another important factor in choosing essential oils is make sure they are thereapeutic grade if you’re going to use them for healing purposes! I can not stress this enough as diluted or synthesized oils simply will not work for these purposes. If you’d like to know more about how to choose the right essential oils, read my article here :

Categorization of Uses

Lymphatics and Immune Boosters: vetiver, frankincense, and bay laurel

Respiratory: cinnamon, marjoram, thyme, eucalyptus globules, myrrh,

and frankincense

Sinus: eucalyptus globules, thyme,

Anti-Infective Agents: cinnamon, lavender, marjoram, thyme, lemon,

eucalyptus globules

Sedative So-You-Can Rest: chamomile, vetiver, marjoram, lavender

Headaches: chamomile, lavender, eucalyptus

Materia Medica

Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis):

Anti-infective, anti-inflammatory especially used for lymphatic inflammation, sedative; use for colds, flu, inflamed lymphatic conditions

Chamomile (Matricaria recutica, Chamaemelum nobile):

Anti-inflammatory, sedative; headache insomnia

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)

Contraindications: sun exposure, sensitive skin

Anti bacterial, anti viral, anti fungal, cold conditions of the lung; uses found by French: effective against staph, strep, pneumonia, meningitis

Eucalyptus globules:

Analgesic, antiviral, decongestant, expectorant; sinus and respiratory infections, headaches, muscle aches and pains; to less of a degree, the French found eucalyptus to be effective for the same things cinnamon was

Frankincense (Boswellia carterii):

Strong immune-stimulant, lifts depressed energy, antiseptic, expectorant; respiratory conditions, colds and flu

Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia.):

Anti-spasmodic, antiseptic, antispasmodic; flu, spastic cough, respiratory distress and infection, headaches, appropriate for migraines, nervous tension, insomnia, muscle aches and pains

Lemon (Citrus limon):

Contraindications: sun exposure, sensitive skin

Strong antiseptic, diaphoretic; colds, flu, fevers, respiratory and throat infections

Marjoram (Origanum majorana):

Contraindications: pregnancy

Antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, bactericidal, diaphoretic, expectorant, sedative; muscle aches and pains, respiratory conditions with spastic cough (used for whooping cough in France), colds, headaches, insomnia

Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)

Contraindications: pregnant

Anti-inflammatory, antiviral; respiratory infections, and throat infections (as a gargle),

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris):

Contraindications: glaucoma

Antispasmodic, anti-bacterial and viral, expectorant; respiratory illness, sinus, colds and flu, insomnia, headaches; excellent against infectious illnesses; the French found thyme to be almost as effective as cinnamon in fighting the same bacteria

Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoides)

Strong immune-stimulant, strengthens circulation, calming

Sample Formulas and Their Uses

Immune Tonic Formula for cold prevention: Vetiver, eucalyptus globules, lavender, myrrh, cinnamon

I recommend making a 3% dilution of this for periodic use. Add 4 drops of each oil to 1 oz. of carrier oil…almond, grape seed, jojoba or apricot seed oil. This is a strong dilution, but is effective if applied immediately. I use it on myself when my kids are sick. During allergy season I replace the cinnamon with peppermint and use it throughout. If you feel a cold or illness arising, apply several times daily and before bed on neck and chest.

Respiratory and Sinus Support: cinnamon, lavender, marjoram, eucalyptus globules

Mix equal parts of these pure essential oils in a bottle with an orifice reducer (plastic insert that slows flow to drops). Add about 6 drops to a cool water humidifier during the day and overnight. I recommend re-adding the drops about every 3 hours.

Neck Rub for Lymphatic Swelling: bay laurel, vetiver, frankincense

Bay laurel is quite strong, and should only be used for about a week. I make a 3% dilution of this one as well. Add 7 drops of each oil to 1 oz. of carrier oil (oils as mentioned in Immune Tonic formula). Apply to lymph nodes in the neck or anywhere there is lymphatic swelling. To continue use for more than a week, substitute something else for bay laurel.

Anti-infectious Hand Spray: lavender, thyme, cinnamon, vetiver, lemon

We use this a lot in our house. I have also been known to add eucalyptus to it instead of lemon. Add 12 drops of each oil to a spray bottle with 2 oz. of witch hazel and 2 oz. of distilled water. Shake before each use. We use this to spray our hands instead of using anti-bacterial hand gel. Spray some on a paper towel and wipe down phones, light switches and computer keyboards. Spray handles, doorknobs, and faucets…anything that needs decontaminating.

You can do everything right and still get sick. Getting sick can be part of our development. Kids need to develop their immune system, and grow. They get pushed to their developmental limits, their defenses go down, and they get sick. Adults grow, too. When we stress, we are pushed to our emotional and sometimes physical breaking point. This point forces us to make physical choices about how we are living our lives, and to grow emotionally and spiritually. It is at this time when our defenses are down, and we get sick. It is our body’s way of telling us to take a rest and evaluate.

Whatever the reason, essential oils can lessen the discomfort, severity and duration of illness in many cases. They can help us rest in the wake of distress, and there is great therapy in appealing to our sense of smell. It is important to remember that with plant therapies formulating per person is best. It is within this holistic approach that we fight the infection, while also supporting the specific needs and rebalancing the system of the individual.

Disclaimer: There is a time and a place for medical intervention and drug therapy. If you have any concern, symptoms are worsening and you are not getting better with in 5-7 days, consult your doctor. They are the only folks legally able to diagnose your condition. You can usually continue your alternative therapies along with drug therapy, and sometimes a diagnosis can help you more appropriately chose what alternative approach you enlist. Consult a trained practitioner for their advice on contraindications and drug interaction. And always check contraindications of essential oils and herbs before beginning any therapy if you have reason to be concerned.

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