Summer is here in all its glory and for many of us that means more time spent outside. As any gardener or outdoor enthusiast knows, it’s likely just a matter of time until you have an unpleasant encounter with an insect that bites or stings. The effect can range from slight annoyance to infections and even disease. Some of the most common biting or stinging bugs are mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, bees, chiggers, black flies, horse flies, and deer flies.

Natural remedies can be a great alternative to bug sprays, which often contain chemicals such as DEET and permethrin that can have negative effects for many. 

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” as the saying goes, and when it comes to bug bites, this is no less true. Several plant essential oils are useful for their insect-repellent properties. A few of the most common ones include pennyroyal, cedarwood, citronella, eucalyptus, cinnamon leaf oil, and catnip oil. These can be added to water to create a bug spray. Note, pennyroyal should be avoided by pregnant women. Alternatively, citronella candles are commonly available.

If you do your best to keep bugs at bay, but still end up with a bite or sting, the primary goals are soothing irritation and healing the skin. The following herbs can be helpful in this instance.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
Peppermint oil or crushed leaves are cooling and can soothe itchy or inflamed bites.

Plantain (Plantago Major)
Fresh plantain leaf can be used to provide immediate relief for insect bites and stings. To make a poultice, fresh plantain leaf can be mixed with bentonite clay and water to form a paste. Alternatively, a leaf can be chewed and placed directly over the bite.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Calendula oil or fresh leaves can soothe irritated, itchy skin, and can encourage healthy healing of bites and stings. A simple salve can be created with calendula, beeswax, and antiseptic essential oils, such as tea tree, rosemary, and lavender.

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
Comfrey infused oil or fresh juice from leaves can be used topically for many skin conditions, including rashes, scrapes, and wounds. For bites and stings, it can soothe itching and irritation.

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis)
Witch hazel distillate is commonly available at pharmacies and is an over-the-counter relief for minor skin irritations. Create an itch-soothing poultice by mixing 3 parts baking soda with 1.5 parts witch hazel.

These remedies are made with easily found herbs and ingredients. It’s wise to keep a few (or all) on hand, especially in the summer months, when those bites, stings, scrapes, and scratches inevitably occur.

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Writer Katie Gerber is a holistic health and nutrition coach serving clients locally in the front range as well as online. In 2014, she completed Aviva Romm’s Herbal Medicine for Women certification. After thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014 and the Colorado Trail in 2016, Katie decided to use her botanical medicine and nutrition knowledge to help fellow wilderness lovers seeking more energy and better health. She transitioned from her career as a pastry chef, and enrolled in the Institute for Transformational Nutrition. She now uses her lifelong passion for holistic health with her background in the culinary arts to help people live healthier lives, in alignment with nature. Katie writes for several publications and speaks at local events. When she’s not writing and working with clients, you’ll most likely find her in the mountains, in the garden, or in the kitchen testing recipes. Find out more about Katie, her articles, and her adventures at her website.

For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.