Don’t Scratch That Itch!

Any stinging/biting insect thinks I’m a gourmet meal and they’ll stop at nothing to get to it. When I was a kid, Mom would spray me with those toxic insect repellents without success. As an adult, I’ve tried every natural insect repellent I can think of and the bugs still make a beeline for the smorgasbord.

Over the years I’ve learned to live with the bites and tried different herbal combinations to see if there was something that would help calm the itch. Jewelweed is specific to itchy problems but it’s best used fresh and I don’t have any growing nearby. Other herbs that have an antihistamine effect are: Basil, Chamomile, Echinacea, Fennel, Fig, Gingko, Grapefruit, Nettle, Oregano, Passionflower, Rue, Tea, Thyme & Yarrow.  The essential oils of Caraway, Clove  Lemon Balm and Tea Tree are also recommended.  After a lot of experimentation, I came up with an oil blend that lessens my itch considerably – it’s a combination of German Chamomile, Melissa (Lemon Balm) and Tea Tree in a Coconut oil base.  The usual itch from mosquitoes and no-see-ums isn’t bad enough that I drink a tea of one of the herbs to help my body stop manufacturing histamines (the chemical that causes the itch).

That said, I spent a miserable Memorial Day. I only had about ten minutes’ outdoor work on Sunday so didn’t put on my long pants and socks – just went out in shorts & flip-flops.  I also didn’t take my usual shower after coming in – I knew I was going to clean the house and decided to shower after that. Huge mistake. I apparently found a nest of chiggers and by Monday morning, was covered in bites – most of them inside my underwear!

Nothing I tried alleviated the maddening itch. Not my usual oil blend, not my rash cream, not even a couple of different commercial anti-itch creams.  Scratching, no matter how satisfying it may be, just makes the itch worse after I stop and also opens up the possibility of infection. So, I started nosing around the Internet to see if I could find a solution.

The first suggestion was a hot shower – as hot as you can stand it.  That helps as long as you’re standing under the water.  As a matter of fact, the relief is almost as good as sex. However, one can only stay in the shower so long.  Even though we have a flash water heater and I wouldn’t run out of hot water, there are other things to do than just stand there all day.

The second suggestion I found was Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer.  I’d heard of it for bee stings but not for itchy bites.  The meat tenderizer is an enzyme and the theory is that enzyme counteracts the ones injected by the bugs to allow them to feed. (Dr. Weil explains how and where they feed here). I don’t have any Adolph’s around but I do have digestive enzyme capsules.  It was worth a shot. I broke open a couple of capsules and made a paste.

The bites form a scab on top of the opening created by the bug so you have to open them up to get the enzyme into where it can act.  Most of my bites hadn’t yet formed a white pustule on top that could be lanced so I did this by using a strong exfoliating scrub pad in the (really hot) shower and then applied the paste to each individual bite as soon as I got out. Then I made a Nettle tea and got that into my system to start working.

Within an hour, I wasn’t ready to scream my head off.  Today, 3 days later, the bites are healing nicely and I can get by with my normal anti-itch oil blend.  (I’d probably feel even better if I wasn’t sitting on and continually irritating a lot of them.)

A friend of mine grew up in the Southeast and said that his dad used to dust his family with sulfur powder before they went outside in the spring and summer.  Apparently, chiggers don’t like sulfur but, eeew! What a smelly solution. Garlic has a really high sulfur content and doesn’t smell quite so gross so I’m going to try garlic oil before I resort to asking the pharmacist for some sulfur powder.  Although I know covering up is a good thing, I like cooler clothes so I’m going to always take a shower as soon as I come inside, no matter how short the stay outdoors, to wash any of those little buggers off me immediately. I probably won’t avoid bites altogether but now I know what works to stop the itch.

Now, if I could just get my husband to try something instead of suffering in scratching silence …

1 Comment

  • Mary Posted June 3, 2010 4:17 pm

    Hello.. I too am loved by the bugs! I was zapped through my sock by something the other day, so I chewed up some plaintain, and held it in place with a bandaid. Not too long after, it stopped itching, and hasn’t itched since! Plus, the plaintain tasted like lettuce! LOL

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