"Try not to scratch," Jared says, imitating my cajoling tone. "Just try not to scratch."
"I know you're itchy," I say. "But just try not to scratch."
Jared rolls his eyes.
His legs shins and ankles are covered in hot, red welts with a small crater in the middle of each. Some insect finds him each spring and destroys his beach-worthy legs. The scars last until the following seasons, just in time for the insects to return.
Breaking the itch/scratch cycle is difficult. Winter is bad - indoor air is dry and drying. Skin dries, cracks, and becomes irritated. Scratch, scratch. Spring, summer, and fall are bad, too - many biting insects, poison ivy, heat and sweat causing irritations.
In Naturally Healthy Babies and Children, Aviva Romm describes impetigo as a result of scratching insect bites with dirty fingernails, causing a staph or strep infection called "impetigo." The infection appears as a cluster or single fluid filled bump that becomes a "pus-filled, runny, or crusty lesion." Impetigo is more typical in southern climates.
While most bites don't become infected, they can be long lasting. At home, we call such bites Itchy b*tchy, which accurately describes the mental/emotional and physical state of a person with insect bites gone wild.
I don't want Beren to tell one of his grandmothers he has an Itchy b*tchy, so I'll have to get on the stick and find a new name. It probably won't be impetigo. We avoid funky medical terms. Impetigo sounds like a shortened dinosaur or megafauna name, as in T. Rex or hippo. Impetigaurus itchiensis.
What I do for particularly itchy bites:
- Lubricate the body, which is very easy to do - Drink fluids
- Wash hands
- Use homeopathic remedy - Ledum palustre - during any phase of itchiness, including immediately after being bitten
- Apply healing poultices and salves of plantain and/or calendula to initial bites or to healing/closed sores and scabs.
- Apply drawing poultice or salve of chickweed, especially if the bite seems "stuck." I use chickweed on splinters, bites, in-grown hairs, and pimples. These are cases in which the body needs to move something out.
- Apply antimicrobials washes to open sores - thyme, goldenseal
- Try not to scratch!
In Rainforest Home Remedies: The Maya Way to Heal Your Body and Replenish Your Soul, Rosita Arvigo offers additional suggestions:
To prevent infection and relieve itch use topical applications of a salve of marigold flowers, motherwort leaves, and basil leaves.
To relieve itching of bites, not necessarily for open sores apply:
Baking soda and water paste
Slice of raw potato
Fresh aloe vera
Making an infused oil or salve:
Olive oil is a nourishing, healing oil that can be used to extract healing properties from plants such as calendula or plantain. The oil can also be used alone. Infused oils can be thickened with beeswax to increase portability and healing, antimicrobial properties.
1. Cover herbs with olive oil
2. Apply gentle heat (oil should not boil or simmer):
- In warm seasons/climates, a jar can be placed in the sun and covered with cheesecloth or sealed with a lid. A sealed lid requires daily swabbing of condensation. The oil will be ready in 1 or more weeks.
- Use a crock pot on low. Heat until herbs become dull in color. Can take hours with resinous plants like rosemary or minutes with delicate plants like chickweed.
- Use a double boiler on the stove top. Timing as above.
- Use a pan in the oven on 150 degrees. I have never used this method, but it is described by Rosita Arvigo.
3. Strain herbs out with cheesecloth, sieve, or tea strainer.
4. Your infused oil is ready to use and can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer for months or more.
or make a salve...
5. Return oil to pot, crockpot, or pan. Add small pieces of beeswax. Stir to incorporate.
6. Test thickness by spooning a drop onto a cool surface. Let cool and rub the salve between your fingers. If too loose, add more beeswax.
Keep in mind your applications - you may want a loose, easy to spread salve to save your skin further irritations. Or, you may want a harder salve that with withstand the heat of being carried in your pocket.
7. Pour into clean containers, again keeping in mind portability and access. Small containers are great for the backpack. Large, wide-mouthed containers are excellent for the nightstand when itches flare up in the wee hours.