By Dr. Sharon L Hagemann – Summer is the season for outdoor living, whether you are gardening in your backyard, enjoying a day at the beach, taking the family on a hike through the woods, picnicking at the lake, or on vacation. But summer is also the season of hot weather hazards — some minor, some sufficiently severe to spoil your fun. It’s smart to read up on home remedies for sunburns and other common summer mishaps.
During the summer of my first year as a naturopathic medical student, I had to search for home remedies for sunburns, bee stings, and sprains after experiencing all three. I knew that there were natural alternatives to commercial products, but since I was still a novice, I also knew that in the event of an emergency, I wouldn’t have the time to read through stacks of books on holistic healing in search of an appropriate solution. I needed to have the information and the remedy together and ready to go. I decided to begin focusing on the most common problems my family would likely encounter that season, and the ones most easily and safely treated at home: Home remedies for sunburns, cuts and bruises, itching, motion sickness, sprains, bug bites and stings, vomiting, and diarrhea.
It goes without saying that the best way to handle bites and stings is to avoid them in the first place. When venturing into the great outdoors, you should wear neutral-colored clothing (including sock and long pants), use insect repellent, avoid perfumes, and check yourself thoroughly for “clingers” such as ticks before going back inside. But even when that doesn’t work, the average insect bite is usually merely a minor annoyance. There may be momentary pain and swelling, followed by itching.
For ordinary strings, remove the stinger if there is one, by scraping it out with a fingernail or knife (tweezers may release more venom). Then wash the area. Ice will lessen the pain and swelling, and slow the absorption of venom into the body. When dealing with spider bites, also use the ice application method.
Aromatherapy: For quick relief from insect bites, apply one drop of pure tea oil to the affected area. This is a strong antiseptic and does not sting when applied. The oil may be reapplied every 10 minutes until discomfort diminishes.
Flower essence therapy: The emergency stress relief formula known as “Rescue Remedy,” “Five-flower Remedy,” or “Calming Essence,” can be applied topically on minor bites and stings to relieve pain, itching, and swelling. It is also sometimes helpful in relieving mild allergic reactions too. Place six drops under the tongue as needed, to calm and relax. Note: This is not intended as a substitute for emergency medical intervention for those with a history of severe allergic reactions!
Homeopathy: To reduce swelling and pain of bites that feel better with cold applications, apply Ledum (wild rosemary) tincture on the bite every two-to-three hours as needed, until relief is felt. Apis mellifica (from crushed honeybees) in 6C potency is good for bites that burn or sting, are worse with heat, and cause hive-like reactions on the skin. Administer one dose every 15 minutes for up to four doses. If pain is still experienced, take one 30C dose.
Home Remedies for Sunburns
Sun is the greatest enemy of the skin, causing premature wrinkling, and in some cases, skin cancer. Sunburns hurt, and the resulting damage they inflict on the skin can be long lasting and dangerous. The redness of sunburn is caused by clogged and swollen capillaries and supply blood to the skin. Severe burns can damage blood vessels and destroy elastic fibers in the skin.
The best prevention for a sunburn is to wear a sunscreen whenever you go outdoors. Reapply at least once every two hours and after swimming. In the event that you do experience burning, the following home remedies for sunburns are advised:
Aromatherapy: A cool bath is a wonderful way to soothe sunburned skin. Add 20 drops of lavender essential oil to a tub full of tepid water and soak for 15 minutes. Lavender is relaxing, a powerful antiseptic and healer, and it calms and refreshes.
Herbal therapy: Keep an aloe vera plant in your home. When you have a sunburn, break open a leaf and apply the clear gel inside directly to the skin. The aloe gel dries into a natural bandage. It promotes wound healing and helps prevent infection.
Homeopathy: For a mild sunburn, put 20 drops of calendula (pot marigold) tincture in four ounces of water and bathe the skin with it until the pain goes away. Calendula is known for its strong anti-inflammatory and immune-activating virtues. If the skin is itchy, prickly and stinging, use a mixture of 20 drops of urtica urens (dwarf nettle) tincture and four ounces of water as a wash.
Hydrotherapy: Baking soda baths are marvelous for as a cooling and soothing sunburned skin. Add one level cup of baking soda to a tub filled with tepid water and soak for 30 minutes. Gently splash water over any part of the body that isn’t submerged in the bath water.
Home Remedies for Bruises and Cuts
If you spend any amount of time outdoors, an occasional cut or bruise seems inevitable. Additionally, we’re more likely to develop bruises as we grow older, since our skin grows thinner and less able to absorb punishment.
Wash minor cuts thoroughly, then submerge in cold water to stop bleeding and prevent swelling.
Aromatherapy: Lavender, a multipurpose first-aid oil, helps in healing both superficial wounds and bruises. For cuts, apply a drop or two of lavender directly to the skin after the wound is cleaned. Treat bruises with compresses soaked in cool water, to which four drops of the essential oil has been added. Use these compresses twice daily, leaving them in place for 15 minutes each time.
Herbal therapy: For cuts, once again aloe vera is the treatment of choice. Apply directly to the injured area, reapplying three or four times a day for maximum healing. Bruises respond well to Arnica Montana (Leopard’s Bane) tincture, applied directly to the site of the injury, three times per day.
Homeopathy: Calendula ointment helps to soothe and promote healing of cuts and scrapes. For bruises, a 30C dose of Arnica Montana, once or twice a day for two or three days, is nearly always helpful.
Home Remedies for Itching
While itching usually doesn’t qualify as a medical emergency, it can make you miserable. It may be caused by any number of things, such as insect bites, rashes, and exposure to poison oak.
Herbal therapy: Witch Hazel (hamamelis Virginiana) is made by steeping twigs of the witch hazel tree in water, then mixing the resulting brew with alcohol. This will provide instant, albeit temporary, relive from the itching caused by insect bites. Since it has astringent properties, however, it will dry the skin. Do not use on rashes. Calendula cream is soothing and healing to irritated skin.
Grindelia (gum plant) tincture, used externally and internally (30 drop, three times per day) is helpful in stopping the itching and burning of poison oak. The sticky plant contains resins and when applied externally, reduces irritation and can keep the rash from spreading to other parts of the body. If poison oak is contracted in the vicinity of the eyes, aloe vera works well in cooling and drying this sensitive area. Who knew there were so many aloe vera medicinal uses?
Home Remedies for Motion Sickness
Sea, air or car sickness can ground even the most adventurous souls. But it doesn’t have to! Contrary to popular belief, motion sickness is not about the stomach. Although the stomach may well protest, it’s about the inner ear. The problem occurs when the brain receives conflicting messages from the eyes and inner ear regarding motion. It can be aggravated by hunger, anxiety, and unpleasant odors such as gasoline and tobacco smoke.
If you’re on a boat, move as far from unpleasant odors as possible. If you’re in a car, try to sit in the front seat and focus on a spot on the horizon.
Flower essence therapy: The flower essence Scleranthus is useful in treating motion sickness. Four drops should be placed under the tongue and held in the mouth for a few seconds before swallowing.
Herbal therapy: Ancient Chinese sailors used ginger to prevent seasickness, and modern controlled studies have verified its usefulness in treating various types of motion sickness. In fact, one study found that subjects who ingested ginger as opposed to the standard drug Dramamine experienced a 57 percent longer effectiveness rate. Nine hundred and forty (940) milligrams of encapsulated ginger root powder, taken on an empty stomach one hour prior to departure is generally recommended. If it’s too late for a preventative measure, ginger tea (two teaspoons ginger powder simmered for 1/2-hour in two cups of water) will settle the stomach.
Homeopathy: The homeopathic remedy Nux Vomica (seeds of the Poison Nut evergreen tree) will also help to relieve motion sickness. A 12C dose, administered every 10-15 minutes for about an hour, usually does the trick.
Home Remedies for Sprains
A sprain is an injury to a ligament, the supporting tissue of the joint. A misstep, for example, can cause a sprained ankle as the foot turns inward and puts too much tension on the outer ankle ligaments. The same can happen to any twisted joint.
Herbal therapy: Sprains are best treated initially by soaking the affected area in cold water, followed by applying arnica compresses (30 drops of liquid extract to a pint of water) to help reduce inflammation. (Note: Do not use arnica if the skin is broken, because it can increase inflammation.) Repeat at two-hour intervals. After the first 24 hours, use an arnica cream or ointment, applied directly to the injured area.
Homeopathy: In the first 24 hours following a sprain, a dose of Arnica 6C will usually make pain subside. If this doesn’t help and the sprain is less painful when gently moved—as opposed to immobilized—a 6C administration of Rhus toxicondendron (poison ivy) may be helpful. If neither of these works, try Ruta Graveolens, 6C. Ruta is deeper-acting than Rhus. Tox., and is specific for injury to heel tendons. Administer every two hours until relive is felt.
Home Remedies for Vomiting
Whether the result of food poisoning, flu, environmental changes, or consumption of unusual foods, vomiting and nausea are classic reactions to stomach irritation.
Aromatherapy: Soothing essential oil of peppermint is the traditional cure for nausea and vomiting. Sipping an eight-ounce glass of tepid water to which two drops of the oil has been added provides relief.
Herbal therapy: Once again, ginger (Zingiber officinale) comes to the rescue. Sipping warm ginger tea effectively quells queasiness. In cases of intense nausea, two ginger capsules every four hours is effective.
Hydrotherapy: For gastric distress, activated charcoal is safe and effective Add two tablespoons of activated charcoal powder to an eight-ounce glass of cool water and stir. Sip slowly.
So-called “simple diarrhea” is a condition of loose bowels resulting from relatively minor causes such as mild food poisoning, common bacterial infection, emotional stress, or plain fatigue. The following remedies can be taken to stabilize bowel function and relieve symptoms:
Herbal therapy: Blackberry tea, prepared by steeping three teaspoons of dried blackberry leaves in a covered cup of water for five minutes, is a traditional remedy. The leaves contain tannins that alleviate intestinal irritation.
Homeopathy: Arsenicum (arsenic) 30C works well for diarrhea that causes exhaustion, restlessness or chills. If the stool is green and there is accompanying nausea or vomiting, a 30C dose of Ipecacuanha (Brown Ipecac) is the remedy of choice. Both remedies may be administered every 12 hours.
Hydrotherapy: The activated charcoal formula mentioned for vomiting is also the simplest and one of the most highly effective remedies available for diarrhea. Use it with each loose stool.
The aforementioned home remedies for sunburns and more are offered only as solutions to minor first-aid problems, or as interim measures until you can get help for more serious ones. They are not intended to replace medical care.
Aromatherapy: This therapy uses the volatile oils distilled from plants to treat a wide variety of ailments and conditions. Diluted oils are massaged into the skin, inhaled, or placed in baths.
Flower essences: The therapeutic use of water-diluted extracts from selected flowering plants to reduce stress, pain, exhaustion and a host of emotional maladies.
Herbalism: This approach to healing uses plants or plant-based substances to treat a wide range of illnesses, and to enhance the functioning of the body’s symptoms.
Hereopathy: A medical system based on the theory that “like cures like.” The body’s own self-healing ability is stimulated by minute quantities of remedies which, if taken in larger doses, would produce side effects similar to those of the disease being treated.
Hydrotherapy: The use of water in various forms (i.e., baths, enemas) for therapeutic purposes.
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Sharon is a naturopathic physician and medical herbalist.
Originally published in 2002 and regularly vetted for accuracy.