This week I have been on holiday, swimming in the clear unpolluted blue waters of the Adriatic. As I dived far out over the waves this morning, I found myself sharing the emptiness of the seas with what at first glance seemed to be white plastic shopping bags - the type they hand you your groceries in over here. After a rapid ‘pollution rant’ inside my head, my brain clicked suddenly into danger mode instead. Not plastic carrier bags after all, but a band (if that’s what you call them) of jellyfish, floating gently in the water, surrounding me on all sides.
I cut a rapid exit and warned my neighbours on the nearest beach. They congratulated me on a narrow escape and offered me what they could in consolation, mainly advice on what to do if you were stung by the jellyfish. The locals call them by the name ‘Medusa’, in reference to the similarities between their long poisonous tendrils and the sinuous jet black locks of the dangerous Goddess of Ancient Greek legend. One glance from her eyes turned any unwitting adventurer to stone; one sting from this type of jellyfish apparently causes similar misery.
So I got to thinking about stings and dangers of various kinds. Today’s blog is for those of you adventuring this summer in faraway lands filled with strange insects and sea creatures whose bites can cause considerable discomfort. A bit of local knowledge often goes a long way, and chemists may be few and far between, so here, rather randomly, is what I have gleaned.
The darker side of summer
First identify your assailant: insects (including mosquitoes, flies and fleas) have six legs; those belonging to the spider family (ticks are also included here) have eight. Some bite, some just sting, and some, particularly certain ants, manage to do both.
For them you are nothing more than a fast food lunch: a quick slurp of your blood provides all the protein that they need to lay their eggs and multiply their numbers. And fair do’s, we are large enough as a species to have more than enough spare blood cells to share with others less fortunate than ourselves. But their actual bite is rarely the problem - apart from the possible diseases they carry, the issue lies with the venom they leave behind, which itches and infects and can lead to days of scratching and pain.
Natural remedies for jellyfish stings
This is an odd one, a cure all the way from South Africa, but I am assured it works a dream every time. Slather a lump of shaving cream onto the sting and work it in with either a credit card or a spare knife you may (or may not!) have to hand. Scrape off the excess and cover the area with a hot flannel, or simply pick up a hot stone lying around on the beach. Apparently the heat breaks down the proteins in the sting itself, preventing pain or infection from multiplying. Add another dollop of shaving cream and leave for 20 minutes.
Natural remedies for bluebottle stings
Another guaranteed South African remedy for these particularly painful bites. Neat vinegar, meat tenderiser or ammonia neutralise the venom. None of those to hand? I am told that simply weeing on the bite has the same effect as the ammonia!
Natural remedies for bee and wasp stings
Bee sting venom is acidic and needs to be neutralised by something more alkaline. Baking soda paste works efficiently. Or you can try mixing a thick paste of sea salt and water. Aspirin is my own personal bee attack favourite, and having been stung by one fairly recently, I can personally attest to its efficacy. Take a normal, single aspirin and damp it under the tap until it becomes slightly crumbly. Stick it on top of the bee sting and hold in place with two strips of tape. The pain starts receding pretty fast.
Wasp sting venom is principally alkaline and needs an acid solution to take away the pain. Try soaking a small pad of cotton wool in apple cider vinegar and place it on the sting and then tape in place.
Natural remedies for hornet stings
Like wasps, hornet venom is more alkaline than acid, so use acidic lemon juice to neutralise their venom. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon and dunk a cotton wool ball into the liquid. Tape on top of the sting.
Natural remedies for sea urchin spikes
These neither bite nor sting, but are a fairly common - and horribly painful - problem anywhere the sea water is clean and clear. It’s easy enough to get one into your foot, and nearly impossible, tweezers or not, to get it out again. The long black spikes are made of calcium, so the best solution is to find an acid remedy to dissolve them. Get the cottonwool balls out again and your trusty roll of tape. Olive oil lubricates and softens the spikes. Vinegar will break them down and so will lemon juice if left on long enough. Don’t panic if your foot starts looking pinkish and the skin goes raw – it will heal again rapidly once the spikes are gone. The African remedy is to take the skin of the papaya, and rub the fleshy part underneath over the afflicted area. The enzymes quickly get to work on the sharp spikes, but it will still take several days for them to dissolve.
Natural remedies for horsefly bites
I still remember the agony of being bitten by a horsefly, even though that indelibly etched moment happened nearly half a century ago now. My mother hadn’t a clue what to do about it and I had a red and swollen arm for what seemed like weeks, throbbing with a searing pain that kept me awake and crying for nights on end. Try a combination of lavender oil mixed in with coconut oil. Works every time according to a Texan horse breeding friend.
Natural remedies for ant stings/bites
Manuka honey, made from the tea tree oil tree, is anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory so stops pain and reduces itching. Massage it into the affected area for 20 minutes. Savage fire ant bites? Try a slice of raw potato to calm the pain.
Natural remedies for snake bites
Back in the early American colonial days of buffaloes and wide Native American Indian occupied plains, echinacea was the first of the snake bite remedies - if, that is, you wanted a slightly less brutal treatment than the sucking, spitting and sharp side of a dagger so often practised in the early black-and-white movies by a slightly grubby cowboy. If the snake didn’t get you then blood poisoning surely would.
Echinacea tincture, dropped directly into the wound of a bite, will apparently numb the pain, neutralise the venom and calm the infection. Add 10 drops to a glass of water additionally and sip slowly. I haven’t been bitten by a snake recently, so can’t vouch for this one.
Natural remedies for mosquito bites
I always have a pot of baking soda sitting at the back of my kitchen cupboard, waiting for me to become inspired and bake the delicious cakes I see on Instagram each and every day. I haven’t got around to the cooking yet - too busy doing other things - but at least I know it’s there in case of unexpected mosquito attack. Take a teaspoon of the powder, mix it with a drop or two of vinegar and make a thickish paste which you can slather over the bite. Allow to dry and hey presto! The itching from the bite should rapidly disappear.
Check out my last mosquito blog for the full gamut of mosquito deterrents and invest in a high speed fan. Research shows that 65% fewer mosquitoes manage to land when switched on. Make sure your natural anti-mosquito spray contains at least 20% picaridin, or 30% lemon eucalyptus oil. Both have been proven to keep mosquitoes – and ticks – at bay for at least 7 hours.
Natural remedies for bug bites
Whether you get bitten by unidentifiable small flying bugs, or multitudes of small crawling bugs, grab your aloe vera gel and apply liberally. The plant grows wild in many hotter lands than our own, so reach for a leaf in the wild, snap off a small section and rub it over the bites. Once it has dried on your skin, do it again. It will calm them down and heal any irritation. Witch hazel does the same. And if all else fails, bring in the backstop - the first among equals - Oregano oil which has been used as an anti-venom from the days of Byzantium.
May your anti-bug kit serve you - the very best of luck with bites this summer!
And as ever, if you have other bite or sting remedies you swear by, I would really like to hear about them... firstname.lastname@example.org
PLEASE NOTE: This blog is not intended as a substitute for medical assistance or first aid. If you are in any doubt about how to treat bites or stings then please get them checked by a professional!
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Written by health advocate Sara Davenport, founder of one of the UK's leading breast cancer charities, Breast Cancer Haven. With over twenty years' experience in holistic health, Sara's digital dose of wellness teaches you to listen to your body, tweak your lifestyle and improve your health.
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