Nowadays we have become used to reaching for pharmacy solutions to relieve the symptoms of insect bites and stings and other itchy, allergic reactions to poisonous plants. The plant world, however, has its own relief often growing nearby. The following information is based on experience in New Zealand, but some plants are endemic across the world.
Where I grew up was a coastal region of New Zealand, and the plants in our garden were mainly natives or vegetables. In my father’s eyes flowers were frivolous. That did not mean we were without flowers, because our natives had their own season for blooming, often small or insignificant flowers. The flowers, however, were not the prized part of the bushes or trees.
Ngaio and Titoki – natural insect bite relief
Native coastal lover, Ngaio (left), and bush based Titoki are both useful insect repellent
One tree I especially remember was a seedling my Dad planted when I was a toddler. That was a ngaio tree. Our parents warned us away from the berries or putting the leaves, which are poisonous, into our mouths. The young leaves or shoots, however, have the beneficial effect of being an effective sandfly and mosquito repellent. If you’re camping by the sea, and have forgotten the repellent, then try crushing and rubbing the leaves over exposed skin.
In the bush, identify a Titoki tree and gather some leaves. Crush the leaves and pack down hard into a jar. Pour over some ordinary cooking oil (use olive oil if you have it) and allow to stand for an hour or two. Rub over your skin to deter the biters. If you are bitten, both Ngaio and Titoki help sooth the itches.
Dock reliefs itches and stings
If you haven’t managed to avoid a bite or sting then search the garden for a dock.
Dock, in various forms, grows in many parts of the world. Most gardeners, however, are constantly trying to eradicate it as the plant propagates easily by seed (up to 40 seeds per season) and root. If you try to dig it out you must get every part of the root as each piece is capable of growing into a new plant.
Like many weeds, dock leaves do have some merits: when rubbed on stinging nettle rash or insect bites they can relieve the itchy symptoms. Again crush the leaves so that the juices run. You can also create a ‘poultice’ from chopped leaves and bind it onto the bite area with a bandage.
Other common natural insect repellents
Other common plants to repel and relieve insect bites include:
- Pennyroyal mint (also said to work against fleas)
The trick with all natural remedies to try them out as a repellent on a small area and stop if your skin reacts.