How to relieve bites, stings and itches naturally

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

ngaio  Titoki

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)
  • Feverfew
  • Chrysanthemums
  • Marigolds

The trick with all natural remedies to try them out as a repellent on a small area and stop if your skin reacts.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Totally Natural Cures, Like Grandma’s, Shared

I just love this website: Wendyl’s Green Goddess. It is full of recipes for green products for whatever ails you or your animals. New Zealander Wendyl and her family have created and tested many recipes and developed all the products that are advertised on her website, but what I love is that she doesn’t keep her recipes to herself – she shares them so you know exactly what’s in it.

Recipes are created from easily obtainable ingredients like baking soda, borax, soda ash, oxygen bleach and double strength white vinegar, which means you can make your own, or if time is a challenge, buy directly from the Green Goddess website knowing that what you are buying really is ‘green’.


I took especial note of this recent recipe to keep your cat flea-free:

100 g Brewer’s Yeast
30 g garlic powder
(not garlic salt!)
1 Tbs bran
1 Tbs wheatgerm

Whizz together in a food processor and feed 1 tsp per day per cat. I (Wendyl) just throw about half a cup in with a box of biscuits and give it a good shake up.

I plan to try it on our little hunter, Beau. He’s a bit of a fussy eater but loves gravy so it won’t be hard to mix it into his food. I’ll let you know how we go.

– Heather Sylvawood, author of the Amazon Kindle Marigold Brightbutton series. The titles in the series have been written for adults to read to children. 

Weed or herb? Yarrow makes a great tea

I have noticed that I am slow at taking up the opportunities that nature offers me in natural herbs. I think about what would be a good cure for something when the herb is no longer blooming or available. Yarrow is a perfect example.

Yarrow makes a good tea for you if you have a bad cold, according to Cynthia Wickham, author of Common Plants as Natural Remedies. Her directions are: “Take 30g dried herb to 600ml of boiling water, drunk warm in wineglassful doses”.


Luckily I do not have a severe cold, but I decided to try Yarrow herbal tea to see what it tastes like.

First, I’m pretty naff at translating measurements so I got the proportions wrong, and I was working with fresh Yarrow, so you’ll need to take my recipe and adjust it to suit.

  • 15g fresh Yarrow flower heads
  • 500 mls boiling water

YarrowTea72dpiInfuse in a teapot for 5 minutes and strain into a cup. The flavour is not strong, but very pleasant. It is slightly coloured.

Now if you are using dried flowers you would probably only need a teaspoon or so to get the same effect because the dried flowers condense down into a smaller amount.

Here’s what the tea looked like in the mug. And as I said, it did taste rather pleasant and I’m still here several hours later.



Gathering and drying

Right now in roadsides and fields Yarrow is blooming in New Zealand. In the northern hemisphere the seasons are different, so gathering the flowers will be about six months away. What I suggest is that you add a reminder to check for Yarrow about this time next year for Southern hemisphere residents and in six months for Northern hemisphere residents.

Dry the herb in a hot cupboard where your water heating cylinder is, or place on a rack over the wood burner. Don’t dry out too quickly or too near a steamy environment. Cover to keep the flowers from being contaminated by flies. Store in glass jars (preferably) but away from light. And label the contents.

Grow Your Own Drugs

Eeek! Not something you’d expect from a person who has never taken a recreational drug in her life, apart from alcohol. Today, though, I am making one great exception. I plan to promote a book by that name. I will not receive any royalties or drug money for the promotion – just satisfaction that I have pointed you in the direction of really good information.

Now having got your attention, I will confess. This book, by ethnobotanist James Wong, is a book about using plants for medicine.

Plants “are the basis of a large part of our (commercial) medicine, with up to 50% of the world’s top proprietary drugs being originally derived from natural sources,” points out James. Brought up in Malaysia watching his grandmother using plants in health concoctions, James sees plants as “warehouses of infinite possibility”. In Grow Your Own Drugs: Easy recipes for natural remedies, he takes us through a wide variety of natural medicinal uses for common-to-garden varieties.

Return to natural

When it’s put like that, the return to using natural remedies makes total sense. Instead of pharmaceutical companies making millions from putting a natural plant property into a pill, we can go out into our garden and pick a few leaves or flowers and brew a tea for what ails us. The issue is that the knowledge of plants and their properties has become so protected and so subject to testing behind the laboratory doors of pharmaceutical companies, we’ve forgotten what to use for what.

Grow Your Own Drugs” blends the knowledge of herbalists with up-to-date scientific facts, and provides a list of 100 Top Plants to grow. And if you can’t grow them all, you may be able to find the essential oils and dried herbs at health food shops. James is quite clear about the role of your GP in diagnosis of any illness or disease, and views the remedies and recipes in the book as complementary to conventional medicine in treating everyday ailments.

My joy at finding this Kindle eBook is that I have not only found a list of useful plants to go in the herb garden, I have also found a list of useful household products I will need to make the lotions and potions.

Looking through James’ Top 10, I find I need to add Echinacea to my list – a plant I knew nothing about, but which turns out to a very pretty daisy-like plant. A particularly interesting description of Echinacea I found on Patty’s Feel Good Teas page. (No I don’t hold shares! I just appreciated the research repeated here.)

I’m also keen to grow some ginger. This will be a windowsill or hothouse plant because it is used to growing in warmer climates than ours. But that will be part of the Herb Garden adventure.

What herbs will be planted in my garden?

In a previous post I shared a brief overview of what I had researched about medicinal herbs. In this post I am going to share my list.

I decided I had to go about creating a list of desirable herbs by starting from the common ailments that I might like to cure or lessen the effects of. So I started from a book I have had in my library for about 30 years, called: Common Plants as Natural Remedies, By Cynthia Wickham. In it are given some recipes for teas and concoctions suggested by Swiss homeopath, Dr Robert Quinche. Dr Quinche has a book still available on ABE Books website called: Herbs from the Garden to the Cooking Pot.

Cynthia’s book looks at really common plants like camomile (chamomile), Marigold (the taller one with long full leaves), yarrow (a remedy for severe colds) and great mullien (a woolly tall plant you often see along dry river beds). Some of the herbs mentioned in the teas she credits Dr Quinche with devising are a little out of the ordinary – my view – like ‘blessed thistle’. I know it exists because our local Health Food online supplier HealthPost advertises it. Apparently Blessed Thistle is a supplement you can take to support breastfeeding.

Shirley’s Wellness Cafe has a detailed description of the herb, but it looks far too close to Scotch Thistle for me to risk growing in the garden. The neighbours might complain! Come to think of it, I wonder if Scotch Thistle might do as a substitute? The answer is “NO” but it might be useful in treating ulcers and skin cancers. What wondrous routes one takes when researching a tea recipe.

Here is the recipe that contains the Herbs I want to top my list:


Above (left to right): Cowslip, Arnica and Bergamot

  • 25g cowslip flowers
  • 10g chamomile flowers
  • 5g arnica flowers
  • 5g marigold petals
  • 5g lavender
  • 1.5g bergamot
  • 5g peppermint leaves
  • 25g blessed thistle

According to Quinche: Make an infusion. For chronic headaches take half a cupful of tea every 2 hours. Put a cold compress of spirit of lavender on the forehead.

So here is the start of my list:

  • Cowslip
  • Chamomile (got the seeds)
  • Arnica
  • Marigold (got them growing
  • Lavender (got the seeds)
  • Bergamot
  • Peppermint (got it growing)
  • Blessed thistle (hmmm?)

In my hot little  mitt I have seeds for:

  • White sage
  • Evening primrose
  • Anise (one of those plants that will just have to go to seed)
  • St John’s Wort
  • Feverfew
  • Meadowsweet

Next I’ll share with you what all these plants are purported to do. Meanwhile I’m off to plant some tenderly loved seed.

By Heather Sylvawood, author of Real Estate Rollercoaster – what professionals forget to tell you about buying, building and selling real estate.