It's officially summer, and for most parts of the county that means mosquito season.
Experts are saying that this year is going to be one of the worst on record for mosquitoes and ticks, and with the spread of zika, lyme, west nile, dengue, powassan, and other serious diseases, you can't be too careful. Bug repellent is one of the few areas where I forgo my preference for green, natural, and eco-friendly products and go straight for the chemicals. I've tried every all-natural bug repellent you could name, and still wound up with some really brutal bug bites. These bug-borne illnesses are no joke, so I always use DEET when I'm going to be exposed to mosquitoes or ticks. Just be sure to wash it off as soon as you're able, and be especially careful to wash your hands before you eat anything.
All of that said, you may still wind up with a few bug bites. If you're anything like me, those bites can drive you NUTS! I finally found an itch-relief product that really worked, but was heartbroken when it was discontinued. Thankfully, I glanced at the ingredient list and was delighted when I realized that I could make something myself! The resulting product works beautifully, and I'm even able to customize it using ingredients from my own backyard.
I made my latest batch after a walk in the woods left me with dozens of itchy bites on my ankles, and I posted videos of the entire process on my Instagram stories! Here it is, in its entirety:
Step 1 - Make Plantain-Infused Oil
Plantain is an herb that nearly everyone has probably seen without realizing it. It pops up in lawns, sidewalks, driveways, parks, etc. Next time you spot one, use it! The leaves have wonderful healing properties. Plantain is antimicrobial, astringent, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic; and it's loaded with all kinds of beneficial nutrients.
In order to make your infusion, harvest about a cup of plantain leaves (check your lawn, or nearby parks!) Rinse them well and then DRY them. I put mine in a dehydrator overnight. You could also put them in your oven on a low temperature for a few hours, or leave them to dry in the sun. You want the leaves to be nice and crispy. If there is any moisture remaining in your leaves, it could cause your infusion to spoil, and that would just be tragic.
Cram your dry leaves into your container. I used a small canning jar. Anything with a water-tight lid will work. Now add your carrier oil. I chose to use grapeseed oil, as it was already an ingredient in the itch balm. You could also use another skin-friendly oil like coconut, sweet almond, or olive oil. Pour the oil over the leaves to fill your container, and seal the lid.
There are two options for infusing the oil - the first will take longer - about a month. You just let it sit there - preferably where the sun will hit it to heat the oil and help the infusion process along. I didn't want to wait that long, so I used the quick infusion method - I popped the jar in a towel-lined slow cooker, covered it with water, and set it on low to steep for about 8 hours. Then you strain, and voila! Plantain oil.
Don't want to make your own? Try this.
Recipe: DIY Bug Bite Itch Relief Salve/Balm
- Beeswax (vegan? try candelilla wax!)
- Shea Butter
- Plantain-infused Grapeseed Oil
- Vitamin E
- Essential Oils*
- Old Cheese Grater
- Candy Melting Pot - This is the one I use for all my DIY products and experiments! You could also use a double boiler over the stove.
- Prepare your containers. I save my empty deodorant sticks for homemade body products. If you don't, these will work perfectly. You could also use pots or jars, but this balm is rather hard/solid, so I find it's easier to use in a wind-up stick. Wash with hot soapy water to remove product residue, and dry completely.
- Grate your beeswax. I use an old broken box cheese grater. Look at thrift shops for used ones! If you purchased beeswax pellets, you can skip this step!
- Melt the wax. How much? That's a good question. I don't know. I measure by looking at my containers and eyeballing. A helpful tip is to make sure that your solution is about 50% - 75% beeswax. The lower the ratio of beeswax to oil, the softer the finished product will be. If there's a higher wax content, the balm will be firmer. Make sense?
- Add shea butter and plantain-infused grapeseed oil. (Again, I just eyeballed and guessed my measurements. I wanted 25% - 50% of the solution to be an even mix of shea and grapeseed, with the remaining 50% - 75% being wax.)
- Add the vitamin e (tocopherol) and essential oils*. Remember that the active ingredients are the camphor and peppermint, so you want to add more of those oils, while the other essential oils are mostly just to make it smell good.
- Stir to combine, then carefully pour into your prepared containers. Allow to cool.
- Apply on bug bites, poison ivy, rashes, burns, etc. Share with friends! Enjoy!
* A note about essential oils. Plenty of people swear by doterra and young living brands. Personally, MLM (multi-level marketing) brands make me uncomfortable and I don't like supporting them. I think the products are overpriced, they take advantage of salespeople, and use fear-mongering marketing tactics to scare you into buying their stuff. Plus, if I get invited to one more MLM sales "party" I'm going to seriously lose my shit. (I'm looking at YOU, Lularoe!) Instead, I prefer to support smaller essential oil crafters and brands. I'm particularly fond of the brand Chasing Clouds, which is located just 45 mins away from Buffalo over the border in Ontario.