University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Summer News Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

If you garden outdoors in most climates, you'll meet up with insects. In her book "Gardener's Fitness, Weeding out the Aches and Pains", Barbara Pearlman gives some excellent tips for dealing with their bites and stings, and some simple home remedies.  In addition she treats the broader subject of keeping your body in shape, before and during the gardening season, and proper skin and body care.

Have you ever been pulling that tough weed, only to have it finally let go and with it the dirt go flying with some in your eyes?  If you get dirt or bugs in your eyes, first try and generate some tears to flush them out.  If that doesn't work, head indoors and wash your hands.  Then try and flush the object out with cool or lukewarm water.  I keep a saline eyewash handy for just this, as you would use for contact lens.

If the particle is under an eyelid, gently pull the eyelid back and touch the object with a moistened tissue or cotton swab, and hopefully it will stick to it.  But don't rub. If this doesn't work, or if you've actually scratched the cornea as with a branch, seek medical help. Of course the best precaution working around shrubs and pruning is to use safety glasses.

Or how about bugs in the ear?  Your instinct says to put in your finger to dislodge, but this might only push it in further, or if it has a stinger cause worse!  First, put your ear toward light.  Insects are attracted toward light, and may just crawl out, if you're lucky.  If not, put several drops of mineral, baby, or vegetable oil in the ear to kill the insect and help it float out with your ear then turned downwards.  Obviously if this doesn't work, or you get stung, seek medical help.

There is much you can do to prevent getting stung on the rest of your body by such as hornets, yellow jackets, wasps and bees.  Mosquitoes, ticks, and ants don't sting but rather bite. First there are the many commercial chemical and chemical-free preparations you can buy to ward off such insects, some more effective than others, some to which you might even be allergic, and some even containing sunblock as well.

Other natural remedies to rub on your skin to ward off pests include garlic (rub a glove on key insect landing sites such as your neck and behind the ears), or eat more at mealtime.  You may spray your skin with vinegar, or if that offends you as it does the insects, try lemon juice (especially good I'm told on mosquitoes).

Avoid wearing fragrances such as in colognes, skin lotions, some sunscreens, even shampoos and hair conditioners as insects are quite attracted by such smells.  While dark clothing will generally give more protection from the sun's harmful rays, it is also more attractive to insects than light-colored clothing. If drinking sodas, make sure a bee or wasp has not found its way in the container behind your back!

If you do get stung, first make sure you're not one of those 5% of the population highly allergic to stings.  If so, make sure you carry doctor prescribed antidotes at all times outdoors during the gardening season.  Minutes can count.

If a honeybee sting, it is the only insect to leave its stinger behind.  Don't squeeze the area to try to eject the stinger as this will only make more venom circulate.  Rather, use a clean fingernail, nail file, sterilized (in alcohol) needle or knife blade to tease out the stinger.  There are many remedies you might have around the house handy for stings:
*commercial antihistamine lotions you can buy (I keep a tube with me in the garden)
*ice on the sting for several minutes will help reduce swelling
*apply a paste of meat tenderizer!  Yes, it contains an enzyme from the papaya fruit that neutralizes bee stings.  Or you can rub the area with fresh papaya, and eat the rest! (it's good in digestive enzymes)
*apply a single drop of peppermint oil to the sting, 2 or 3 times a day
*dab a few drops of witch hazel oil (keep cold in the refrigerator) on the sting
*dab just a little oil of eucalyptus or essence of lavender on the sting
*apply a thick slice of onion, or grated onion on gauze to the site
*wash the area with feverfew tea (2 tablespoons of the flowers in a cup of boiling water) and let dry

For bites, try the following:
*ice applied to mosquito bites soothes the skin and prevents swelling
*a paste of baking soda and water soothes the bite and prevents swelling; this is good for ant bites as well
*if you have any of the weed plantain (the broad-leaved kind) left in your garden, crumble and pulverize a leaf, and apply it to the bite (this is called a "poultice")
*eucalyptus or lavender oil, onions, and feverfew tea as above are also good on bites

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