Natural Companions for Summer Fun

After a tenacious winter and tedious spring we’ve entered the Dog Days of summer, so named because Sirius, the dog star, reappears in the eastern sky during late summer. Ancient Romans credited Sirius with the heat of July and August. For modern Americans, the warmer days mean vacations, gardening, weekend outings take us into the grand embrace of nature. It also means we encounter the full gamut of what nature has to offer in deep summer. As far as challenges, that includes sunburn, insects, poison plants and the like. Nature also provides help for those trying times.

Sunburn solutions. Sunburn can be a real problem when intense solar radiation sears our skin. It’s not only uncomfortable but can leave lasting damage. The best solution, of course, is avoidance and keeping the skin covered is tops for that. It’s not some perverse love of fashion that keeps Bedouins and other native Saharans covered in layered robes head to toe. It protects the skin and keeps them cool. Covering in light clothing can help prevent sunburn. Wide-brimmed hats are sensible solutions, too. Sunscreen chemicals are criticized by many as being problematic. Questionable components found in sunscreens led the Environmental Working Group to point out that only 25 percent of those on the market are advisable. Plus, most wash off or sweat off, leaving no protection. It’s better to cover with cloth than cover with chemicals.

If it’s too late and you’ve already gone from “healthy glow” to painful blister, there is still salvation in nature. The all-purpose salve of the aloe vera plant is nothing short of miraculous for soothing sunburn and even healing the damage. Best and easiest way is to keep an aloe plant or two growing in pots around the home. They are easy to grow and nearly impossible to kill. Just cut off one of the spiny, succulent leaves and lightly rub the gelatinous sap on the skin. Or you can buy some at any health food store. Make sure it’s organic and pure aloe.

You can also take a tepid bath in cool water, adding one of the following: vinegar, oatmeal, small amount of peppermint oil. They all have both cooling and healing properties. A solution of cool, green tea works well as a topical application. Same with white vinegar. Soak paper towels then layer on the burn.

Bugging out. Summer insects can be an annoyance and even a deadly danger. Itchy bites are one thing. West Nile virus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease are more serious. In this case especially, since American medicine has no cures, avoidance is again the best solution. The “go-to” insect repellent is DEET. Unfortunately, it’s a questionable chemical, linked to major problems. According to the National Institutes of Health, “DEET is especially dangerous for small children. Seizures may occur…” For a natural and safer solution, experts recommend neem oil. It’s from an evergreen native to India. The great thing about neem is that when used in proper dilutions, it is effective against many different insects, from mosquitoes to squash beetles. It’s a favorite of organic gardeners because it can be sprayed directly on food plants and is easily washed off. Citronella is another natural mosquito deterrent. It’s not as effective as neem oil. Long sleeves and covered skin work best, once again. Keeping a mosquito population down is important, too. They can hatch eggs in the smallest amount of standing water on your porch or patio. Check for ticks often. Lyme disease is transmitted in the later stages of a tick bite so early removal helps.

Season of the Itch. Poison ivy, sumac and oak are nasty stuff. The itch comes from urushiol in the sap. Urushiol is one of the most toxic substances on the planet. As little as one-billionth of a gram can cause a skin reaction. Brush up against one of the three plants and you can expect a reaction within hours. A red, linear rash, accompanied by extreme itching or burning will appear.

A few people and most animals are unaffected by the toxin, but about 85 percent of all humans learn the real meaning of itch. A first exposure may bring no reaction or may take a week to show up. Successive contact increases the likelihood of a rash developing. Though Fido may be immune, take care when he returns from a romp. If he brushed the plant, you’ll pay for it when you pet him.

Sap of the jewelweed plant, often found nearby poison ivy and oak, can counteract the toxin. A paste of baking soda or oatmeal also lessens the itch. The buckthorn, also known as plantain, carries a thick, green sap that soothes for up to 24 hours. Aloe vera works, too. A cool bath with cornstarch can help. Unfortunately, only time (about two weeks) will make the blisters and rash go away. Scratching won’t cause the rash to spread but it doesn’t help it heal and may cause a systemic infection.

The overall best defense against summer challenges is a healthy immune system.

Be well.

Heartland Healing is a New Age polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. It is not an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or The Reader. Visit for more information.

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