Summertime comes with its own challenges, though. Here are the top 5 remedies you can easily find in and around your home and garden to help you navigate sunburns, bee stings and other not-so-fun experiences.
1. Calendula Calendula officinalis
Calendula is a bright, cheerful flower that does wonders for your skin. Infuse the flower heads in oil, like olive oil, and you will have an ointment that works on cuts, scrapes, bruises, hangnails, dry cuticles, and other wounds that need healing.
Half-fill a jar with flowers, cover with oil, and give it a stir with a clean chopstick to let air bubbles release. Now label it, and let it steep for at least 4 weeks, or up to 2 months. Strain through a clean cloth and store in a dark, cool place. If you want a more solid ointment, beeswax will give you a spreadable salve- just remember this will melt in a hot car, purse, or beach bag! In general, melt about 1 tablespoon grated beeswax in 1 ounce warmed oil. Test for hardness by cooling a drip of the mix on a plate, and add more oil or wax to reach your desired state of spread-ability.
(This isn't a great remedy for fresh burns, however, because oil will trap heat and you need to let burns cool. More on them later.)
Calendula also moves lymph, so it's great to add to teas for stuffed-up summer colds, and to foot baths when you want a spa treat.
The flower heads produce a resin at their base that is the source of their healing properties, so it's not just a matter of using the petals but rather the entire top of the flower. Calendula is a pretty garden plant, and it readily reseeds itself every year, spreading around and filling in between your perennials. There are many varieties, but many are bred for color and not medicinal quality. Horizon Herbs offers several kinds that are both colorful and useful.
Keep a bottle of this in the kitchen, and near the grill. Lavender EO is an analgesic- it takes away pain- and it stimulates cell repair, both VERY necessary for burns! It is also antiseptic, should you develop a blister. Use sparingly, a drop at a time, until the whole burn is treated gently.
A drop massaged onto your temples is also wonderful when headaches strike, from too much sun or too much fun.
Buy the good stuff, from a reputable company that doesn't cut their oils to make them cheaper. Mine is from Peace Valley Lavender Farm.
I first discovered the healing powers of vinegar when I was a kid. I had spent too much time at the pool and sunburned my lips, then proceeded to have a big salad for lunch with oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. By the time I was finished eating, my lips weren't burned anymore. Amazing. And tasty!
Apple cider vinegar, particularly a raw, unfiltered one like Bragg's, contains other enzymes that help with the healing process, and also make it a probiotic digestive aid! Wine vinegars could stain skin, and they might leave residual smells of their own. If you can, avoid the stuff that is just acetic acid and colorings, but plain white vinegar would work in a pinch.
Dilute apple cider vinegar with water and dab onto a sunburn. By the time it's dry, the smell will be gone. Sore or scratchy throats can be soothed with a mix of vinegar and water, maybe with a little honey mixed in, or put vinegar on a yummy salad- gotta love food medicine!
Wasps, hornets, and other 'crunchy' shelled, biting insects also have venom that can be neutralized with acid like vinegar. (Conversely, squishy or fuzzy bees that sting need a baking soda paste to neutralize their venom.)
You could also infuse vinegar with herbs, to impart some of their healing qualities to the vinegar. Some ideas are Rose petals, Violet flowers, Calendula, or the next herb, Plantain.
Not the starchy banana-like vegetable, Plantago-Plantain is a very common lawn weed. You've seen it, I promise. The narrow-leaved P. lanceolata, or Lance-leaved Plantain, forms flower stalks with a cone shaped head. These are the things that simply bend down when the mower passes over, then spring right back up again, towering over your freshly cut lawn. Broad-leaved P. major forms a rosette closer to the ground, and a flower stalk that is fat and all flowers then seeds. Kids find it fun to rub their thumbs up the stalk, showering seeds in all directions.
Plantain is drawing, and soothing. Chew up a leaf to break down some cell walls (it's called a spit poultice!!) and slap it on a bee sting or a splinter to help draw out the stinger or the sliver. A Plantain spit poultice is also helpful if you've been stung by Nettles.
Just be sure that in your haste to relieve a sting, you take a moment to judge the quality of where you found your Plantain. Lawns that have been chemically treated or areas accessible to dogs or near roadways are not good foraging grounds. Take care to pick safely!
Wildman Steve Brill has some great additional photos of plantain
Just about anyone can grow an Aloe plant in a windowsill, and it comes in very handy year-round. You're familiar with its reputation as a sunburn treatment- this is due to its cooling and anti-inflammatory qualities. Those same qualities make Aloe helpful for bites, stings, rashes, and even poison ivy.
Aloe is also drying, which combined with it ability to cool makes its juice helpful in relieving diarrhea, or even a case of the 'hot and humids'- when you just can't cool off or dry off, try drinking some Aloe.
You can freeze strips of Aloe leaves, or the juice in ice cube trays, and you'll have an easy-to-apply treatment ready and waiting for many common summer ailments.
Aloe juice is sold in health food stores, or learn how to do it yourself with this photo tutorial.