Few getaways end without the odd scrape, bite or blister. Mosquitoes attack at sundown, a long bush walk leaves muscles aching, or a rough tinny ride leaves everyone queasy. Increasingly, travellers are returning to age-old natural remedies so we asked Val Allen, one of Australia’s leading naturopaths, to tell us which ones really work.
Bites and Stings
The only thing more annoying than mossies buzzing around your head at night are the itchy bites they leave you with. To relieve the pain, swelling and itch of insect bites, apply a neat dab of analgesic (nerve-soothing) lavender oil or tea tree oil, or rub with a slice of lemon, a dab of apple cider vinegar or a little Tiger Balm. When using on kids or anyone with sensitive skin, dilute the lavender or tea tree oil in a tablespoon of witch hazel or a cold-pressed edible oil such as grapeseed, almond or olive oil before applying to the bite.
Nothing brings a kid to tears more quickly than a bee sting. Once you’ve removed the stinger by scraping sideways across the bite (a credit card works well), pour on any kind of vinegar or hold a fresh slice of onion over the sting for immediate pain relief.
One very effective way to relieve bull ant bites is to pee on them. The novelty of the idea usually distracts kids from the pain, but if you can’t convince your patient, rubbing aloe vera gel onto the bite helps to relieve the pain and reduce swelling, too.
Val’s top tip: Mosquitoes are deterred by the smell of B-group vitamins on the skin, so take one high-potency B complex vitamin tablet per day before you set off and while you are travelling through any mossie-infested zone.
Nothing beats a campfire but there is always the worry that someone, especially wayward children, will get burnt. If this happens and the burn is serious (bigger than your palm, extremely painful or blistered), you must get the patient to a doctor or hospital ASAP.
To treat minor burns, pour cold water over the affected area as soon as possible (or soak in a tub of cold water) and continue for at least 10 minutes or until the pain subsides. After the burn has cooled, soothe it with certified aloe vera gel, a natural pain reliever, antiseptic and healing agent, then cover with a loose, non-stick dressing. If you have an aloe vera plant growing at home, break off a piece and, if wrapped in plastic food wrap, it will last up to two months in the fridge.
Lavender is the most effective essential oil for soothing minor burns, or you could try placing a piece of banana skin over the burn and bandaging loosely. Naturally antimicrobial honey has proven effective in healing wounds and minor burns, but be sure to use therapeutic, sterile honey and never use it on children or patients with a known sensitivity to bee or pollen products.
Val’s top tip: Gently rub cooled minor burns with Lucas’ papaw ointment.
Cuts, Scratches and Blisters
Used by Indigenous Australians for centuries as an antiseptic for treating skin infections, tea tree oil helps to cleanse and heal minor cuts, scratches and grazes. Simply wash and dry the area well, then apply a dab of aloe vera gel mixed with two drops each of lavender and tea tree oils.
Alternatively, cleanse the wound with a few drops of either oil mixed with witch hazel or a cup of fresh, cool water and apply with cotton wool. Repeat a couple of times a day until the cut heals.
Few bushwalkers can leave a good blister alone. If you can resist popping a blister, you can dry it out by covering with a cotton pad soaked with witch hazel and a non-stick bandage.
Val’s top tip: If the blister has already broken, wash the area with soap and water, gently massage in two to three drops of tea tree oil and cover with a non-stick bandage.
It has antispasmodic and gas-relieving properties, and thanks to its volatile oils – ginerals and shogaols – ginger has the power to neutralise the stomach acids that cause nausea and motion sickness.
If you are prone to motion sickness or if the seas are looking unusually rough, mix two teaspoons of freshly grated ginger with a little honey (enough for four doses) and take one dose about 45 minutes before you get moving and as needed throughout your journey.
If you do start to feel nauseous, nibble on crystallised ginger or add some of the ginger mixture to hot water and sip it slowly with a squeeze of lemon juice. A knob of fresh ginger keeps well in the fridge, and ginger tablets are a good standby, available from chemists. Be aware that ginger is a natural blood thinner and in very high doses may cause heartburn.
Val’s top tip: Take Baptisia to settle travel sickness, vomiting, diarrhoea, food poisoning and gastro-intestinal infections, or nux vomica to ease travel sickness symptoms.
Headaches, Aches and Sprains
Peppermint oil and analgesic lavender oil are both highly effective in relieving headaches. Simply massage a few neat drops of either oil into your temples and around the nape of your neck, breathe deeply and relax for a few minutes. For children and those with sensitive skin, mix the lavender oil with a little grapeseed, almond or olive oil before you apply to their skin.
Got sore, tired muscles or throbbing joints? Blend equal amounts of ginger, eucalyptus and peppermint essentials oils with two teaspoons of a cold-pressed edible oil and gentle massage the affected area.
Got a sprain? Get some arnica, which works by entering your skin’s small capillaries to stimulate circulation and to move on the toxins that cause inflammation, swelling and bruising. Rest, elevate and ice your sprain and apply arnica two to three times daily. If your injury area has an open wound, skip the cream and take arnica pills instead.
Val’s top tip: Available from health food stores, Rescue Remedy is a handy treatment for headaches, sudden stress or sleep difficulties.
Note: Essential oils are potent: never consume them or put them near eyes, mouths or genitals, and always dilute them before using on kids or anyone with sensitive skin. If you’ve never used essential oils or aloe vera, dab some on the inside of your elbow and wait a few minutes. If the skin stings or a rash appears, wash it off and use something else.