Anyone who does a lot of work outdoors will inevitably need some TLC to deal with minor health issues. Instead of commercial remedies, you can make herbal products using what you grow in your garden.
Just about all of us have experienced chapped hands, insect bites, scrapes, and sunburns. Others might get rashes from contact with plant matter such as poison ivy, or respiratory issues from breathing in pollen, leaf mold particles, or smoke.
Fortunately, there are many great herbal remedies for gardeners and farmers that can alleviate many of these issues.
1. DIY Insect Repellent
I can’t think of a single person who’s worked outside and hasn’t had to contend with insect bites. Mosquitoes, chiggers, and flies are all hanging out waiting for a chance to take a nibble on you.
Mix one cup of distilled water with one cup witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) extract. Then add 15 drops each of lemon eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), and catnip (Nepeta cataria) essential oils (EO). Decant this into a spray bottle, and hose yourself down with it before going outside.
This stuff is gentle enough to be sprayed directly on your skin, but you can also spray your clothes with it for extra protection.
Speaking of extra protection, you can also mix a few drops of any of the aforementioned EO with some coconut or olive oil and dab that behind your ears, knees, and ankles for added protection. I tend to spread this stuff liberally around the tops of my boots during tick season, as I’m out in the woods a lot.
Additionally, try to grow lemon balm and/or catnip in pots in a few spots around your yard. If you find that insects are paying a bit too much attention to you, crush up a few fresh leaves and rub them on your skin. The concentrated scent should fend the bugs off until you can get indoors and behind bug screens.
If you’re dealing with serious swarms of blackflies, gnats, and the like, then definitely invest in a good netted hat. These tie off around your neck and create a net around your head and face so the bitey bastards can’t drain you dry.
An ounce of prevention can be absolutely wonderful for saving you from scratching yourself raw day and night.
2. Poultice for Treating Insect Bites
Now, the repellents mentioned above can work really well, but it’s inevitable that a few persistent biters would storm your defenses. When and if that happens, you may be left with some nasty welts that may itch and burn, depending on how sensitive you are.
Grab some fresh chickweed (Stellaria media), violet leaf (Viola spp.) and/or jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) leaves and stems. Process these with a mortar and pestle, or put them through a blender. Then spread this green puree on a clean, soft cloth and apply it to the bite area.
This should reduce the itching, burning, and swelling exponentially.
3. Relief for Poison Ivy Reactions
Poison ivy dermatitis is absolutely awful to contend with. The burning and itching are usually accompanied by weeping blisters, and the plant oils can spread through contact!
If you get into a poison ivy patch, toss all your clothes into the wash immediately. Then take a cool shower, making sure to wash (gently!) with soap to eliminate any oils that may still be clinging to your skin.
Once that’s done, toss a big handful of fresh jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) into a blender. While that’s pureeing, make a strong tea with yarrow flowers and leaves and witch hazel twigs or bark.
Mix two teaspoons of this tea with two teaspoons of pureed jewelweed, a pinch of activated charcoal powder, and just enough dry bentonite clay powder to make a thick paste. Mix in four drops each of tea tree and lavender oils, spread across the affected area, and wrap with a slightly dampened cloth.
This should help to neutralize the urushiol from the poison ivy and dry out the liquid from the weeping blisters. This herbal remedy should also alleviate the itching and burning sensations.
4. Topical Sunburn Relief
If you don’t already have an aloe (Aloe barbadensis) plant growing in your home, I recommend getting one asap. This plant’s soothing, anti-inflammatory properties make it an absolute powerhouse when it comes to treating sunburns (and other types of heat-related inflammation).
If you get a bad sunburn, rinse the area well with cool—but not super-cold—water. Then slice open a few aloe vera leaves and scrape the gel out of them and into a bowl.
If there are lumpy bits here and there, that’s okay. Just squeeze them with your fingers or mash them with a fork. If desired, add a few drops of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil into the gel and stir it around.
Wet a washcloth-sized piece of cotton flannel with cool water, and apply some of this gel onto it. Then apply this compress to the affected area and leave it there for about 20 minutes. Repeat the process a few times, and be sure to drink plenty of cool water, especially if you’ve infused it with mint or cucumber.
This burn relief doesn’t have to be limited to sunburns, by the way. I’ve used it to treat second-degree burns on the insides of my arms after potato soup exploded onto me (it was like napalm, seriously), and for a burn my partner received while doing blacksmithing work.
5. Soothing, Healing Spray for Cuts and Scrapes
Who hasn’t gotten cut or scraped while working in the garden? I’ve gotten cut by sharp leaf blades (go ahead and laugh) and scraped up by rocks, unfinished wooden boards, and tree bark.
This spray’s antiseptic qualities can help prevent infection, while also providing soothing, anti-inflammatory relief to sore spots. Who doesn’t love an herbal remedy that can do double duty?
Pour one cup of witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) extract into a clean mixing cup that has a pour spout. To this, add 20 drops paracress (Spilanthes acmella) tincture, 10 drops of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) EO, and 10 drops of tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) EO.
Decant this into a spray bottle and keep it in the fridge for up to four months. Spray onto cuts and scrapes as needed.
6. Treatment for Bee and Wasp Stings
Getting stung by buzzing bastards is pretty much inevitable when working outdoors. I managed to get a nasty wasp sting on the palm of my hand (through thin gardening gloves!) because I didn’t check my watering can handle before grabbing it.
One of the most commonly asked-for herbal remedies for gardeners is a remedy for the pain and inflammation of a typical sting.
If and when you get stung, try to determine whether you’ve been stung by a bee or a wasp. A wasp can sting multiple times, whereas a bee’s stinger will detach into your skin. If it’s the latter, you’ll need a credit card or dull knife to scrape it free.
A quick poultice of fresh tobacco (Nicotiana spp. ) and plantain (Plantago spp.) leaves works wonders for alleviating the pain and swelling, but if you don’t have tobacco nearby, plantain works just fine on its own.
Just grab a few plantain leaves, chew them slightly, and apply them to the sting area. If you’re using rolling tobacco instead, dribble some water onto the shreds to wet them and then apply gently.
If you’re allergic to bee or wasp stings, be sure to carry an EpiPen with you at all times when working outdoors. Additionally, wear protective clothing like heavier trousers and leather gloves that these insects can’t sting through. Herbal remedies are great, but they can’t help you if you’re going into anaphylactic shock.
7. Replenishing Salve for Cracked, Sore Hands
Getting one’s hands into the soil can be immensely rewarding. Connecting with the earth like this is soothing to the soul, and allows us to have a much more “hands-on” approach (I’m so sorry, really) to growing our own food and medicine.
That said, soil can also wreak havoc on our skin. Clay-rich soils in particular will dry our hands out significantly. While clay is great for drawing out toxins and pus from bites and infections, it’s not great for the delicate skin on our hands.
I’ve gotten cracked, bleeding knuckles and chapped palms from gardening on several occasions! As a result, I always have this replenishing salve on hand (again, sorry for the pun).
What you’ll need to make this herbal remedy:
- 1/3 cup each of olive oil, coconut oil, and sweet almond oil
- 1 cup mixed dried herbs: I like to use 60% calendula, 20% lavender, 10% St. John’s wort, and 10% arnica for this mixture.
- Muslin cloth
- Fine strainer
- A clean bowl
- Clean/sterilized container
- 1/4 cup beeswax: you can use pellets or grate your own, and can also use carnauba wax if you want to keep it vegan
- 10 drops of essential oils (EO) of your choice (optional)
Add the dried herbs to the inner pot of a double-boiler, add the oils, and stir well. You can also make your own double boiler by placing a smaller pot inside of a larger one, elevated off the bottom with a sealable jar band.
Add water to the outer pot and turn the heat on low. You don’t want this water to get hotter than toasty bath water. Keep this heat going for 4–6 hours, stirring the herbed oil mixture regularly. Then strain it through muslin-lined cheesecloth into a clean bowl.
Once strained, add the oil back into the double boiler and add in the beeswax. Stir this gently until it’s melted completely and worked evenly through the oil.
Pour this into your sterilized jar or container, and add EO if you like. If you do, try to choose oils and scents that compliment the herbs you’ve used, both in scent and healing properties. For example, lavender and calendula EO will enhance the skin-healing properties of this salve. Meanwhile, vetiver or neroli would be more for a great scent.
Apply this salve to freshly washed hands after toiling in the garden, or as needed. I like to apply it just before bed as well.
8. Steam Inhale for Chest Relief
This won’t necessarily apply to everyone, but some of us get respiratory inflammation from working outside. This can be due to inhaling pollen in springtime or autumn, or mold spores from raking leaf chaff.
Those of us who have experienced forest fires nearby have also had to deal with sore, dry coughs from smoke inhalation. This can also happen after getting a bit too close to a bonfire!
To alleviate this discomfort, you can simply pour boiling water over a spoonful of dried calendula petals and mint leaves. Let those infuse for a couple of minutes.
Then pop a towel over your head, lean over the bowl, and inhale the steam. Try to inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. This will help to rehydrate damaged mucous membranes, and can also help you to expectorate any particles in your lungs.
Of all the herbal remedies on this list, this is a simple one, but it’s incredibly effective, so don’t discount it.
As always, please do thorough research before ingesting or applying any of these herbal remedies for gardeners. Consult with your healthcare practitioner to ensure that they won’t contraindicate with any of your current medications or health issues, and try out small amounts to make sure you don’t have negative reactions.
When in doubt, don’t hesitate to consult with a herbalist or naturopath for advice.
Additionally, although herbal medicines are great for a lot of health issues, there are times when standard healthcare needs to be the primary option. If you break a bone, experience severe chest pain or difficulty breathing, or feel that your sunburn is accompanied by symptoms of sunstroke, then you might want to get yourself to a hospital.
Be well, and walk in beauty!