Even if you can make a case for why another season is your favorite, there's no denying that summertime is simply delicious—sometimes literally, with local berries and farm-fresh tomatoes in the mix. But we all know it has a downside.
Bug bites, sunburn, dry skin, rashes and those annoying summer colds can all combine to land on the side of Team Winter. But help may be closer than you think, and doesn't require a trip to the pharmacy. Instead, hit up the farmers market, or maybe even your own garden. Soothe summer concerns with some of nature's top performers.
Summer evenings are the stuff of nostalgia and yearning, but the reality can be less than lovely if you become the main course during a humid, bug-infested night. Fortunately, herbal remedies are abundant.
For insect bites, turn to fresh basil or plantain (which looks like a weed, but is definitely a power-packed remedy). Chew on a leaf and then apply it directly to the bite. Basil tends to be the better flavor, since plantain can be slightly bitter and grassy, but most likely, you'll find the weedy choice in the wild. Chewing helps to release each plant's anti-inflammatory properties, and the relief should be immediate.
Dry, irritated skin is a frequent summer complaint, thanks to hiking with bare legs, swimming in lake water, or just soaking up the skin-drying sunshine. If you're looking for a quick remedy, grab some oregano or thyme.
By mashing the fresh leaves into a paste and sprinkling in a bit of oatmeal and a few drops of water, you'll have a perfect quick fix for irritated skin. If you have any oregano left over, make tea, let cool, and spray on pets as a flea killer and anti-itch treatment. If you've opted for thyme, put the leaves and stems into a jar filled with vodka as a preservative; let sit overnight, and you'll have an anti-fungal wound wash for scrapes and minor cuts.
If you're dealing with dandruff or an itchy scalp because of sunshine and pool time, opt for fresh rosemary as a hair rinse. Just pour some boiling water over leaves and stems, let steep for at least 15 minutes (ideally longer, to increase strength), let cool and then pour over hair after shampooing.
Much like plantain, stinging nettles are usually found through foraging, but they're cropping up more often at farmers markets, and make a tasty addition to pesto—plus, they pack a surprisingly high amount of protein.
But what they're known for most is allergy relief. Pick them using gloves (they weren't kidding when they named them "stinging") and dry the leaves for a week or so to create a truly soothing tea. If the concoction tastes a bit too bland or grassy for you, throw in some dried mint, which will also help as an energy booster to fight allergy fatigue.
In general, summer herbs are fantastically abundant, and it's likely that you'll have plenty available, whether you've picked some up at the farmers market or grow them yourself. So, use some for divine summer dishes, and save the rest for medicinal remedies. Maybe this will turn out to be your favorite season after all.
Elizabeth Millard is the author of Backyard Pharmacy: Growing Medicinal Plants in Your Own Yard. She and her partner Karla have an organic farm, Bossy Acres, in northern Minnesota.
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