Friday, July 3, 2009
Chicks and Tiggers
(Update: I wrote this post a long time ago. We now use Sulfur powder mixed with D.E. and put in an old sock to dust down with. That keeps the chiggers from biting. We haven't used deet or Off in many years.)
We didn't buy that property we came to see the last time I posted. There were topography and creek issues. We did just move to Missouri though a few weeks ago and are renting a house w/ gorgeous woods and pastures. The heat was pretty extreme the first week and there was no A.C. but that's been fixed. The woods have ticks and chiggers and I guess anyone that has woods and tall grasses are feeling their bite this time of year.
Having ticks is new to me, I didn't have them at my place in Texas. It was hard not to freak out when I saw the first tick on my skin. Now I keep a cup of soapy water and tweasers at the door to pull ticks off the dogs. It's easy to catch the ticks on us before they bite and they go right into the toilet if possible. When I come in from being outside I just really check closely and pick them off with my fingers. There haven't been that many and it's almost getting rare to find one.
Texas had a ton of chiggers though and my first experience with them I had over 200 bites just on my legs and my nephew got eaten up as well. He missed almost a week of school and I was so sick. I felt horrible and guilty, so I read everything I could about chiggers.
I read that they take 4 hours to locate a spot to bite but I can't find that link again. Since I've gone under that assumption however, along with some basic treatment that I'll tell you about later, chiggers don't bother me anymore. I guess everyone knows by now it's not the chigger under your skin that itches. Once you start to itch, the chigger is gone. What causes the itch is the little tube that is left under your skin formed by their saliva that liquefies your tissue and your body's reaction to the saliva by hardening the surrounding area. The itch from this bite can last for weeks and after constant scratching can become infected. I used to use finger nail polish, chiger-rid, the pink stuff, oatmeal baths and anything else I could find to relieve the itching. There is a much better way.
First, the obvious prevention (which I don't really follow anymore unless I'm going deep into the woods) is tucking your pants into your socks (some even add a rubber band around the sock line), wearing mud boots sprayed with Off and spraying your pant legs with off. I don't really bother with that too much anymore.
The trick is the shower. I used to keep several sets of work clothes in the bathroom and would come in every 3-4 hours, throw my possible chigger infested clothes right into the washing machine, and head for the shower. Scrub well with a soapy rag focusing on areas where there were clothes fit tighter like waist, sock, underwear and bra bands and really scrub the belly. That will get rid of most of the problem right there. If you are in a remote location with no access to water, I've read that you can use a dry cloth and scrub down. I usually wear loose fitting clothes, as few tight fitting articles of clothing possible and don't wear socks; that is, again, if I'm not going deep in the woods.
We have gotten a few bites since we've been here but most are from when we first arrived, walked the woods and then just began unpacking the moving truck. I didn't shower till it was too late. I don't think I've gotten any new bites since I make sure to shower after being outside. After the shower I apply Plaintain (Plantago major) salve to any existing chigger bites. That's it, the chigger bites don't itch, they don't get infected and I don't think about them for hours and hours, sometimes all day. When I can feel the bite "waking up", I just put on some more and that's it. I had to fly to NY to pick up the car we left behind and couldn't take the salve with me. The bites didn't itch till the next day and it wasn't even bad! If you've ever had bad chigger bites and tried all the over the counter stuff, this stuff seems truly magical. I made the salve for my dog and had it handy when we first got here. I tried it, but knowing how badly chigger bites itch, I didn't really think it would work. It's almost instant and I haven't had even one episode of crazy itch that chigger bites have always put me through even with all the over the counter remedies.
I had two other bites from when we first arrived, I think fire ant and a giant mosquito or spider bite on my forehead. The salve didn't work as magically on them, but quelled the itching some and all the bites are very tiny now and almost completely healed. I ended up using a poultice on the big bite on my forehead and that fixed it right up.
The salve is very easy and fun to make. It's good to keep on hand not only for chigger bites, but cuts, scratches, aches, burns and I could just go on and on. You almost certainly have Plantain growing nearby. For the bites that the plantain didn't work as well on, a poultice of plantain did work. There are many websites written by people much more qualified than me about salves, oils and poultices. So if you have any interest, do a little research and you'll find so much information.
Here is what I did though. First locate the plantain (Plantago)not the banana looking fruit. It will be where you walk a lot and it's nick name is "white man's walk". Don't pick plantain that has been sprayed with pesticides, near the road or has possibly had a car parked over it. When I've pointed it out to people they almost always say something like "that's just yard junk" or "that's just a weed." It's one of the easiest plants to identify. In most photos of it online, the plant is big with a seed stalk. However if you mow your yard, the leaf will be much smaller. This is a nice plantain patch at our new rent house.
Make an infused Oil -
Pick the leaves on a dry day and don't wash. If there is dirt, you can scrub off with a brush. If you just have to wash, you can get a shallow bowl and lightly swish the leaf in it a bit, but that's not preferred. I've read to semi-dry the herb and I've read to put it in the oil fresh. I like to leave it out for a day or two on a towel, but I think I won't do that next time. Coarsely chop it up and put in a completely dry glass jar, I use a quart mason jar. Poke it down (I use a chop stick) and add olive oil to the top. Label it and let it sit room temp for 6 weeks. Write on the label when the 6 weeks are up. Strain small batches through a cotton cloth and squeeze to extract any oil. Let the oil sit a few days and see if there is any water separated from the oil. If so, carefully pour the oil into another container and discard the water. You can use the oil at this point. Store in a cool room.
Warm (plantain infused)oil to 150 in a double boiler. To approx 6 parts oil, add 1 parts beeswax. You can also add 5 parts vegetable glycerin, but I haven't done that yet. It takes quite a bit of heat to melt beeswax and I did it on the woodstove. When the beeswax has melted into the oil, pour into your container (I use short glass wide mouth jars) and let it sit to cool. When I've put it near an open window to cool quickly, the center tends to cave in (which is fine, but a gift I didn't like the appearance). After it cools, if it's not stiff enough, heat it up again and add more beeswax. If it's too stiff, heat again and add more oil.
For the bites that the salve wouldn't work on (or if you don't have salve), the poultice did work wonderfully. Find the plantain, chew it, spit it out onto your hands, put it on the bite or sore, and cover with a band aid or somethign to keep it from falling off. The first time I did it, of course I had to wash the plant and barely chewed it with my front teeth thinking it would be gross. I waited for the gross taste to kick in and it never did. It was good, like salad, and I ate some more just for the heck of it. A wet, well chewed gob makes the best poultice. You might think having green spit on you is disgusting, but when you get total relief from a bite that is driving you crazy from a plant that tastes like salad; it's not so disgusting anymore. Stop buying that pink stuff.
In the evening, the babies and I have been sitting outside in some shade. The tail gate of the truck makes a nice bench to see a patch of phlox and tiger lilies in full bloom growing near by. The kittens run up and down the trees and when the sun is setting they try to catch the fireflies. Dorothy the Queen cat perches royally nearby on the trailer observing all the nonsensical play, but lately she's just happened to sit in the grass close to the kittens who have included her in their play. I think she must be enjoying herself, but would never admit it. Lucille, Lollipop, Barney, Vincent and the neighbor's dog John John that we are babysitting, sit in the shade with me watching the kittens play and sometime Lolli just can't help herself and will run after them stopping short before they whack her.
Rufus the pig sleeps under the deck in a cool bed of sand with some straw placed where he wants it. It's right under our bedroom window though and he snores. So that's been funny on some nights.
Since we've been here, very close up I've seen a fox who paused on the path to look at me and a falcon that swooped down. It's so beautiful here.
On a sad note, my most special cat companion Mazie Grace died the week before we moved. She was hit by a car. Her death has been the hardest to cope with and I'm still in the "it's not fair" and "why her?!" mode. She was my walking buddy and I imagined her and I walking the woods at our new place to find plants . When I go walking the other animals come, but it's just not the same without her. She would sit behind me in the evening and "groom" this spot on my head that always feels weird and would bury her face in my hair. Her twin brother Eicky is a constant reminder that she's not here.