Painful bee stings and itchy mosquito bites can be less bothersome with simple home remedies that use ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen.
One old-fashioned way to soothe bee stings, after first removing the stinger, is to apply the cut surface of an onion to the spot. When we first heard about this remedy years ago, we thought it was just an old wives' tale. Dr. Eric Block, the chair of chemistry at State University of New York at Albany and world expert on the chemical makeup of onions, said fresh-cut onions contain enzymes that break down prostaglandins. Prostaglandins, the body's response to injury, cause pain and swelling, so heading them off at the pass makes for a more comfortable recovery.
A modified approach uses Adolph's meat tenderizer (or any other brand containing papain). Papain tenderizes meat by breaking down proteins. It can do the same for proteins in a bee or jellyfish sting and sidestep or reduce a painful reaction. Make a paste of meat tenderizer and water or vinegar and get it on the sting as quickly as possible.
Baking soda mixed with vinegar is another time-honored, kitchen-based remedy for a bee or wasp sting. It fizzes and bubbles as it relieves discomfort.
You can make a mosquito repellent with 1 tablespoon citronella oil, 2 cups white vinegar, 1 cup water and 1 cup Avon Skin-So-Soft bath oil.
To stop itching, apply plain hot water, about 120 degrees (uncomfortable but not burning), for several seconds. Apparently this overwhelms the nerve endings sending "itch" signals, and you get relief for hours. This simple remedy also works for mild poison ivy.
No hot water? Try crushing a few plantain leaves and rubbing them over the bite. This weed grows almost everywhere and has a reputation for easing itch.
We've recently heard that Vicks VapoRub can banish itchy mosquito bites, and smearing Vicks around the affected toenail twice a day has helped many people get rid of their fungus. Others prefer to soak their feet for 15 to 30 minutes a day in a soothing solution of 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water. This should help discourage athlete's foot as well as toenail fungus.
Vinegar in water _ 1 part vinegar to 5 parts water _ is also a great treatment after swimming. Make sure the solution is tepid, then put a few drops in each ear to prevent swimmer's ear.
For more details about these and other inexpensive common-sense remedies, check our Web site (http://www.peoplespharmacy.com). Our book, The People's Pharmacy Guide to Home and Herbal Remedies (St. Martin's Press), can be found at a library or booksellers and is full of helpful hints, too.
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert. They can be reached by e-mail at PHARMACYmindspring.com or in care of the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.