Summertime Essentials

by Carole Blemker, R.N., R.D.

No matter where summer takes you, be it the backyard or Bahamanian coral reef, be safe and be prepared.

Summer is finally here. Beckoning us outdoors to swim, camp, garden, hike, bike and load up with farmers’ market goodies. Not only is it time to ditch jackets and sweaters, it’s also time to stock up on lotions, sprays and remedies for heat and sun. Skin, long hidden and protected under layers of garb, can now come out to play in the sun and surf. But as we all know, there are dangers, such as biting bugs and burning sun. Summer can make us giddy, sometimes almost delirious, and momentarily forgetful about cares and worries until you swat that first mosquito, pull off the first tick, or catch a glimpse of sunburned cheeks when passing a mirror.

With such a huge selection of available sunscreen it’s a wonder that most people don’t throw in the towel and take their chances without it. Bad idea! Two favorites at Community Pharmacy are Badger and All Terrain. Both are broad spectrum, protecting the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Non-nano uncoated zinc oxide is the active ingredient in each, and they are free of parabens, oxybenzone and animal testing. Both are considered biodegradable for coral reefs and other ecosystems. All Terrain Aquasport was rated “Top Sunscreen” by the Environmental Working Group, and Sports Diver magazine awarded it the “Editor’s Pick” as tops in their dive log. Both companies offer separate products for children, and activities both in and out of the water. Sunscreen is most effective when applied early (at least 30 minutes before sun exposure), often (every 90 minutes to two hours), and generously (at least two tablespoons for a full body, or one tablespoon for the face and neck).

The catchy phrase from The Sound of Music about remembering your favorite things for when the bug bites, or when the bee stings, isn’t enough anymore. It’s important to consider that with increased globalization we have also seen a rise in some insect-transmitted diseases, particularly from mosquitoes and ticks. I doubt that Maria and the kids packed insect repellent as they frolicked in the Alps, but if they had, we at Community Pharmacy would have recommended DEET-free All Terrain Herbal Armor, which uses 6 natural repelling oils in an over 25% concentration. It has been proven 100% effective for two hours, and 95.8% for three. All Terrain, based out of New Hampshire, has been praised in Popular Science and National Geographic Adventure for their product line. Their line includes separate products for children and pets. No more leaving Fido at home!

For the DIY crowd, Veriditas suggests a combination of their essential oils which ticks and mosquitoes find repugnant enough to wait for the next unlucky host to come along. Their “cocktail” is 30 drops lemon eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora) to repel mosquitoes, 10 drops rose geranium to repel ticks, 10 drops lavender to protect and soothe skin and 10 drops peppermint to repel insects and cool the skin. Mix in a 4 oz. spray bottle, combine with 1 oz. of vinegar or vodka and enough water to fill the bottle. Shake well and apply often.

Being human, prone to distraction and impulse, I sometimes find myself on a hasty hike in the woods, waking up the next day with regret for not identifying the three-leaved plant brushing against my bare leg while straying off the marked path to pick a few stinging nettles for the soup pot. For those “morning after” moments I am grateful to have Herbs Etc. Ivy Itch ReLeaf and Bug Itch ReLeaf as my two companions. I keep both on hand for summertime forest and field forays, because I know that although I am well intentioned, I am sometimes ill prepared. Made with fresh plant material, these two formulas work like magic to decrease the discomfort of swollen, inflamed skin from bug bites and stings or plant-based contact dermatitis. They also facilitate healing and regeneration of damaged skin tissue.

Forget summer without iced tea. Not the weak bagged tea that was a staple in our fridge growing up, when heat and humidity commonly climbed into the 90s for days on end. Milwaukee’s Rishi Tea makes a number of blends that are slightly sweet, tart and, when iced, totally refreshing. Perfect for a hot summer day. Some favorites are Blueberry and Jamaica Rooibos, Scarlet, Tropical Crimson, and Turmeric Ginger.

If you like the taste of iced coffee but not so much the caffeine, try iced Dandy Blend, an herbal coffee substitute made with dandelion root. Take it up a notch by brewing it hot, adding a spoonful of organic Nocciolata, a delicious Italian hazelnut cocoa spread (we sell it — also complements strawberries, toast, ice cream, etc.) and icing it down.

Saturday mornings at the farmers’ market (or alone with your new seed catalog) and who can resist a new orange tomato variety, purple podded pole beans or Turkish red eggplant? It’s only when confronted and confounded by this exotic produce sitting on the counter that you wonder what you were thinking. Never fear, we have an answer! Every summer our book buyer, Alex, selects a plethora of books on topics ranging from making compost to planting, growing, harvesting, cooking and preserving.

We love our Alaffia market baskets. Handwoven, fair trade and sturdily constructed from sustainable savannah grass in Ghana and Togo, they define beauty and practicality. The flat bottom makes a perfect nest for vegetables, fruits, eggs, etc. fresh from the farmers’ market.

No summer newsletter article would be complete without mentioning Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. Knowledge is power. Learn how to protect yourself. One of my best investments last summer was The Tick Plier, a little gizmo that aids in efficiently and smoothly removing attached ticks. There is even a mini magnifying lens to aid in not only identifying the type of tick, e.g., dog, lone star, or deer, but also whether you removed the embedded head. Included is an informational booklet, “Defeating the Tick,” about the tick life cycle, tick behavior, (what makes a tick “tick”), tick-borne diseases, and tools for protection and prevention.

There you have it, a summary of some of our summertime essentials. No matter where summer takes you, be it the backyard or Bahamanian coral reef, be safe and be prepared. But also have some fun!

Carole Blemker is a registered nurse and registered dietitian with many years of experience. She is also a former librarian who loves researching all things concerning plants and people, and teaching from both holistic and clinical perspectives.

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