More than 30 years ago, Hurricane Hazel forced me to spend a night in a barn in South Carolina. I was hitchhiking along rural roads, innocent of the fact that a serious storm was brewing until I was forced to take refuge. I got shelter from the storm. I also got scabies, probably because the tiny mites that cause it infest animals as well as humans.
Scabies is a highly contagious parasitic skin infestation caused by mites of the genus Sarcoptes. Especially common in children, infestations cause small, itchy bumps, sometimes all over the body and sometimes localized between the fingers, on the wrists, on the waist, in the groin or on the genitals.
Green Pharmacy for Scabies
Drug companies have come up with all sorts of over-the-counter and prescription mite killers. But I'd recommend starting with the natural alternatives and moving on to the synthetics only if you find yourself with a really bad case that herbs don't cure. There are a number of herbs that might prove helpful. But whatever you use, other measures are necessary: In addition to treating your body, you have to boil all of your clothes and bedding to kill any mites on them so you aren't reinfected.
Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) and St.-John's-wort (Hypericum perforatum). Evening primrose oil (EPO) is approved in the United Kingdom for treating eczema because it soothes the skin. But it's not approved in the United States because the Food and Drug Administration turns a blind eye to European research, and no U.S. drug companies want to invest hundreds of millions to prove the safety and effectiveness of something that they can't patent.
As for St.-John's-wort, I've seen persuasive anecdotal reports that applying this herb to the skin can provide immediate relief from the itching of insect bites.
If I had scabies, I would steep flowering shoots of St.-John's-wort for a few days in enough EPO to cover them, then dab the oil on the affected areas. If you don't have access to the fresh herb, you can use a tincture of St.-John's-wort.
Neem (Azadiracta indica) and turmeric (Curcuma longa). Neem is an Indian tree with an extract that is powerfully active against many insect pests. Several natural neem-based pesticides are marketed in this country and used by organic farmers and gardeners. Turmeric has a long folk history for treating itchy skin problems.
A few years ago, Indian researcher S. X. Charles, Ph.D., used these two herbs to treat 814 people with scabies. He made a paste with four parts fresh neem leaves and one part turmeric root. The people in his study rubbed it all over themselves daily. Almost 800 of them (98 percent) showed substantial improvement within three to five days and were completely cured within two weeks. You can buy skin-care products containing neem at some health food stores. Just mix in several teaspoons of turmeric and apply it to the affected areas.
Originally from India, neem is working its way into the United States as a natural cosmetic, dentifrice and insect repellent.
Onion (Allium cepa). When I was a kid, I boiled onion skins to make a yellow dye. Now in my second childhood, I boil onion skins to extract quercetin, one of Nature's best skin-soothing compounds. Some onion skins are 3 percent quercetin, which translates to considerable soothing power against scabies and other skin problems.
For scabies, I suggest boiling the skins of a half-dozen onions for 15 to 30 minutes in a quart of water. Let the liquid cool, then apply it liberally all over your body. (Save the peeled onions to use in cooking.)
American pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides). Almost 2,000 years ago, the Roman naturalist Pliny noted that European pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) repels fleas. In fact, this herb's scientific name, pulegioides, is derived from the Latin for "flea," and the plant has been popularly known as fleabane for centuries. Pennyroyal oil is the active ingredient in just about every herbal flea collar for pets.
I suggest applying a strong tea or preferably a tincture directly to the affected area to alleviate the itch.
Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum). This weedy, three-foot-tall herb is loaded with pulegone, the same insect repellent found in pennyroyal. It's not a popular herb, and I don't understand why. It's a fine weed to grow around the house, and it has many uses.
I often ball up a wad of fresh mountain mint and rub the bruised leaves on my legs to keep the ticks off. I suspect that this herb would be equally effective against mites and lice.
Among the herbs mentioned in this chapter are a few that pregnant women should avoid completely--pennyroyal, peppermint, mountain mint and tansy. If you're pregnant, you shouldn't take these herbs orally or apply them to your skin. When you apply an herb to your skin by adding it to bathwater or in the form of an essential oil, some of the active ingredients do penetrate the skin and get into the bloodstream.
Oat (Avena sativa). While waiting for your herbal mite killers to get the job done, you might want to stop the itching. Oatmeal works quite well. Just scoop a few handfuls into a hot bath and settle in.
Star anise (Illicium verum). The oil of star anise is best known as an antiseptic, but it is also reportedly useful against scabies, lice and bedbugs. Just dab it on the affected areas.
Teatree (Melaleuca, various species). Like star anise, teatree oil is best known as an antiseptic, but it's also useful against parasites, including those that cause scabies. Before putting the oil on your skin, you should dilute it by adding several drops to a couple of tablespoons of any vegetable oil.
Remember, though, that you shouldn't take teatree oil, or any essential oils, internally. They are extremely concentrated, and even small quantities of many of them can be poisonous.
Walnut (Juglans, various species). Walnuts contain a chemical called juglone that is useful for dealing with mite infestations, according to pharmacognosist (natural product pharmacist) Albert Leung, Ph.D. Dr. Leung recommends making a wash by boiling a few cracked walnut shell pieces in a cup of water until about half of the water has evaporated. To create a concentrated solution, cover several whole walnuts with water and simmer until half of the water is gone. Apply the water liberally to the skin.
Aloe (Aloe vera). The soothing gel of aloe contains the compound bradykininase, which should help to relieve the annoying itch and irritation of a scabies rash.
Five-leaved chastetree (Vitex negundo). The leaves of this Chinese shrub have a long history of folk use as a poultice for treating scabies, eczema and ringworm. Five-leaved chastetree is available in the United States as an ornamental plant. You can mash the leaves and apply them directly to the affected areas of skin.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita). The active ingredient in peppermint is menthol, which has cooling, anesthetic and antiseptic properties. Some respected herbalists frequently recommend menthol and related compounds for treating scabies, so let me propose an herb tea that you can use in your bath to kill scabies mites while alleviating the itch. Mix peppermint, pennyroyal, rosemary, sage, spearmint and thyme in any proportions you like. Make enough tea so that you can toss several cups into your warm bathwater and also enjoy a cup or two as a tasty, stress-reducing beverage.
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare). Practitioners of alternative medicine often recommend washing with strong tansy tea as a treatment for scabies or lice.