by Eleanor Baron, a third-year clinical intern at the VCIH

Spring weather has us heading outside to enjoy walks in the woods, garden chores, and maybe even an early season swim or paddle. Safe spring and summer fun starts with good planning and a few basic tools and strategies to protect against sunburn and insect bites. When those unexpected troubles do occur, having some simple things on hand and knowing how to find a backyard herbal ally or two can save the day.


Many of us need sun protection, especially at the beginning of the season, when we are at our most vulnerable. Awareness (and with it, controversy) has grown in the last few years about the risks associated with chemical sunscreens. We know now that some of the commonly used ingredients actually mimic our hormones and disrupt vital hormonal functions in our bodies. Some cause skin allergies, with even a so-called inert substance like methylisothiazolinone being called out by the American Contact Dermatitis Society as “allergen of the year.” And yet, the question of whether sunscreens actually prevent skin cancer remains unanswered. Before you choose a sunscreen, check it out on the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) “Skin Deep” website at — there’s even a phone app you can use while you’re shopping. You’ll find a good assortment of safer options to choose from at The Coop.


Don’t forget the simple things that can help, like covering up with long-sleeves in the hot sun, even if it’s not with today’s high-SPF fabrics. Eating more lycopene, especially in the form of cooked tomatoes, boosts your skin’s natural protection, as does eating a diet rich in healthy saturated fats, which are so important for healthy, resilient skin. If you’re not very, very fair, you might want to experiment with using some natural oils like coconut, carrot seed or raspberry seed oil, which range in SPF from 6 to 40. Use caution, and experiment with a small patch of skin to be sure it’s enough protection.


If you do get a burn, you have a few options for soothing remedies. Aloe juice, whether from a bottle or from your houseplant, will be immediately soothing and just may stop a burn in its tracks. Burned skin loses moisture easily, so stay hydrated by drinking lots of water. A soothing home remedy can be made by mixing equal parts of apple cider vinegar with a strong tea made from mint, plantain, calendula flowers and lavender flowers. When cooled, spritz on sunburned skin and enjoy a little herbal relief. Moistened green tea bags on burned skin can also feel soothing, as can soaking in a cool oatmeal bath.


With the ever-growing threat of serious tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease and various mosquitoborne illnesses that come and go with the seasons — not to mention the pleasure-sapping swarms of black flies that can make early season outdoor adventures frustrating finding a good insect repellent may also be on your to-do list. Again, the EWG website can be of help in sorting through the options. You may want to make a simple repellent using essential oils like citronella, lemongrass, cajeput, clove, cedar, rosemary, eucalyptus, catnip, lavender or mint (you choose), using just a few drops mixed with distilled witch hazel and water in a small spritzer bottle. Or you can look for an all-natural alternative made with similar ingredients; there are plenty of good ones. You’ll find some excellent options at The Coop.


If you do get bitten, head into the backyard to find a plantain leaf; you won’t have to look far! Look for a low plant with a cluster of rounded, long, and pointed leaves joined together in a rosette. (Plantago major is a common and easy-to-identify local variety.) Chew a leaf without swallowing and press the green wad of chewed herb directly on your bite (it’s called a spit poultice). You won’t be disappointed! This is such a safe and easy way to sooth a bug bite, you’ll want to teach your kids to do the same. For information on the specific issues related to tick bites, check the International Lyme and Associated Diseases website at And since ticks often hop on bare ankles and head up, tucking your pants into your socks really does help when you’re out for a hike. Remember to check for ticks when you come back inside, using a hand mirror and a sharp pair of tweezers or a tick-remover tool. Ticks love to hide in warm, moist places, so be thorough!


Most importantly, go outdoors! Spending time in nature is in itself a healthy choice, reducing your chance of depression, boosting your vitamin D levels, and strengthening your body and spirit.


Sliding-Scale Herbal Consultations ($5 to $10)

Available at the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism in Montpelier with third-year clinical interns. Call 802.224.7100 to schedule an appointment, or read more at


Coop Sunscreens

As we enter the spring and summer, The Coop has a wide array of sunscreens. 


Badger‘s line of sunscreens are local, natural, and mineral based. They offer broad spectrum protection from UVA and UVB rays using the mineral zinc oxide.


· Badger Baby Broad Spectrum SPF 30 $13.39

· Badger Kids Broad Spectrum SPF 30 $13.39

· Badger Broad Spectrum Lavender SPF 30 $13.39

· Badger Anti-Bug Broad Spectrum SPF 34 $14.39

· Badger Damascus Rose Broad Spectrum Anti-Aging SPF 20 Face Sunscreen $21.99

Alba Botanica offers a number of mineralbased sunscreens. They are gluten free and biodegradable. The active ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.


· Alba Fragrance Free SPF 30 $9.99

· Alba Kids SPF 30 $9.99

· Alba Facial SPF 20 $9.99

All Good from Elemental Herbs has a broadspectrum unscented sunstick and lip balm. Both are mineral based.


· All Good Unscented SPF Sunstick $7.99

· All Good Unscented SPF Lip Balm $3.49