Herbal Tick Bite Support
“With the right knowledge you can create a plan for if and when you find a tick whether embedded or not. Fortunately, the earth provides much of the antidotes we need to stay healthy. Stay informed and keep a tick support kit on hand with tweezers, alcohol, bug spray, and herbs suggested in this article.”
photo of echinacea by Cara Bostrom in our gardens in Ashfield, MA
Spring is full of new growth, returning plants, blossoms, ephemeral flowers, and warmer weather. It also means the ticks are back in action. They have various life cycles and come in waves depending on the outdoors temperature and their reproduction phases. It is wise to be cautious any time the temperature rises above freezing.
Tick bite prevention starts by wearing pants tucked into socks and using a non-toxic bug spray with cedarwood and rose geranium essential oils to deter them from your body. Ticks only travel upward, so if your pants and undershirt are tucked in there is less of a chance for them to crawl inside. Immediately upon returning from a walk in the woods or fields, remove your clothes and place them in a bag or the washer. Take a shower and inspect your entire body for ticks.
If you have a dog or cat, brush them frequently to remove ticks and explore herbal non toxic repellents that are safe for pets.
If a tick is found but has not latched, burn it. Do not flush it down the toilet or throw it back outside because they can continue to live in extreme conditions. Hold a match or lighter to the body for a few seconds and then dispose of it down the drain or outside.
If a tick is latched, remove it carefully to be sure the head is fully out of your skin. Tweezers with fine tips are helpful especially if it is a nymph or deer tick which are really tiny. Save the tick in a jar or plastic bag even if it appears dead because it can be sent to a lab for testing. Do not tape it to paper. Do not use vaseline or other methods to remove the tick. The goal is to remove the entire tick including its head as soon as possible.
Lyme and co-infections can be transmitted from the tick to its host within 24 hours. Though it is rare, bacteria can be transmitted within 1-4 hours, especially if the tick has had a meal from its host.
Next, clean the site of the bite with alcohol or andrographis tincture. Andrographis has been used for bacterial infections, particularly tick related, both internally and externally, but always use it with the guidance of an herbalist or medical professional because there have been some cases of rashes for people.
Watch the bite for the next week for any rash. It may be itchy which is common, but does not necessarily mean you have an infection. Try not to scratch the bite and use more alcohol or andrographis tincture to cool the itch.
The next step is to make your body a non-desirable place for an infection, which means strengthening the immune system, sweating to remove toxins, drinking lots of water and lymphatic/diaphoretic herbal teas and decreasing inflammatory foods such as sugar, alcohol and dairy.
Herbal allies for post tick bites are adaptogens, immune modulators, diaphoretics, and lymphatics.
Stephen Harod Buhner, an herbal Lyme specialist and author of Healing Lyme suggests internal use of either tinctured or powdered astragalus as long as the person is not actively fighting a tick borne illness from a previous tick bite, otherwise it can have adverse effects. Astragalus is not recommended if the person has an acute or chronic tick borne illness, so it is only recommended as a preventative.
My Tick Kit has a bottle of Lyme Prevention, Tick & Bug Repellent, and a Healing Salve.
Other immune supportive herbs that could be added into an herbal routine as tea or tincture for the next few weeks after getting a tick bite are: reishi mushroom, tulsi leaf and flower, ashwagandha root, echinacea leaf, flower and root, and eleuthero root. However, if you show signs of fever or other symptoms related to contracting a tick borne illness, turn to antibacterial herbs rather than immune modulating herbs.
Antibacterial herbs such as Japanese knotweed root, Japanese barberry root, teasel root, andrographis bark, cat's claw bark, and baikal skullcap root may also be taken when there is a risk of infection for up to 3 weeks. After taking antibacterial herbs, give your body a rest for a couple of weeks to prevent disrupting your beneficial digestive bacteria. Most antibacterial herbs are cooling, so be sure to take a warming herb with them such as cinnamon bark, ginger root, thyme, oregano or licorice root.
“Sweat it out, get it out” is another approach immediately after a tick bite. Herbal lymphatics and diaphoretics such as mint, elderflower, nettles, yarrow, boneset, feverfew, red clover, calendula, and cleavers as a strong hot tea or tincture in hot water have been historically used to “open up the exterior” and move out unwanted bacteria through sweating and raising the body temperature. Note how these are flowering tops of the plants, which have an “up and out” energy.
Herbal formulas made by a trusted herbalist are advised because they can make a balanced formula with each herb in adequate amounts. If a fever or rash shows up within a couple weeks of a tick bite, immediately contact a doctor or herbalist. Lyme and coinfections are serious illnesses that when left untreated can cause chronic issues. While herbs are powerful, antibiotics can have their time and place when used appropriately to prevent long term illness.
I make both a Lyme Prevention and a Lyme Support Formula. The prevention is for taking throughout the tick season to boost the immune system and kill spirochetes if you do get bit. The support blend is for those who have acute or chronic Lyme / co-infections. Do not take the prevention formula if you have Lyme because it has astragalus root, which is not recommended if you are infected currently. Ask me questions if you need more clarity.
With the right knowledge you can create a plan for if and when you find a tick whether embedded or not. Fortunately, the earth provides much of the antidotes we need to stay healthy. Stay informed and keep a tick support kit on hand with tweezers, alcohol, bug spray, and herbs suggested in this article.
For more information about herbal allies for Lyme and co-infections check out the book by Stephen Harrod Buhner, “Healing Lyme.” Always save a latched tick and mail it to the UMass Lab https://www.tickreport.com/ for testing because depending on what the tick is carrying, you can create a treatment plan. If the tick tests negative then you will have peace of mind.