Ask The Herb Lady

With Cathy Burkemper

Natural Relief From Insects and Which is the best form of calcium?

Q: I spend a lot of time outdoors in my garden and I just keep getting bitten up by mosquitoes and chiggers. I don’t want to use insect repellant because I feel they are not good for you. I’ve tried some of the natural ones, but am not crazy about the smell of citronella. Any suggestions? Also, what can I do about the itching?

A: The insects have been particularly bad this year. I don’t care much for the smell of citronella either, however, it really does help repel the bugs. Look for a formula that contains other essential oils with the citronella such as, lemongrass, lavender, eucalyptus, catnip, sweet basil, patchouli and/or thyme. These all smell great and you won’t mind wearing the spray. In fact, a local company (Herbaria) makes a wonderful insect repellant.

As far as the itching, I always carry a peppermint stick with me. It looks a lot like a lip balm, but contains essential oil of peppermint (also great for headaches). The peppermint applied to the bite makes it feel cool and you don’t feel the itch. It also increases blood flow to the surface of the skin which helps to carry off the little bit of venom the insect has injected.

Intense itching from chiggers usually benefit from first showering with a lye based soap, then applying a salve or ointment that contains essential oils of camphor and menthol. This combination is very strong and will usually kill the chiggers.

Q: There are so many different varieties of calcium. How do I know which is the best?

A: You are so right. The choices are overwhelming. You always want to purchase one of the following types of calcium. I will put them in order of absorption rate.

  • Microcystalline Hydroxyapatite (MCHC). This is the best absorbed (90-95%) but also the most expensive. It is not as easy to find as some of the other types.
  • Citrate, Chelate and Aspartate – 70-85% absorption rate
  • Lactate – 20-35% absorption rate
  • Phosphate and Carbonate – 5-9% absorption rate. Carbonate is the most common form of calcium, however, due to its absorption rate; you do not want to take this. A good example would be, if you took 500 mg. of calcium carbonate, you would only actually be getting 25 mg. Therefore, you would need to take 40 tablets per day to get 1,000 mg. of calcium. This is why it is so important to take the proper form of calcium.

Also, you want to make sure that your calcium contains magnesium (a 2:1 ratio) and vitamin D. These minerals are necessary for your body to absorb the calcium.

Another thing to remember is that you need an acidic environment for your calcium to be properly digested. So please don’t rely on Tums with calcium because the antacid effects of the Tums will cancel out the calcium.

This herb information is for health education purposes only. It is not intended to replace the services of licensed health practitioners. Consult with a physician for any condition that requires professional care.

Do you have questions about herbs or vitamins? Send them to Cathy Burkemper, CNHP and Certified Herbalist. Write to: Herbs & More, 16021 Manchester Rd., Ellisville, MO 63011.