Q. A camper recently asked how to avoid insect bites. My family faced this problem when I was young, living in the hills of Arkansas. When we went out to gather berries, our first stop was a spot that had a lot of pennyroyal herbs. We pulled up a couple of plants, scrubbed them against our trouser legs and were never bothered by ticks, chiggers or other insects.I have no idea where anyone would find pennyroyal herbs now, but I think "oil of pennyroyal" might be available in health-food stores.
A. Pennyroyal oil has been used for centuries as an insect repellent. When used directly on the skin, though, it may cause a rash. Your trick of rubbing the plant on your clothes was probably a good way to get the benefits without the risks. Pennyroyal oil should not be taken orally since it can be toxic to the liver.
Q. My daughter has arthritis and fibromyalgia. She used to take Vioxx, but now her doctors have prescribed Celebrex and prednisone. I am worried that these medications might not be safe for long-term use. Are there any alternatives to help ease her pain and stiffness?
A. The manufacturer of Celebrex just added a prominent warning to the label about a possible link with cardiovascular complications such as heart attacks. Doctors are advised to prescribe the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time.Other arthritis medicines, including OTC ibuprofen (Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve), will carry warnings about stomach ulcers and heart risks. This leaves people like your daughter in a bind. Prednisone has its own risks, including high blood pressure, osteoporosis and ulcers.
Supplements such as fish oil, boswellia, ginger, glucosamine, SAMe and turmeric can ease arthritis pain for some people. Others get relief from home remedies such as grape juice and plant pectin. We discuss these approaches in our Guide to Alternatives for Arthritis. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (60 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. AA-2, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.
Q. I would like to give you my family cure for hemorrhoids. Take a rutabaga, peel it, boil it and then drain it well to make a poultice in gauze. Put it on the hemorrhoids while it is still warm.
Do this at night, and they will be gone by morning. If they are not, do a second application the next night.
A. Rutabaga is a root vegetable related to turnip. It has long been cooked, mashed and used in poultices, but this is the first time we've heard of using such a poultice on hemorrhoids.
Hemorrhoids are swollen blood vessels, much like varicose veins. If a blood clot forms in one, it can become very sore. Warm baths can help the clot resolve and ease the discomfort.
XIn their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, N.Y. 10019, or e-mail them at email@example.com or via their Web site: www.peoplespharmacy.org.
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