Thus far on Eastern Shore Gardener I have recommended plants, but today I am posting my first product endorsement. After an evening of working in the Victory Farm Community Garden, I discovered I had once again been attacked by one of the Eastern Shore’s most frustrating pests: Chiggers. That evening I had a new row of welts around the top of each of my socks, plus bites in a few other choice locations. As every gardener who has been bitten knows, I was facing weeks of itchy bites that never seem to go away.
The next morning I walked into one of Chestertown’s local community pharmacies, Stam Drugs, to pick up a prescription. Almost just to make conversation, I asked what they had for chigger bites. You see, I thought I had already tried everything and the chain drugstores seem to all carry the same, uneffective products. The woman behind the counter pointed to a nearby shelf, and recommended a product called Chigg Away. For the vast sum of $6.99, I decided it was worth a try. (I also bought a new container of Afterbite, an ammonia-based product, that until now was the best treatment I had found to date.)
When I got home, I applied Chigg Away to all my welts, and the itching simply stopped. Really, it just stopped. None of the other products I have ever tried have been anywhere near as effective. Although I applied it once more the following morning when I felt a bit of reoccurring tingling, a single application was actually all I really needed.
Advertised as “The Soldier’s Choice,” Chigg Away is recommended for “Relieving itching and discomfort due to nonpoisonous insect bites such as chiggers (redbugs), mosquitoes, ticks and fleas, no-se-ums, biting flies, fire ants, bees and wasps, swimmers itch. As a gardener, I have experience with all but the last.
The active ingredient in Chigg Away is Benzocaine 5%. Web MD lists some infrequent and rare side effects. Anyone with sensitive skin would be wise to test it on a small patch of skin before applying it over a large area. (I was too itchy, and too desperate, to be this cautious.) I have not experienced any side effects and remain blissfully itch-free.
There are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of chigger bites, such as avoiding infested areas. A local surveyor reports blackberry and raspberry thickets are almost always hotbeds of chigger activity, and websites I looked at confirmed this. Chigger-bite prevention sites also recommend keeping all plants closely cropped to prevent chiggers. This just doesn’t work in my garden, because, of course, I want to have the garden.
Applying insect repellant containing DEET and wearing tightly woven clothing are two more lines of defense. In my experience, though, I simply do not remain consistently cautious. Eventually, I find myself wading into the garden to pull a weed or get a better look at an insect—of course wearing shorts and without the requisite coating of bug repellant. Plus, who wants to garden in July or August wearing long pants and long sleeves made of tightly woven clothing?
Since chiggers often wander around in clothes and on your body for some time before deciding to bite and feed, it does help to take a hot, soapy shower as soon as you come in from the garden to remove them. Also run any clothing that may harbor chiggers through the washing machine before wearing it again, since they can hide out in clothing and attack later. See chiggers, for more information on their life cycle. Contrary to popular belief, they do not burrow in under the skin or suck blood.
The bottle says Chigg Away also repels chiggers, but I have not tested this feature. If any brave readers would like to experiment with its repellant capabilities, I would love to hear from them!
Repellant or not, I will never again be without a bottle of Chigg Away in my medicine cabinet. I am making this post because I thought other gardeners may want to add it to theirs as well. I will also state here that I am not receiving any sort of payments or kickbacks from the manufacturer of the product, and I actually have not even been in touch with anyone from the company that makes it.