I’ve been reading Elizabeth David, the wonderful writer who brought Mediterranean food to England in the 1950s. (She’s responsible, in a way, for the wonderful food you can get in England now.) My favorite cookbooks are packed with history, whether the author’s own or social history. The essay I read this weekend reminded me, though, of one of the least savory aspects of parenting-—green or otherwise.
No modern parent ever forgets when they first heard the word lice. Elizabeth David quotes a 17th-century remedy for a ‘web in the eye’: “take two or three lice out of one’s head, and put them alive into the eye that is grieved.”
It’s hard to imagine, but people made love, raised families, wrote great works of literature, and explored the planet with lice in their hair. But for us, feeble modern parents, nits loom large as one of the worst trials of childhood. And the problem is even greater for those who want nontoxic solutions.
The good news is that chemical solutions don’t work all that well. Lice are insects, which reproduce at mindblowing speed and mutate in ways that leave biotechnologists panting in the dust. So you could do the full scale thing with the recommended, at least somewhat toxic shampoo from the drugstore and still find your kid scratching the next week (yes, as the nits left behind hatch–awful, isn’t it?).
You can Google a huge range of solutions to a lice infestation, many with nontoxic product guidelines. I was especially pleased to find a university site that reassured me, “Coconut and olive oils will kill lice.” Mechanical methods–combing, in particular–are essential, and this means getting down and dirty with the crawly things. Brace yourself. But there are solutions and eventually you’ll even stop flinching at the slightest scratching motion. I laid in a store of special wood chips and coconut shampoo once and my children never got lice again.) Try this excellent Fact Sheet.