Happily, there are lots of natural repellents in the form of essential, or volitile, oils derived from many aromatic botanicals. Essential oils are used in very small amounts when mixed with neutral carrier oils such as sweet almond or grapeseed oils. Other repellent oils, such as Neem and Karanja, are cold pressed oils that can be used directly as insecticides and/or repellents when mixed in a formula, such as a lotion or salve.
Essential oils such as lemon eucalyptus, eucalyptus globulus, lemongrass, lavender, pennyroyal (do NOT use if pregnant), citronella, mints, thyme, sage, and rosemary are all useful repellents, and these can be used in dried herb sachets tied to ankles and wrists (perhaps spiked with a few essential oils). My prefernce, however, is to use the pure and very potent essential oils (try just a few drops at a time) in water-based spray solutions, oils, and/or balms. Such preparations utilizing repellent essential oils need to be re-applied more frequently than chemical deterants (such as Deet), but I would much rather surround myself with a cloud of essential oil-scented solution every hour or two than apply a chemical that poses health risks, especially when it comes to children. (It’s pretty incredible to me, actually, that something with potentially harmful neurological effects would appear in bug sprays made specifically for children!) For infants, try to stick to a solution with extra gentle essential oils such as lavender, perhaps with a tiny bit of spearmint or rosemary.
Try the recipe below for your own insect repellent oil spray. This will last for a long time, as water based formulas are always more susceptible to problems than oils. Vitamin E and Rosemary Oil extract are anti-oxidants that help protect the oil against rancidity.
DIY (oil based) Insect Repellent Spray
1. measure 30 drops of any of the above e.o.s
2. add to 2 oz. carrier oil, such as olive, grapeseed, or sweet almond
3. add a few drops Rosemary Oil Extract or vit E (optional)
4. Store in 2 oz. spritzer bottle
Neem (Azadirachta indica) is an Ayurvedic herb well known for its insecticidal effects, mostly by targeting the reproductive system of pesky wee critters. Unlike the volitile essential oils used in the herbs above, neem oil is a coldpressed oil derived from the pressed kernals of the neem fruit. Snowdrift farm features insecticidal recipes for a salve, lotion, and massage oil using Neem & Karanja oils for treating mange and mites in pets.
There’s a fascinating folk remedy called “vinegar of the four thieves” that I’ve recently come across. It is tied to a story about perfumers during the Black Plague who utilzed the antiseptic properties of several herbs to create a protective infused vinegar. Using wormwood, lavender, rosemary, mint, and sage, one can create an infusion that can then be sprayed on cutting boards, diaper pails, or anywhere else that some anti-septic, and insect repellent action is necessary. It can also be applied to clothing and exposed skin, it is supposed to be effective against chiggers, ticks, and fleas.
DIY Infused Vinegar:
1. Measure 1 oz of dried herbs, including lavender, wormwood (or rue), sage, rosemary, and mint
2. Put herbs in a mason jar and cover with cider vinegar
3. Steep 1-6 weeks in a cool, dark place
4. Strain into a spritzer bottle and use liberally wherever an anti-septic or insect repellent is needed.
(This will keep indefinately, as vinegar is a natural preservative)
Herbs of wormwood and garlic also have insecticidal properties, and these herbs can be used even as protection for house or garden plants. The spray below is easy to make and the materials are cheap, though I’ve never tried it. You can try subsituting beeswax for the paraffin and see how that works (and let me know how it goes!).
DIY Houseplant insecticide using Garlic:
1. chop 90g raw garlic
2. soak in 2 Tbsp paraffin oil for 24 hrs
3. slowly add 600ml water with 7g soap dissolved in it.
4. Stir well and strain through cheesecloth or muslin.
5. Store it in a glass container (do not use a metal).
Have some home remedies or recipes? Let me know about them so I can share them with my readers!
FYI: My own Lilith’s Apothecary “Shoo Bug!” Insect Repellent and cooling peppermint Bug Bite Soother can be found in my etsy shop!