Critter Control: Natural Bug Repellent Remedies Using Herbs & Essential Oils
I love the great outdoors and the wonderful things it offers including the promise of all things fun: camping, gardening, picnics in the park! Yet every year on the first outdoor adventure I am reminded of those pesky critters buzzing around my head, their persistent presence is enough to drive one crazy!
I don’t know about you, but mosquitoes particularly like my warm sweet blood, leaving itchy, painful and swollen bites. We all hate nasty bug bites, yet as much as I hate them, I am still reluctant to put chemical bug repellents on my skin. Fortunately, there are natural alternatives to help repel and keep bugs at bay while causing little harm to your overall health to you and your loved ones.
Why Natural Bug Repellent?
- Most bug sprays on the market use Deet as the primary ingredient, it works but has some scary health risks that come with it. These include inhibiting the nervous system and compromising the immune system.
- Deet is not recommended for daily use for children under 12 and should not be used on children under 6 months of age.
- You can safely reapply natural repellents throughout the day and are safe for kids and pets.
- They won’t harm your clothing or irritate your skin.
- They smell good.
- They work.
How Do Natural Repellents Work?
I remember first discovering the wonderful scents of herbs at my teacher's garden. We would pick the herbs and crush them in our hands and the aromatherapeutic values would capture all my senses. It was on one of these herb walks where we came across Tansy herb. These bright yellow native plants when crushed smelled similar to camphor and I discovered they had bug repelling qualities.
Plants have natural defenses to protect themselves from harmful invaders like fungus, bacteria, and insects. These naturally occurring oils contained in the leaves, stems, bark, wood, and flowers of some plants help to keep the plants healthy, and are the essential oils of the plant!
When used safely and applied properly, herbs and essential oils can repel insects just as effectively as any commercial insect repellent.” reference.
Proven Natural Repellents
Soybean Oil: is considered a natural insecticide with approval from Health Canada. Its effects last up to 2 hours and are effective on mosquitoes, balckflies and ticks.
Citronella Essential Oil: The most well known of the natural repellents. Citronella used to be registered on Health Canada’s list of repellents but got pulled due to it being a skin irritant. It's still on the list of approved repellents by the FDA and is considered effective against mosquitoes lasting from 30 minutes – 2 hours.
*As a note the skin irritant in citronella is known as citrol and is found in most citrus fruits. It is not recommended to use essential oils directly on the skin and concentration and formulation need to be considered.
Lemon Eucalyptus: is a registered insecticide with Health Canada and at 10% offers up to 2 hours of protection. It is considered helpful for mosquitoes and ticks.
Neem: studies have shown a wide range of efficacy from 61-94% on mosquitoes. As a gardener I also love using neem in a spray bottle for my plants. They are known to kill the larvae of pests in the garden.
Other Herbs and Essential Oils
In the herbal plant medicine world and Aromatherapy worldview, there are many other herbs and essential oils considered to be natural insect repellents.
Below are a few of my favourite plants growing in the wild or easily grown in our garden that you can pick and have in your pocket on walks or hikes in the woods, or infused in an oil or distillate.
The essential oils below are those recommended by my mentor and our aromatherapist Bonita Barth from The Aromatherapist for various forms of pest control.
Native, naturalized and herbs readily found in the garden: (* note these are for external use only and in distillate or infused oil.)
Lavender: natural bug repellent (mosquitoes) soothing and calming, good for after bites.
Pennyroyal: part of the mint family also known as mosquito plant, natural bug repellent not recommended for internal use.
Tansy: use on mosquitoes, great for swellings.
Geranium: geraniol is the active ingredient in geranium oil and has been proven effective in repelling insects including mosquitoes, flies and ticks.
Peppermint: soothing skin irritation, used for mosquitoes and as a natural insecticide.
Citronella: useful for an array for insects including mosquitoes, blackfiles, ticks and gnats. Rose Geranium - beautiful as a perfume, helpful for gnats, ticks and mosquitoes.
Lemongrass: for bees, wasps, mosquitoes and flies.
Lemon Eucalyptus: ticks and mosquitoes, Health Canada approved.
Lavender: soothing and calming, mosquitoes and ticks.
Cedarwood: creates a longer lasting repellent, ticks & fleas.
Reasons to Use Deet and other Chemical Insecticides
Given the rise of new and dangerous diseases that are carried and spread by mosquitoes and ticks which include West Nile, Zika and Lyme disease make using your own judgment and risk assessment on when it's important to use chemicals instead of natural repellents.
Things to consider are if you are traveling to high risk areas, what are the predominant bugs of concern in those locations, and are you pregnant?
Recently, the Environmental Working Group updated its Guide to Bug Repellents to help people choose the right product for each situation.
Lastly, consider these other preventative measures
- Stay clear of shady wooded areas and tall grass: These areas are the ideal habitat for ticks and mosquitoes.
- Wear protective clothing: Wear long sleeve shirts, pants and light coloured clothing. In densely populated areas wear a bug net.
- Make it a habit: Apply our products throughout the day and reapply every two hours to be effective. Spray clothing and hats, and don’t forget your shoes too!
- For babies and children: Dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs. Cover strollers and baby carriers with mosquito netting and spray our Eucalyptus Summer Spray on strollers and netting.
- Don’t forget about our furry friends: Our products are pet friendly and can be applied on them throughout the day!