Beat the Buggies with Natural Bug Spray and Balm
I've had a busy month of planting, volunteering, and working (and losing my phone with a TON of photos in it to an unfortunate horse accident); I apologize for my lack of posts. Now that we are about a week past the solstice and the start of summer, the biting bugs that were kept under control in the spring months are starting a population explosion!
I'm everyone's best mosquito deterrent - the skeeters love me so much they pretty much leave everyone else alone. Lucky me. So I need to have a solid defense for those biting buggies.
I really hate putting on bug sprays with DEET and other artificial chemicals. They have their place (deep woods mushroom hunting, summer evening trail rides with my horse, Valentine), but if I'm out working in the garden or enjoy time on my back deck, I would rather find a natural alternative.
Plantings can really help control the bugs in a localize area. I plant Citronella Mosquito Plant (Pelargonium citrosum) and culinary lemongrass in pots around my back deck. But when the sun starts to set, I need a spray.
I also make a bug spray for my horse. Horse flies are bad and can cause bites that get infected. I use chemical sprays on him when things get really bad, but for his face, ears, and "junk" - or anywhere there is no hair over his skin, I use my homemade spray.
For my horse's ears and my feet (I have no idea why mosquitoes love my feet so much) I make a natural cream with beeswax and skin-improving oils.
To make additional batches of the human spray, the horse spray, and the cream easier, I mix up a blend of essential oils and keep it in a separate dropper bottle. I'm going to provide you with the recipe for the undiluted blend below, as well as separate recipes for a 2-cup spray bottle, and 1 cup of the cream below. With a horse and lots of outdoor activities I go through a LOT of this stuff, but you might not need quite so much.
When you are buying essential oils, look for organic and high quality. Make sure they are not already diluted with another carrier oil (sometimes the more expensive oils come pre-diluted, and you might be tempted by the price). Also oils have an expiration date, so I would recommend just getting what you will use within a year - just like your spice rack.
You will notice that I do not use any citrus oils in this blend. Although citrus can be an effective deterrent, it reacts negatively with sunlight, causing burns or itchy skin reactions. Finally, make sure you are getting LEMON EUCALYPTUS. This is a different plant from regular eucalyptus, and there are some essential oils on the market that are BLENDS of Lemon essential oil and Eucalyptus essential oil. You don't want the lemon oil for the reasons above. And you want the lemon eucalyptus, because it can be just as effective as DEET. See this blog about the CDC recommendation and this article about the efficacy and risks of plant-based insect repellents.
The following essential oils target specific bugs:
Mosquitoes – citronella, lemon eucalyptus, peppermint, eucalyptus, catnip, basil, clove, thyme, lemongrass, geranium, lavender
Flies - cedarwood, myrrh, sandalwood, tea-tree
Fleas – cedar wood, citronella, eucalyptus, tea tree oil, lemongrass, lavender, pine, sandalwood, myrrh
Ticks – rose geranium, lemon eucalyptus, basil, clove, juniper, rosewood, thyme, oregano, sandalwood
Below is my recipe for an essential oil blend that keeps away mosquitoes, flies, fleas, and ticks. Feel free to add or substitute any of the other above oils that I don't use.
My Whole Hog's Bug-B-Gone Essential Oil Blend (makes 10ml, 15ml, or 20ml bottle)
(Do not use directly on your skin - always dilute in a carrier oil)
Store in a dark-colored appropriate sized bottle away from heat and light. Add this blend to the recipes below.
Once you have the blend mixed above, you can use it in a spray or lotion form with the recipes below. I like to use all organic ingredients for the spray and the cream, if I can find them. Just make sure the additive oils are food or cosmetic grade. Many of these products are also used in other applications that are not safe for your skin.
Spray for Humans and Horses with My Whole Hog's Bug-B-Gone Essential Oil Blend
(makes 16oz - will fit into a large spray bottle)
10 ml bottle of Bug-B-Gone blend
2 TBS food-grade Vegetable Glycerin
1 TBS vanilla extract
1 TBS cosmetic-grade Neem Oil for humans, 2-3 TBS for horses (If you really hate the smell of neem, you can use another carrier oil like jojoba or castor, but neem is a great natural repellent and pesticide.)
1/2 cup witch hazel
Add the witch hazel, neem oil, vanilla extract, and vegetable glycerin to a clean spray bottle.
Add the essential oil blend (10ml, or about 200 drops).
Fill the bottle with distilled water to the fill line (about 1 1/2 cups).
Gently shake before spraying, and shake a few times during application. The oils will separate.
The consistency of this lotion is a little more solid - similar to a lip balm or deodorant. This consistency is great to apply to hands and feet, and is nice to apply to the inside of horse's ears, lower legs, and lightly to the face. If you want it to be more liquid, add less beeswax and more of the coconut oil, shea butter, or jojoba/castor oils.
Cream for Humans & Horses with My Whole Hog's Bug-B-Gone Essential Oil Blend
(makes 8oz - will fit into 2 1/2 cup canning jars or specialty tins - I don't like to use glass around the barn)
1/2 10 ml bottle of Bug-B-Gone blend
1/2 cup granulated or shredded beeswax
2 TBS coconut oil
2 TBS shea butter
2 TBS cosmetic-grade jojoba or castor oil
1 TBS cosmetic-grad neem oil (you might want to only add 1/2 TBS if using for humans)
1 TBS food-grade vegetable glycerin
Melt the granulated beeswax in a double boiler over medium heat. This can take about 15 min, so be patient as it slowly melts. Make sure the beeswax is completely melted before you add any of the other oils, or the cream will be grainy.
Add in the coconut oil, shea butter, jojoba/castor oil, neem oil, and glycerin. Allow to melt and combine with beeswax.
Remove from heat and let rest until just warm, but not solidified (about 10 minutes). Add the essential oil blend.
Pour into containers and let cool.
These homemade products really help us get through the buggy summers, plus they smell fantastic! They keep Valentine less bothered by the bugs, and helps him focus during competition. Here is a pic of Valentine and I winning some ribbons - we are both wearing the spray and the cream to keep us fly-free.