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DIY Insect Repellent

By Catherine Winter

Here in Quebec, we really only have two seasons: winter, and mosquito. Black Fly may be considered a transitional period, usually from mid May to late June, but as I live in the forest, mosquito season lasts from …oh, as soon as the snow melts, to once it begins to fall once again.
Since we try to avoid harmful chemicals like DEET, we generally whip up batches of our own insect repellents in the hope of being slightly less of a smorgasbord for the blood-sucking jerks.

DIY repellents such as these listed below can be quite effective alternatives to their more toxic counterparts, but you have to be diligent when applying them, as they tend not to last as long as store-bought offerings.

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Essential oils (EO) are key to keeping biting insects away, and the EO that have proven most effective are:

  • Eucalyptus
  • Tea Tree
  • Lemon
  • Lemongrass
  • Citronella
  • Lemon Eucalyptus
  • Lavender
  • Rosemary
  • Clove
  • Geranium
  • Peppermint

So far, tea tree oil seems to work really well against ticks, chiggers, and deer flies, while citronella, lemon, and eucalyptus are ideal for fending off mosquitos and black flies. Some studies claim that geranium combined with peppermint is also a great combination to keep mosquitoes away.
It’s advised that you don’t use full-strength EO directly on your skin, but rather mix them with with a carrier of some sort before applying them.
The exception to undiluted application is if you daub a few drops of oil to outer clothing, like socks, jackets wrists, hat brims, etc. Basically, in places where the oil isn’t going to come into direct contact with your skin.

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Salve

This salve is great for slathering between your toes and around your ankles if you’re in tick territory. I also rub it around my wrists before putting on gardening gloves, as well as around my hairline and behind my ears when I wear a sun hat.
It’s proven to be remarkably effective at keeping black flies away, and although mosquitoes may still land on me, they don’t bite or stick around long.

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons beeswax or carnauba wax pellets

Heat the olive oil in a double burner, heavy (small) saucepan, microwave container… whatever you can heat it up in without burning it. Don’t let it boil: just warm it thoroughly.
Remove from heat, and add in the wax pellets, stirring constantly with a whisk to make sure they’re all melty.
Add 20 drops each of peppermint and lemon eucalyptus essential oils, then pour the mixture into a small jar or tin and allow to cool.
Apply before going outside.

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Spray

I like this spray for larger skin areas (like my back, calves, and shoulders) when I go hiking, or if I’m walking into town. The 2km walk from my house to the main road is flanked by forest on either side, so it’s a bit like running a mosquito gauntlet unless I smell unappetizing to them.

  • Water
  • Witch hazel
  • Vegetable glycerin
  • Lemon, citronella, tea tree, rosemary, lemon eucalyptus, peppermint, or regular eucalyptus essential oil

Create a 20:80 mix of water:witch hazel in an 8oz or 10oz spray bottle. Then add a teaspoon of glycerin, and 30 drops of essential oil.
Spray yourself with this mixture before heading outside, and re-apply when the scent begins to fade.
Note: If you have a negative skin reaction, or if you really don’t like the smell, discontinue use.

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Lotion

You don’t want to get this stuff in your eyes, but it’s a heavy-duty option if you’re going to be working outside for a while and you really don’t want to get bitten. Not only does it smell quite strong, but you’ll taste disgusting to any insect that dares land on you.

  • 1/3 cup unscented liquid castile soap like Dr Bronner’s.
  • 30 drops essential oil of your choice. If you’ve chosen to use a scented Dr. Bronner’s soap (like mint or eucalyptus, etc.) choose the same or complementary EO scent.Before you go out into the woods, or do any gardening outside, apply this liberally to your any exposed skin. Once you’re finished outside, hop into the shower and wash it all off. Bonus point: you’ll be pre-soaped.This lotion is better for adults and teenagers, since we’re slightly less likely to get a mouthful of soap after licking drippy ice cream or whatnot off our skin.
    …slightly.

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A Final Note

The usual caveats stand: people (and animals) react different ways to different essential oils, so do a bit of research first to determine which are safe for you and your kids/pets/etc. Some children react badly to clove or lemon oil on their skin, tea tree can be harmful if licked off by cats and dogs, and if you’re allergic to conifers like pine or spruce trees, you might react to rosemary as well.

Do small skin patch tests before hosing yourself down with any of this stuff, and if you have any hesitations about using any of this, speak to an herbalist, aromatherapist, or naturopath first. Or, stick with commercial insect repellents that you already know and trust.

Be safe, be healthy, and enjoy your time outside!

Herbal Chest Salve for Flu Season

By Catherine Winter

I can’t believe it’s the end of November already. So much has happened over the last few weeks that I was shocked to wake up this morning and discover that there’s only a week left before December rolls on in. Winter will arrive in full swing shortly thereafter, and with it will undoubtedly come the colds and flus that inevitably show up as soon as temperatures plummet.

Since I tend to eschew store-bought medicines in favour of those I make myself, I put together a few pots of this chest salve every year. Normally half a dozen people I care about will come down with bronchitis or a nasty head cold, and this rub does wonders to help people breathe. It also does wonders for asthma attacks, and I’ve even been known to massage it into my temples and forehead to ease migraines.

When it comes to making homemade salves, it’s important to use the highest quality ingredients you can afford. Much like how food nourishes your body, medicines that are meant to heal you on a cellular level should be as nurturing as possible.

eucalyptusoil

Chest Salve for Coughs, Colds, and Flus

I base my salve on a recipe in one of Rosemary Gladstar’s books, but have tweaked it as I’ve determined what works best for me. You may wish to make a few versions of it with different essential oil (EO) proportions, and see which you like best. These oils in particular have wonderful decongestant and antiviral properties, and also help you smell pretty fabulous when you’re feeling sickly and gross.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 heaping tablespoon beeswax pellets (you can use carnauba wax if you’d like to make yours vegan)
  • 12-15 drops eucalyptus EO
  • 10-12 drops pine EO
  • 8-10 drops camphor EO (use fewer drops if making this for children)
  • 5-7 drops peppermint EO
  • 5 drops rosemary EO
  • 2 drops wintergreen EO*(if this is for kids, eliminate wintergreen and increase peppermint – see the note at the end of this article)
  • A small, clean jar to pour it into (I use the 50ml amber glass jars from Mountain Rose Herbs for my salves, but mini jam jars can also be used in a pinch

salves

Preparation:

Heat your olive oil on very low heat in a small glass, ceramic, or enameled saucepan. You can also use a double-boiler method for this, as long as you’re careful not to let any water get into the oil mixture.

Once the oil has warmed, add in the beeswax pellets and use a small whisk or spoon to stir them around thoroughly. When they’re just about melted completely, remove the saucepan from the heat and keep stirring to ensure a homogeneous mixture.

Let this cool for just a minute or two before adding in the essential oils. Stir constantly as you mix them so they’re distributed evenly, then pour the mixture into your jar. You may need a spatula to scrape down the inside of the pot if it has cooled enough that the salve has started to congeal around the edges.

Close the jar’s lid and either set aside in a cool place to set, or place it right in the fridge. It’ll firm up a fair bit once cooled, but still be fluid enough that it will spread easily if you dip a finger into it. Take note of the texture: if you find it too squidgy, add more wax to your next batch, or add less wax if you find it a bit too firm.

Keeping it refrigerated doesn’t just extend its shelf life: it’s incredibly soothing to slather on a cool balm when you have a sore throat or if you’re sore and feverish. This salve works wonders to ease coughs and breathing difficulties when rubbed into one’s chest and upper back, and it’s great on the outer nostrils and across the forehead for sinus colds.

making_salve

*Note:  wintergreen oil is very powerful, and can be toxic in even moderate doses: if you choose to use this oil in your salve, be very sparing with it, and use it with care. Don’t add this oil to the salve if you’re planning to use it on childreneither omit it entirely, or use a couple of extra drops of peppermint or even a bit of lavender instead.

 

Photos by the author, and Flickr creative commons.