mosquito repellent, insect repellent, insect repellant, bug spray, DIY bug spray, DIY bug repellent, DIY insect salve, DIY bug repellent lotion

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!

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Change is Good.

By Catherine Winter

I love to grow vegetables. Anyone who knows me is well aware of the fact that I pore through seed catalogues every winter, getting all giddy about the different varieties I’ll be able to plant once spring rolls around. Eventually. The snow doesn’t melt completely here until the end of April/early May, so by the time the last frost passes, I’m more than champing at the bit to get my seeds into the ground: I’m pretty much frothing.

The thing is, growing veg on my land is really, really difficult to do.

My home is perched on the side of a mountain, and the only flat, sunny spots on it are the septic field (upon which I can’t grow any food), and the paved driveway. There are a few flat-ish bits here and there which I have taken advantage of, but they have their challenges as well. The 40-foot trees all around my land cast a lot of shade around, the soil is clay and sand atop solid Canadian shield rock, and the unevenness of the ground itself means that raised beds are pretty much out of the question.

Then there’s the weather to contend with. A freak heat wave last May caused all my brassicas to bolt, and a hailstorm in July killed my tender greens, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Literally all that survived last year were potatoes, sorrel, and the peas I had climbing up the shaded north wall.
This will be my sixth summer living on this property, and I can honestly say that the yields I’ve had from my vegetable-growing efforts have been paltry at best.

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Changing Direction

Since I’ve had so little luck growing vegetables, I’m moving in another direction this season. Remember that article we posted last year about working with your land, rather than against it? Well, it may have taken me this long to really learn that lesson myself, but yes. Yes, I’ve finally learned what I needed to and will be taking advantage of what I do have available to me, instead of trying to force plants on an area they’re ill suited to.

Related: Work With Your Land, Not Against It

This is kind of huge for me, since I’m just a raging perfectionist and am normally the type to keep fighting onwards solely for the sake of not giving up. Maybe I’m mellowing in my middling years or something, but I’m recognising that there are many different ways to approach an issue, and compromise is a gentler and sweet technique that my younger self would have benefitted from immensely.

Two summers ago, I let most of my land go fallow just to see what would grow there. I put the mower and snappywhippy thing away, and just let everything go wild.
You know what happened?
Amazing things.

I discovered that several dozen medicinal herb and flower species grow wild on my property. St. John’s wort, heal-all, mullein, coltsfoot, evening primrose, jewelweed, yarrow, shepherd’s purse, comfrey, echinacea, wintergreen, bee balm… I could go on, but you get the idea.
Having dreamt of studying herbal medicine for years, I saw this bounty as a sign that it was officially time to pursue that interest, which I have been doing so (with the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine) whenever I have a spare moment. It also made me realise that I could add to this treasure trove instead of fighting to grow things that didn’t want to be there, much like forcing an artistically gifted child to pursue a career in accounting.
Bad fit, no-one’s happy.

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Herbs and Flowers

As such, nearly all of my attentions will be put towards growing medicinal herbs, and native pollinator flowers rather than veg. I still have my little culinary herb garden just outside the kitchen door, and I’ll still grow climbing peas up the side of the house because they grow so very well there, but that’s pretty much it.

Since so many medicinal plants already grow here, the ones I’ll be planting and tending are:

  • Black Cohosh
  • Chamomile
  • Marshmallow
  • Horehound
  • Elecampane
  • Calendula
  • Lemon Balm
  • Cleavers
  • Motherwort
  • Anise Hyssop
  • Cayenne
  • Mint (in a pot, else it takes over everywhere)

Related: 7 Healing Herbs to Grow in Your Garden

As for flowers, some of the native species I’ve scattered have medicinal properties as well, whilst others are just great for attracting beneficial pollinators. I have asters and lupines growing pretty much everywhere, but this year I’ll be scattering the following:

  • Bachelor Buttons
  • Coreopsis
  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • Cosmos
  • Scarlet Flax
  • Field Poppies
  • Milkweed
  • Columbines

I’ll be tossing around a few non-native species as well, just because I love them so. Hollyhocks and foxgloves will look gorgeous around the perimeter, and I rather like nasturtiums and pansies in window boxes and planters.

Herbal-Medicine

The Bottom Line:

Why am I blathering about all of this?

Quite frankly, to reassure those of you who are struggling with your growing endeavours that even seasoned gardening veterans get frustrated and need to shift direction now and then.
I’ve been growing vegetables and herbs in my own garden spaces for 30 years now, with varying degrees of success. I’ve had yields so bountiful that I foisted massive baskets of produce on friends, neighbours, even the postal workers, because I had more than I knew what to do with… and I have had epic failures that would have left me starving to death if there weren’t a grocery store nearby.

The point is, we work with what we have, and flow with the current as best we can.
We do what we’re capable of, especially when those capabilities shift over time. I mean, we’re all in a constant state of growth and flux, and our priorities can change from one day to the next. Family responsibilities may cut down on gardening time, health challenges can limit mobility, and hell: we just might change our minds about what’s important to us over the next few months while we reevaluate what we want to do with our lives.
And that’s absolutely okay. All of it.
You’re good.

Considering how much I love flowers, I have a sneaking suspicion that this year’s garden may be the most smile-inspiring I’ve had yet.
I won’t be growing many vegetables, but I can support local farmers by buying their produce, and be far less stressed out about my own efforts.

Instead, I can focus all my attention on growing plants I adore: those I can transform into healing salves, teas, and tinctures, and that will make me very happy indeed.

Flower.png

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.

7 Healing Herbs to Grow in Your Garden

If you’re cultivating edible plants this summer, you might also like to add some medicinal herbs in amongst your vegetables. Having the ingredients at hand to treat minor health issues is of the utmost importance when it comes to self sufficiency, and these plants tend to pull double duty as pollinator attractors to your garden as well.

Calendula

Calendula

The bright, sunny heads of calendula flowers are well known to most people, but few realise just how healing Calendula officinalis really is. Most people just grow these marigolds as decorative plants, but they’re actually invaluable as a medicinal herb. Calendula-infused oil or salve is ideal for burns and various skin irritations like rashes, cuts, scrapes, and insect bites/stings.

Echinacea

Echinacea

I prefer Echinacea purpurea to angustifolia because the former can be taken once illness has set it, whereas the latter is better as a preventative. Wild patches of echinacea have been over-harvested by people, so planting your own is preferable to wildcrafting it. As an added bonus, it attracts pollinators like bees and butterflies like you wouldn’t believe.

Milk-thistle

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle seed powder is excellent for cleansing the liver, kidneys, and gallbladder, and is exceptionally effective at treating gallstones and kidney stones. The powder can be taken in tincture or decoction form, or can even be added to smoothies, but it takes a lot of seeds to make even a small amount of powder: although you can gather the seed heads in autumn after they’ve dried out and stopped flowering, it might be better to purchase the powder or extract from a retailer instead.

Mullein

Mullein

Although this grows wild around my area, I’ve also sown patches of it in the sandy areas on the edge of my property. It’s a biennial plant, so it only flowers every other year, but both its leaves and flowers have very healing properties. Steep the flowers in honey to make a potent
A tea made from the leaves is excellent as an expectorant, and brings great relief from wheezing, hacking coughs. Smoking dried mullein leaf can also alleviate asthma, and oil in which the flowers have been steeped is ideal for treating ear infections. The entire plant is anti-inflammatory, and a tincture of the leaves and flowers can bring great relief from joint pain, arthritis, and even lymphatic congestion.

Stinging-nettle

Stinging Nettle

Although it’s difficult to harvest because its hairlike stingy bits hurt like the nine hells if they touch you, this plant’s medicinal properties are well worth the effort. It’s an anti-inflammatory and diuretic, does wonders for urinary issues, can alleviate rheumatoid arthritis and other joint pain, and can ease allergy symptoms. It’s also quite delicious when cooked and used like spinach,

Just suit up, wear heavy gloves when harvesting it, and blanch the plant with boiling water to neutralize the stingers before using it.

Thyme

Thyme

Not just a delicious aromatic herb, Thymus vulgaris is a wonderful herb that has countless medicinal uses. Its antispasmodic properties help to alleviate stomach cramping and colic, while its antiseptic properties are incredibly helpful for topical applications. The crushed leaves can also be used as an impromptu insect repellent to keep mosquitoes and black flies away, especially behind the ears and along the hairline.

Yarrow

Yarrow

Also known as “soldier’s woundwort”, Achillea millefolium has been used medicinally for thousands of years and is invaluable for any healer’s garden. Yarrow flowers and frilly leaves have many medicinal properties, and are worth delving into if you’re interested in building up an apothecary’s cabinet of your own. Additionally, this lovely plant attracts all manner of pollinators, and is an ideal landing pad for migrating butterflies.

 

NOTE: Please remember that herbs are medicines, and their effects can vary from person to person. A remedy that works well for you might not work for your child, partner, or neighbour, and some people may have allergies to certain plants. For example, people with ragweed allergies may react badly to chamomile, and those who are allergic to latex should stay away from birch. No herbal remedy is guaranteed to cure a complaint, and it’s important to do your research properly before brewing up and drinking an infusion. It’s usually a good idea to speak to your healthcare provider to make sure that the herbs you’re interested in taking don’t have contraindications with any medicines you’re on, especially if you’re pregnant or nursing.

In addition, if you’re gathering herbs from the wild, it’s extremely important that you learn to recognise them properly. A lot of plant allies have toxic lookalikes, so if there’s any doubt about what you may be harvesting, don’t do it. Just buy a tea, tincture, or dried herb in bulk from an apothecary company like Mountain Rose Herbs instead.

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DIY: Passionflower Tincture for Anxiety and Stress Relief

By Angelina Williamson

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is useful in treating anxiety, insomnia, upset stomach (especially related to stress), and high blood pressure. This plant is considered generally safe for most people for short-term use (no more than a couple of months according to some sources), but if you take any sedatives or other medications, be sure to check with your doctor before taking this tincture to make sure there aren’t any contraindications.

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How to Make Passionflower Tincture:

Fill a pint jar about half full of dried passionflower and then cover it with 80 proof vodka.

The solvent range for optimal extraction of medicinal constituants is between 40-65 percent. Be sure not to use a proof higher than 100 or you may damage the plant’s efficacy.

Label your jar with the date you started this batch and put it somewhere where you won’t forget about it.

Shake it vigorously every day for two to four weeks.

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Shaking it every day is important because it helps break down the cell walls of the plant material.

Next, get a fresh clean jar fitted either with a strainer or (as I’ve done here) with a wide-mouthed funnel fitted with an unbleached coffee filter, and pour the liquid through it. Alternatively, you can use cheese cloth or muslin. Shake the plant material into the filter or cheese cloth and squeeze as much of the liquid out of it as you can.

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Decant your tincture into a dark bottle and label it. Store in a cool dark cupboard to maintain the best quality.

Your tincture is ready to be used in whatever recipe you like! For precise dosing information consult a reliable herbalist for advice, either with a personal consultation or from a trusted book or online source.

Tincture-dropper