Many years back I was ignorant to the dangers of using DEET containing bug spray. It’s just what you used right? I remember spraying every part of my body with it when I was backpacking through Thailand and it’s what all the backpackers had with them. My parents used it on us when we were kids too and I remember hating the smell.
After moving to BC I discovered a more natural way to live my life. It was this move that started me on the path towards studying herbal medicine. I knew there had to be a better way to protect yourself against mosquitoes and the diseases that some of them carry. So I started covering up more and only using bug spray when necessary. Then one day my teacher told a story in class that changed my mind about DEET forever. Never again will I go near the stuff. Ever.
Michael, my teacher, was camping with a friend and they were both sitting around the campfire at night. They had of course just sprayed themselves with their bug spray like diligent campers. My teacher was telling a story and he must have gotten really into it because he had forgotten that he was holding a cassette tape in his hand during the whole story. This was back in the 80’s before everyone was really aware of how dangerous DEET is. When he was done telling the story he went to put the tape down and realized that his fingers had melted into the plastic thanks to the DEET containing bug spray he had just put on.
If the stuff can melt plastic you just have to wonder what it’s doing to your body.
So what are we to do in a time where mosquitoes carry Lyme disease and other nasties?
Nepeta cataria – Catnip
Enter catnip. I’m sure most of you folks know this as the plant you give to cats to make them go nuts. In addition to this, catnip has some pretty amazing medicinal properties as well. But for today’s discussion we are concerned about one aspect of catnip and that’s is bug repellent abilities.
Nepeta cataria contains an essential oil called nepetalactone that has been shown to be ten times more effective than DEET.
Here’s the link to the study: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/08/010828075659.htm
So now that we know catnip can be used as an effective insect repellent we need to find a way to harness the power of this magical plant.
As an aside… if you are interested in harvesting catnip to make tincture check out my blog post on there here.
Catnip Witch Hazel
One of my favourite ways to extract a herbs constituents for topical application is witch hazel. While apple cider vinegar can also be used, I found that most of my clients/customers were not a fan of the smell.
Check out my video on how to identify, harvest and infuse catnip in witch hazel:
All Natural Bug Spray
So now that you have your catnip infused witch hazel it’s time to make some bug spray. For this recipe we will make a 100 ml bottle of bug spray.
- 75 ml of catnip infused witch hazel
- lavender infused witch hazel will also work but then the essential oils are not optional as you will get your insect repelling from those mostly
- 25 ml of distilled water
- 40-50 drops of essential oils (optional)
Examples of oils you can use
- citronella *
- lavender *
- lemongrass *
- tea tree *
- patchouli *
- geranium *
- rose geranium *
If you are making bug spray for use on very young children you may find that just the catnip alone will do the trick. The list of essential oils listed above are effective against mosquitoes/ticks but not all are safe for young children. The solution is to use essential oils that are only safe on children or to spray on clothing and gear instead. The essential oils with an * are considered safe for topical application on children over 2 years old. The rest should be used with caution or on gear only. In general I would not recommend the application of a bug spray on any child under 1 years old.
These warnings are also for nursing or pregnant mamas!
Instructions for Use:
Shake well before use to ensure an even distribution of essential oils. Apply to clothing and gear (hats etc) and any exposed skin areas. Please remember that the best defense against bugs is to cover up! While inconvenient it is the only true way to prevent ticks and mosquito bites. Reapply as needed.
Hope this keeps you all happy and bug free this summer!