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Q&A: Are there natural remedies that work like commercial bug sprays?



Question: I absolutely dread all the chemicals involved in commercial bug sprays, but I can’t seem to find any natural remedies that work. Is there anything tried and true?

Andrea Candee replies: Bugs! Do I respect them as part of Nature’s miraculous design? Yes. Do I like them? Not really.

Despite daily intake of supplements reputed to be bug deterrents (garlic and B vitamins), many of us are still sweet meat for the little critters. Acknowledging the skin’s ability to absorb substances into the bloodstream (modern medicine’s example of this biological fact is the invention of skin patches for delivering pharmaceutical drugs into the body) encourages us to seek out natural alternatives to chemical insect repellants.

Ticks and Lyme disease
Dogs and cats are often the carriers of Lyme-infected ticks. To fully protect one’s self and family from being bitten, the family pet must also be protected. A successful program for preventing any tick from attaching itself to your pet includes garlic powder and brewer’s yeast (found in a convenient powdered combination in health food stores) sprinkled liberally on your pet’s food every day, and oil of eucalyptus.

The essential oil of eucalyptus, derived from the leaf of the tree, contains naturally occurring chemicals repellent to ticks and fleas. A most effective method is to dip a thin rope into the undiluted oil, wrap it in a bandanna and tie it around your pet’s neck (fashionable, as well). The rope can be refreshed twice a week (or more often, if necessary).

The oil is quite potent and should not be applied directly to the skin, as it may cause irritation. Mixing one ounce of eucalyptus oil into one pint of water in a spray bottle also enables you to spray your pet’s coat on a daily basis. But why save all the good protection for your pets? Before gardening or hiking, scent yourself with “eau de eucalyptus.”

The oil/water combination can be sprayed on skin and/or clothing before an outdoor excursion, gardening or romp in the grass. Eucalyptus diluted in a vegetable oil (e.g. almond, sesame, sunflower) can safely be applied to the skin for longer lasting protection.

Mosquitoes and black flies, take wing!
Dilute 1 ounce of essential oil of pennyroyal in 16 ounces vegetable oil to effectively repel mosquitoes. Keep a vial of this dilution with you when headed for a picnic, swing in the hammock or anywhere mosquitoes hang out. Oil of pennyroyal has protected campers in the swampiest of areas; directly apply the dilution to exposed areas of skin. (You may have difficulty locating oil of pennyroyal. It can be purchased from the web site below.)

Black flies ruining a relaxing day in the park? Check out the surrounding area for aromatic evergreen trees, break off a branch, mash it with a rock and apply to arms and legs. The released essential oils will repel those bothersome bugs. The essential oil of lavender, which can be applied directly on the skin, can also repel black flies.

Don’t be the local attraction for stinging insects.
Bees, wasps, and yellow jackets are attracted by sweet smells and bright colors. If you don’t want them to think you are a delectable flower to explore, avoid wearing perfumes and scented hair and body care products, as well as brightly colored clothing. Neutral colors such as tan and white are least likely to attract unwelcome visitors. Cover sugary food and drinks at picnic sites.

The easiest, most non-invasive way to remove embedded stingers or body parts of insects (splinters and thorns, too!) is to tape on an over-ripe banana peel (pulp side facing skin) overnight. The enzymes in the banana will painlessly draw to the surface any foreign object.

Stopping the itch and swelling.
If you ventured out into the great outdoors without protection and got bitten or stung, safe, non-chemical solutions can prevail. The oil of a vitamin E capsule punctured with a pin and applied to a bee sting can relieve pain and swelling. A juicy slice of onion rubbed on or taped into place will relieve the itch and swelling of an insect bite.

The common weed, plantain, when mashed with a rock or chewed to break down its capillary walls (only chew if you are certain it has not been chemically treated) and poulticed (affixed) directly on the affected area, pulls out the toxins of an insect sting or bite and relieves swelling. A paste of baking soda and water or mud and water will calm the area. It all depends upon where you are and what’s available.

Usually, what you need is right at hand. You just need to be able to recognize its healing benefits. Keep in mind that more than one application may be necessary, so use what is convenient for the moment and follow up a few more times that day with what seems to provide the most comfort.

House moths, the unwelcome guests.
Those bothersome moths moved right into your clothes closets and food pantry without invitation — or did you unwittingly invite them? Residues of odors and stains on clothing attract moths to your closets. Open bags of cereals, grains and flours are comparable to putting out the welcome mat.

The easiest way to deal with the food items is to refrigerate them during summer months. Clean clothing before storing. Additional protection can be provided by placing muslin bags in your closets filled with combinations of dried, aromatic herbs and essential oils such as tansy, peppermint, rosemary, eucalyptus, cedar, sage, thyme, cinnamon and clove.

Keeping houseplants bug-free.
Infected houseplants often respond well to a strained spray of water blended with a few fresh cloves of garlic. The eucalyptus/water spray described above can also be applied to houseplants.

In centuries past, aromatic herbs were strewn on the floors of homes to repel insects. Instead, branches of herbs can be hung in doorways, arranged creatively in containers or crumbled into potpourris creating pleasant, pest-repellent aromas. Essential oils can waft throughout the home in electric or candle diffusers. Cotton balls infused with essential oils can be strategically placed.

Let us peacefully co-exist with the insect world without polluting ourselves and our fragile environment by using nature’s bountiful gifts.

© Andrea Candee

NFO regular contributor Andrea Candee, MH, MSC, is a master herbalist with a consultation practice in South Salem, New York. She lectures throughout the country for schools and corporate wellness centers about taking charge of your health naturally. Her book Gentle Healing for Baby and Child was awarded The Seal of Approval by The National Parenting Center. She may be contacted through her web site, www.AndreaCandee.com or by mail at P.O. Box 171, South Salem, New York 10590.

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