I’m going to start this off by admitting the great privilege it is to be one of those people whom the bugs usually steer clear of. I couldn’t tell you why, but while all my friends and family are vigorously swatting and slapping the bugs away, I get to be an empathetic witness, cool as a cucumber, amidst the sweet perfume and noxious chemical cloud that is commercial insect repellant. This DIY herbal bug spray is a much better option for your body that is super easy to make from herbs you might already have in your garden.
why don’t mosquitoes like lemon balm?
I’m a very science-minded person. My favorite word since I was old enough to speak is why. I like to know why things work and how things work, and until I know, there’s no time to rest. I’m a big picture kind of person as much as I’m a sucker for all the details, and the big question here is this: what makes lemon balm a good insect repellant?
It’s the essential oils! The essential oils in lemon balm are the phytochemicals (plant chemicals) responsible for its alluring scent. They’re also the chemicals responsible for many of the medicinal benefits of lemon balm.
Lemon balm is comprised of 4 main essential oils:
- Citral (a strongly lemon-scented oil that has pheromonal repellant effects on insects)
- Pheromones are hormone-like chemicals that act as channels of communication between species. Some serve to attract, as in mating, but others serve to repel or warn.
- Citronellal (a lemon-scented component of an essential oil from Cymbopogon species (like lemongrass) used in citronella candles that has been officially registered as a safe insect repellant in the United States since 1948)
- Geraniol (a rose-scented component of an essential oil that is commonly used as an insect repellant, especially for mosquitoes)
- Linalool (a lavender-scented component of essential oil found mainly in mint family plant species and often used as an insecticide and may help to also repel mosquitoes)
Together, these essential oils make up the incredible aroma and flavor that lemon balm offers. And to answer the question of why lemon balm can be an effective insect repellant: while we may find the scent of lemon balm to be absolutely divine, the bugs do not.
Simply put, the bugs do not like the smell of lemon balm, the smell the essential oils are responsible for, and it encourages them to steer clear. It’s the same principle that the citronella candles rely on.
herbal insect repellants
There are numerous herbs that have natural insect repellants built in, many of them highly aromatic members of the mint family. (Highly aromatic = lots of essential oils!) If you have some of these in your garden, consider including a pinch or two in your DIY herbal bug spray.
how to make your own DIY herbal bug spray
This recipe (very slightly adapted from The Nerdy Farm Wife, who swears it works!) makes 16 fl oz of herbal bug spray.
You will need the following:
- 8 ounce glass jar with lid
- scissors or cutting board & knife
- ~8 ounces witch hazel extract (I like Thayers Alcohol-Free Original Witch Hazel Facial Toner with Aloe Vera Formula.)
- handful of fresh lemon balm
- a generous pinch or two of other naturally insect-repellent herbs (see list above for ideas) – I used a pinch each of mint, thyme, oregano, & sage.
- optional for added repellent power: essential oils (some options include lemongrass, eucalyptus, basil, citronella, & oregano)
- small glass spray bottle
- Use scissors or a cutting board & knife to chop the herbs into small pieces.
- Fill 8 ounce glass jar ~3/4 of the way with the chopped herbs, loosely packed.
- Cover herbs with witch hazel extract and seal jar with lid.
- Place jar in a cool place out of direct sunlight for 2 weeks. (If you remember, give the jar a vigorous shake every day for maximum extraction!)
- After 2 weeks, use a fine mesh strainer, coffee filter, or several layers of cheesecloth to strain the herbs from the witch hazel extract.
- Fill your small glass spray bottle half way with the infused witch hazel.
- If using, add 2-3 drops total of essential oil(s) of your choice, then fill the remainder of the bottle with water.
- Store your prepared herbal bug spray in the refrigerator and use within 5-7 days. (The undiluted infused witch hazel extract doesn’t need to be kept refrigerated, but may last longer if kept cold, and should be used within 6-8 months.)
For those of you who suffer, this DIY herbal bug spray may offer some protection and peace of mind knowing you’re not spraying harsh chemicals directly on your skin. Get creative and try different plant and essential oil combinations. You might find some work better than others for you.
If you make this all-natural bug spray, I’d love to hear about it. Are you living the bug-free life?!
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