Natural Bug Repellents for Camping

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I shared the long Memorial Day weekend with friends on 40 acres of Ponderosa Pine and White Oak forest near the Klickitat River. This was my first trip to the rugged Washington wilderness and I found its rocky hills and thick woods crawling with lizards and rattlesnakes and scorpions breathtaking!

It was sunny spring perfection, so we hiked deer trails for hours exploring wild plants like Lomatiums, tasty Alliums, and ripening blackcap raspberries.  A fresh spring trickled from the rocks and we collected cold mountain water to make wild rose tea in the mornings.

Klickitat, Washington.

During one afternoon expedition, we came across a wet patch abloom with yellow arnica flowers. Anyone who has spent time in arnica habitats will know the strong affinity this plant has for mosquitoes. Thousands and thousands of buzzing, blood-sucking mosquitoes! As we gathered to admire the heart-shaped leaves of the Arnica cordifolia, a hungry swarm clouded around us. Thankfully, I was prepared with a strong homemade insect repellent that kept them at a comfortable distance. Thinking ahead, I’d also made an astringent spray and poultice powder to apply to pesky bites, hiking scratches, and campfire burns.

Back at camp, a band of excited children wrapped white sage and cinnamon sticks in newspaper to make fragrant and effective fire starters. They marched triumphantly around the blaze, tooting their horsetail whistles as the herby campfire smoke proved inhospitable to the buggy invaders.

Herbal fire starters are fragrant and effective.  

Anytime I leave for a camping trip, I bring some staple extracts along. This collection usually includes a few of my favorite go-to herbs like skullcap and valerian to help relax my muscles and lull me to restful sleep, Oregon grape root as an anti-bacterial and digestive aide, a good astringent like red root bark (Ceanothus velutinus), and yerba santa to help dry up sneezy, watery allergy symptoms.

Being equipped with my trusty bag of herbal formulas makes handling the unforeseen much easier, and my forest experience that much more delightful.   

My trusty collection of formulas.

Bug-Away Spray 

I’ve read that catnip essential oil can be as effective as DEET, but it can also be expensive. So, I made a tincture of fresh catnip leaf from the garden in pure grain alcohol, which drew out the volatile oils in just a week and produced a lovely emerald extract.

• 4 ounces fresh catnip tincture (95 percent alcohol)
• 4 ounces witch hazel extract
• 80 drops organic citronella essential oil
• 80 drops organic eucalyptus essential oil
• 40 drops organic lavender essential oil
• 20 drops organic rosemary essential oil
• 10 drops organic lemongrass essential oil
• 10 drops organic lemon essential oil

1. Mix all ingredients in an 8 oz spray bottle and shake well before using.

2. Re-apply as often as needed.

Herbal Astringent Spray

This spray is ideal for itchy bug bites, removing sticky pitch from fingers, minor burns, cuts, scrapes, and a myriad of other irritating situations. I used my own tinctures of wild-harvested herbs that are anti-microbial and astringent, but similar herbs that you prefer can be used.

• 2 ounces witch hazel extract
• 1/2 ounces red root bark tincture
• 1/2 ounces Oregon grape root tincture (organically grown goldenseal tincture can be used)
• 1/2 ounces Pipsissewa tincture
• 1/2 ounces Uva-Ursi tincture

1. Mix all ingredients in a 4 oz spray bottle and shake before using.

2. Re-apply as often as needed.

Happy camping!

Erin is the Communications Manager at Mountain Rose Herbs and an apprenticing herbalist at the Columbines School of Botanical Studies, where she botanizes and wildcrafts medicinal plants in the magnificent Oregon Cascades

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