Body & Soul: Herbal Insect Repellent

| April/May 2008

Encounters with flying and crawling insects come with a gardener’s territory. Not all insects are "bad bugs," however. Lacewings, ladybugs and ground beetles, for instance, help control aphids, caterpillars and other garden pests. If you let these good bugs do their job and practice other organic methods, you can avoid using harsh chemical pesticides in your garden.

When you need to protect yourself from pesky insects, such as mosquitoes and ants, try an herbal insect repellent (use only as directed and do not apply undiluted essential oils to your skin):

Citronella. Add a few drops of citronella essential oil to your favorite sunscreen or lotion in the palm of your hand, then apply it to your skin before you work outdoors. Citronella oil is a popular insect repellent widely used in candles, incense, lotions and oils. Extracted from the lemongrass species Cymbopgon nardus, citronella oil has a pleasant, lemony scent.

Mint. Ward off ants and flies with spearmint or peppermint. Add a drop or two of these oils to creams, lotions, sunscreens or natural oils, such as sunflower or light sesame oil and apply it to your skin. To repel ants and flies on your deck or patio, keep a pot or two of mint near seating areas, where you’ll also enjoy the refreshing scent.

If an insect still manages to sting or bite you, apply a soothing paste of baking soda, water and a little lemon juice to the area. This old-fashioned remedy is especially helpful for bee and wasp stings.

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