The current issue (July 2019) of Consumer Reports (CR) includes a “Health Alert” article on Tick Protection: Top Repellents + Advice by Kevin Loria which includes advice on how to protect against ticks (1) before you go outside, (2) when you get inside, and (3) if you find a tick.
Besides the suggestion before you go outside to wear long sleeves and pants and tuck your pants into your socks, CR has rated insect repellents and notes that two substances- deet and permethrin- can go a long way toward keeping you protected. Results from CR’s testing which used only mosquitoes (but from past testing what works against mosquitoes, also tends to work against ticks), deet was found to be the most consistently effective. CR notes that permethrin, unlike deet, is not applied directly to the skin but is applied to clothing, shoes and outdoor gear, and was not tested.
Consumer Reports notes that the Environmental Protection Agency says that when used as directed, both deet and permethrin are safe. Twelve of CR’s 15 recommended repellents contain deet. Of the three that did not contain deet, the insect repellent rated number 3 was Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent2 Deet-Free (Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus 30% as the active ingredient). The active ingredient of other two, free of deet, was picaridin.
In addition to its list of “Top-Rated” insect repellents, Consumer Reports also evaluated six natural repellents, which provided less than 2 hours of protection. The active ingredients in these repellents, are a mix of essential oils- including soybean oil, citronella oil, lemongrass oil, and more.
The concept of a natural repellent appeals to this backyard gardener and hiker (and the use of deet has provoked controversy over the years). Serendipitously, the Heirloom Gardener (Spring 2019) issue included an herbal bug spray recipe in Plant A Bug Spray Garden, by nationally recognized herbalist Juliette Abigail Carr.
My hometown food co-op in Albany, NY, the Honest Weight, has an Herbs and Spices area in the bulk foods section of the store, which was the source of the five herbs included in the recipe. Buying herbs in bulk is the best way to ensure freshness and the eco-friendly avoidance of packaging materials. Crofter’s organic jams are a favorite and frequent purchase for this consumer, and after consumption, its empty glass jars come in handy to reuse when purchasing herbs and spices in bulk at the food co-op.
The per pound pricing of the herbs at the co-op might seem off-putting, but herbs are light-weight. For example, the cost of the five herbs used in this recipe was modest with much remaining for further use: organic catnip at $35.30/lb cost $1.06 for .03/lb; lavender flower at $43.72/lb cost $1.31 for .03/lb; organic lemongrass at $21.73/lb cost $0.87 for .04/lb; organic thyme at $35.20/lb cost $2.11 for .06/lb; and organic yarrow at $26.81/lb cost $0.80 for .03/lb.
Nonetheless, it is tempting to follow the advice of herbalist Carr and plant the various herbs in my backyard garden for homegrown herbs. But given the number of free-range cats in my neighborhood, cat nip would be a no-no to plant. Homegrown herbs could be used in culinary and other ways (also suggested in Carr’s article in Heirloom Gardener).
Homegrown Herbal Bug Spray Recipe
One Tablespoon of each of these five herbs: catnip, lavender, lemongrass, thyme, and yarrow
4 to 6 ounces of olive oil
2 ounces of cedar-infused oil
4 ounces witch hazel
Make sure everything is dry because water increases the chance of mold.
Combine chopped herbs in a glass half-pint (8 ounce) jar.
Add olive oil. (The recipe in Heirloom Gardener also suggests using almond oil as an alternative)
Use a spoon to push herbs down and add extra oil if needed to submerge.
In a cool place, infuse for 1 to 3 weeks.
Strain Oil, pressing as much oil out of the herbs as possible.
Add cedar oil. (Neem oil can be used as an alternative)
Add witch hazel, then shake until well combined.
Fill a spray bottle or perfume roller, and shake well before each use.
Store in a cool, dark place. To store for more than a few months, place the bug spray in a refrigerator.
Note on Consistency: If you prefer a thinner spray, add more witch hazel; for a thicker, lotion-like texture, use vegetable glycerine instead of witch hazel.
(Frank W. Barrie, 6/3/19)