Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • June 2018
Written by 

Natural bug sprays and bug repellent herbs

It’s summertime in Wisconsin, so that means construction and BUGS! Not only are these bugs a nuisance and annoying, but they can be detrimental to your health. Mosquitoes carry the West Nile virus and now the Zika virus. Deer ticks carry the crippling Lyme disease.

One of the most widely used ingredients in store-bought conventional bug sprays for personal use is N,N-Diethyl-m-toluamide, or DEET, as it’s commonly known. DEET is designed to repel, rather than kill, insects.

According to Wellness Mama, DEET is used by an estimated one-third of the U.S. population each year. Although DEET is approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it is a known eye irritant and can cause rashes, soreness or blistering when applied to the skin. Additionally, DEET has been linked to neurological problems; according to the EPA, at least 18 different cases of children suffering adverse neurological effects, as well as the deaths of two adults, have been associated with DEET. Researchers at Duke University Medical Center have found that DEET causes diffuse brain cell death and behavioral changes in rats.

DEET has been shown to have a negative impact on wildlife and water sources in production and during use. It is toxic to birds and aquatic life. DEET has been found in approximately 75 percent of U.S. water sources, including the Mississippi River.

Let’s start with some basic ingredients that might keep the bugs away by themselves:

Studies have recently shown that the catnip plant has many of the same repellent qualities as the chemical DEET. So how can we protect ourselves without using harsh dangerous chemicals on our body and our loved ones?

Vodka and apple cider vinegar alone might help keep the skeeters away. And of course if you eat a lot of garlic that should help as garlic comes out through the pores in our skin.

To make a topical repellent with fresh or dried plants you can steep any of the following plants in the vodka, vinegar, or a water tea with some witch hazel or vodka added to it as a preservative.

Plants to make a topical bug repellent out of: catnip, lavender, citronella pelargonium, peppermint, spearmint, and lemongrass

You can also take that water/alcohol mixture and add essential oils to it instead of plants.

Here are some great essential oils to use:

Lavender, catnip, lemon eucalyptus, citronella, clove, lemongrass, rosemary, tea tree, cajeput, eucalyptus, cedar, mint, lemon and patchouli. Make sure to add some geranium in for repelling ticks.

  1. Place essential oils in a glass spray bottle. Add vodka or witch hazel and water, and shake well to combine.
  2. Add 1/2 teaspoon vegetable glycerin if using. (This is not necessary but helps everything stay combined.)
  3. Add water and shake again. Shake before each use as the oils and water will naturally separate some over time.

Plants to grow around the patio to repel bugs:

Many lemon scented herbs and mint herbs will keep pests away when planted by the patio. There is a special plant called mosquito plant. This is a pelargoniun (scented geranium) that is citronella. Also lemongrass is a favorite for patio planters.

Feel free to pet, touch and bruise the leaves of these plants, which is how more of their volatile oils are released into the atmosphere to keep the bugs away. It releases the smells for our own enjoyment also.

Don’t go out unprepared this summer! If buying is more your style than making, many places now have some great natural bug repellents available for sale. 

Melissa Aurora Adlebush

Melissa Aurora Adlebush is the president of the Fox Valley Herb Society, and was the state champion of plant identification in 2004. She studied Botany and Ethnobotany at Northland College, Ashland. She teaches many classes all over the state. Melissa is Herbalist and Owner of Aurora’s Apothecary where she grows most of the herbs that are put into their products. Aurora’s Apothecary is located at 1607 Richmond St, Appleton. For more information, call 920-430-7846 or visit

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