How to Keep the Bugs at Bay: Natural Insect Repellents and Aromatherapy

By Amy Galper / July 16, 2013

oil (post)Mosquitos! Black Flies! Ticks! Spiders! Every summer we face another battle against bug bites. No one wants to show up at a sexy summer BBQ smelling like “OFF!” bug repellent–so what can we do? What is the most effective and natural way to keep bugs from biting?

Essential Oils!  They can significantly reduce the chances of your getting bitten.

Essential oils are naturally occurring aromatic compounds found in the roots, seeds, flowers, leaves, bark, wood (i.e.all plant materials) of plants.  These aromatic compounds are extracted from the plant material through the process of steam distillation, and once extracted form a highly concentrated and fragrant liquid that we identify as an “oil,” but is actually not “oily” in texture or structure.

Essential oils are the identifying markers of each plant; its their quintessential “essence;” It’s what makes a lavender flower smell like lavender, or mint leaf smell like mint.

Here are three essential oils that are powerful bug repellents; you can use them singly or combined, depending on how you respond to the aromas.

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)

What the plant looks like: Has extensive roots, but not deeply penetrating. Light green, thin narrow leaves that are upright when young, and trail when older.  Stronger concentration of essential oil in younger leaves.  Doesn’t flower.

Plant part used: Leaves

Method of extraction:  Steam distillation

Color of oil:  Clear to light yellow

Safety: Can be a skin irritant if applied directly to skin

Main Therapeutic Properties: Anti-microbial, anti-septic, anti-bacterial. Excellent household cleaner; Cleansing, promotes circulations, detoxing, soothes sore muscles. Powerful insecticide.

Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus, syn. Andropogon nardus Ceylon)

What the plant looks like:  A tufted perennial grass with long narrow leaves that are yellowish green

Plant part used: Leaves

Method of extraction:  Steam distillation

Color of oil:  Pale to brownish yellow

Safety:  May be an irritant if direct contact with skin.

Main Therapeutic Properties: Anti-septic, anti-microbial, uplifting, cleansing, powerful insecticide and cleaner.

Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) a.k.a “Blue Gum Eucalyptus”

What plant looks like:  Medium sized evergreen tree native to Australia.  SIngle trunk, many branches.  Lower bark is rough and gray-brown, upper bark is smooth and may have a blue-ish tint. The upper bark has a tendency to peel and hang off tree. Has fragrant white flowers and can grow very very tall.

What part of plant used:  Leaves and mature branches

Method of Extraction:  Steam distillation

Color of oil:  Pale yellow to clear

Safety:  Generally safe, be gentle with infants – may be too strong for them.

Main Therapeutic properties: Cooling, stimulating, clearing, power anti-bacterial, anti-microbial and anti-septic. Soothes muscle pain, clears airways, stimulates mind, aids concentration, cleansing to negative energy, supports immune system. Strong respiratory support. Effective insecticide.

How to use these essential oils to keep the bugs away?

  • Make a room or bug spray – add a few drops of each oil to a spray bottle filled with distilled water, or witch hazel extract.  Spray and mist the room, or outdoor area, and mist and spray your body and clothing.
  • Add a couple of drops to your body lotion or sunscreen, and apply before going outdoors.
  • Add a few drops to an outdoor candle, or essential oil diffuser, and burn in the area you want to deter the bugs.
  • Add several drops to your outdoor cleaning routine; For example, add drops to the water you use to wipe down outdoor tables and chairs.


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Amy Galper
Amy Galper

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