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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Beat The Bugs Before They Bite

 Protecting yourself or your children against annoying insects doesn't have to mean using a product with a warning label.

DEET, also known as diethyl-meta-toluamide, is very common in commercial bug repellent sprays, but research tells us that its use can have detrimental effects on brain cells and can interact with some medications. Anything put onto our skin is absorbed into the body, not something you want for yourself or your loved ones. Try a natural mosquito and fly repellent instead. Just keep in mind that plant based repellents do wear off faster than the commercial chemical based sprays, so you will have to reapply as needed.

Many of our "weeds" can be our friends. We have to remember that the definition of a weed is a plant that seemingly serves no purpose. In the carpets we like to call our lawns, yes they may be unsightly, but when it comes to medicinal value, these plants definitely have a value.

The vinegar based sprays are ideal for people who are seeking an organic, herbal product but would rather avoid the concentration of essential oils. We're relying solely on the strength of the herbs themselves. Vinegar as a base is good for three reasons; bugs don't care for it, it makes for great herbal infusions, and it evaporates, therefore there is no need to worry about smelling like vinegar.

We have two choices for apple cider vinegar herbal infusion bug sprays. Plantain, Yarrow and Comfrey in the first and Plantain and Lavender in the second. They are both very good and given choices, people like to compare to see which herbs work better for them. Also, being Yarrow and Comfrey should be avoided during pregnancy, the Plantain and Lavender spray is a safer choice while pregnant.(Lavender essential oil is optional). Without the potency of added essential oils, if used on young children it is better to choose either of these sprays rather than the Yarrow Tincture spray or the Herbal Body Oil. Those are more potent due to the essential oils and are best for older children and adults.

Plantain, Yarrow, Comfrey Vinegar
Plantain, Lavender Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar can also be used as a safe alternative to help repel fleas on your pets.
Fleas don't like the way vinegar tastes and smells. As some of the chemicals used for topical flea treatments can be just as dangerous as the pests themselves, knowing other ways to keep them off your pets are always good to know. Depending on the type of dog or cat, you may find it best to dilute it first with water. Being dogs have such a keen sense of smell, straight vinegar may be too unappealing for some. Also, depending on the thickness of your dog's fur, the amount that actually touches the skin will vary, and direct contact for some dogs may be drying for the skin. The bottles hold 4 oz. so add another 4 oz of distilled water and put into a larger spray bottle. Avoid getting the spray into your pet's eyes. For use with pets, especially cats, only use the herbal based deterrents without the essential oils. (Lavender essential oil can be used at a low dilution) Cat's don't have the enzymes to break down some essential oils and over time they can become toxic to the liver and kidneys.

Plantain (Plantago major), also known as the “Mother of Herbs,” it is one of the top backyard medicinal plants. A commonly seen "weed", one of those plants we step on without a thought, but should you suffer a bee or bug bite quickly chew a leaf to get the juices flowing and apply to the bite. You'll be amazed at how quickly it neutralizes the sting. It has astringent, soothing, antimicrobial properties that make it a very beneficial herb to use for our all natural bug deterrent spray.

Gardeners who utilize companion planting are probably aware that Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is used for warding off detrimental insects.The wild white Yarrow is more medicinal than the garden varieties, so that is what is used for the infusions.
Yarrow is usually associated with the story of Achilles' using it to stop the bleeding wounds of his soldiers in battle. Its astringent, antiseptic and analgesic properties add up to it being a first aid kit in one plant.

Another wonderful healer is Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)  a large fuzzy garden herb. Rich in chlorophyll, minerals and mucilage the leaves are an ally for cooling and soothing irritated skin. Comfrey is a great aid in easing irritation from bug bites already there.

Lavender (Lavandula) has been used as a bug repellent for centuries. It was used in the past to protect clothes and linens from the infestation of moths and other insects. The strong scent of lavender is disliked by numerous types of bugs, flies and mosquitoes are just what usually comes to mind as the problem pests. Lavender also prevents the spread of infection caused by existing bug bites and controls the itching and inflammation often associated with them.

Yarrow Tincture Herbal Spray
The Yarrow Tincture spray relies on three effective essential oils: Catnip, Citronella and Lavender.
This spray should not be used on pregnant women or very young children. It is too potent with the concentration of the added essential oils. It can be used on dogs if diluted, not at all on cats.

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) has many other uses besides entertaining our feline companions. Studies have found that nepetalactone, a compound found in catnip was more effective than DEET at repelling mosquitoes. DEET can cause rashes and eye irritation so if there is an alternative why not try it?
A pricey essential oil but it works.
Citronella (Cymbopogon, various species) is a strong, potent lemon scented plant  in which most of us are familiar with in patio type candles.

Herbal Body Oil
  For those who worry about the tincture or vinegar based sprays being too drying for their skin, there is the choice of an herbal infused body oil. So you would get a moisturizer and bug repellent at the same time. Beat It Bug Oil is also very soothing as an after-bite remedy by reducing itch, swelling and inflammation. For spot treatments it may be easier to apply to a cotton ball first. Use your own discretion as to how often you will have to reapply.

A variety of bitter garden herbs are first infused in an olive oil base for an extended period of time. Rue, tansy, sage, feverfew and southernwood are a few of the choices one has for repelling mosquitoes, no see ums, knats, and black flies.

Strong acting essential oils such as citronella, lavender, geranium, peppermint, eucalyptus and lemongrass are excellent examples of strong aromas pesty flying insects do not like. Various combinations of these oils are used for their antiseptic and insect repelling qualities.

So get out there and enjoy the great outdoors.

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