Protect yourself, your children, your pets, and your home from bugs — without using harsh or toxic chemicals! Herbalist Stephanie Tourles offers 75 simple recipes for safe, effective bug repellents you can make at home from all-natural ingredients. For protection from mosquitos, ticks, and other biting insects, there are sprays, balms, body oils, and tinctures, with scents ranging from eucalyptus to floral, lemon, vanilla, and woodsy spice. There are also recipes for pets, such as herbal shampoo, bedding formulas, and flea-and-tick collars and powders. And Tourles includes repellents for the home, such as sachets that repel moths, carpet powders that repel fleas and ants, and essential oil repellents to keep your pantry pest-free. A detailed ingredient dictionary explains the properties of all the herbs, essential oils, and other key ingredients.
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About the Author
Stephanie L. Tourles is the best-selling author of Organic Body Care Recipes (125,000 copies in print), Raw Energy, and Raw Energy in a Glass. She has extensive training in herbalism, aromatherapy, and nutritional science and is a licensed esthetician. She is a popular speaker on natural body care and healthy living topics and lives in Maine.
Read an Excerpt
This chapter covers the four categories of ingredients that I use in my formulations and should help you understand how and why I constructed each recipe. If this is your first foray into crafting herbal repellents, or any herbal products, your head might be spinning — some of the ingredients may seem foreign to you. Fortunately, most of them are readily available at health food stores, food co-ops, and whole foods grocers. In season, a good farmers' market can be a wonderful source for fresh herbs.
The Internet, of course, is a go-to resource for just about everything you'll need. I grow many of my own herbs, but some, along with other necessary ingredients, I purchase from trusted mail-order catalogs or online sources. I prefer sources that have a relatively rapid turnover of stock, so that I can be sure the ingredients are fresh (see Resources).
If you have room for a garden, you too can grow many of these herbs. Most bug-repellent and insecticidal herbs are rather hardy and can withstand quite a bit of neglect. And if you are lucky enough to locate a local herb farm and apothecary, you'll think you've died and gone to do-it-yourself heaven. What a glorious resource for fresh and dried herbs, herb blends, beeswax, and base oils, plus many professionally made remedies (including, perhaps, a few nontoxic insect repellents) for you to sample. Herb farms often have public gardens to stroll through, and many offer classes in all manner of herb studies. A visit would be well worth your time!
An Ingredient Primer
If you know a little about herbal products for topical medicine or body care, then you are probably familiar with some of these ingredients. If you're a novice, no worries — here is an in-depth introduction to four categories of general ingredients: herbs, essential oils, base oils, and ethyl alcohol. Before you purchase any ingredients and start stirring and straining, pouring and packaging, take a few minutes to educate yourself. A knowledgeable consumer makes the wisest choices and the highest-quality handmade preparations.
I suggest you look the various herbs up in a few different herb books; study their uses, both historical and current; and learn their growth habits, harvesting and storage requirements, and any contraindications. Learning about herbs can be quite fascinating! But don't stop there: try to grow the plants or ethically wild-harvest them, if you can, and get to know them on their own turf, where they're energetic, green, and alive. At the very least, become familiar with various herbs in their dried state.
The herbs called for in this book are relatively common, easy to find, and used in dried form unless otherwise specified. If you have access to freshly grown herbs, then you may want to dry and process them yourself, using the following instructions. Recently processed herbs smell wonderful, and their components are at their peak — they'll make your products all the more delightful and effective.
You may be surprised by how easy it is to dry and process fresh herbs. With any technique, it's best to dry the herbs as soon as they're picked (or purchased) to fully preserve their beneficial properties. Here are some key points.
* Always use a sharp knife or hand pruners to cut herbs.
* Gather herbs in early to mid-morning, just after any dew has dried but before it's too hot.
* Harvest flowers or flowering tops, such as yarrow, when the flowers have just opened. Harvest buds, such as lavender, when the buds are mature and well formed, but have not yet opened.
* Chose herbs that are free of insects and disease and have not been treated with pesticides.
* Handle herbs carefully to avoid bruising.
* Herbs should be relatively dirt-free, but if they're dusty, rinse them quickly in cool water and immediately pat them dry with a paper towel or soft, lint-free cloth or give them a quick spin in salad spinner. To remove dirt from harvested roots, gently scrub with a vegetable brush and then rinse them thoroughly. (Many herbalists who grow their own herbs or harvest from wild, clean places don't rinse their herbs prior to use. I do recommend rinsing all purchased fresh herbs.)
Herbs can take from four days to several weeks to dry completely, depending on weather conditions and the thickness of the material. Roots, bark, twigs, seeds, nut hulls, and rinds take the longest. The ideal temperature for drying is between 65 and 85°F (18° — 30°C). When herbs are ready, leaves and stems are brittle, but not dry enough to shatter; flower petals and buds feel semi-crisp; roots and rinds are hard or ever-so-slightly pliable; and barks, twigs, seeds, and nut hulls are very hard and dry.
Avoid overdrying herbs; it can diminish their valuable properties. No matter what part of the plant you are drying, never let it go to the point that it crumbles into dust when squeezed. Store dried herbs in airtight containers in a cool, moisture-free place away from direct sunlight, for up to one year.
To dry herbs by hanging them, gather a small handful of stems of a single variety into a bundle fastened with string or a rubber band. Many herbs look similar when dried, so I recommend labels. Hang the bundles upside down in a well-ventilated, dimly lit area with low humidity. Leave plenty of room between bundles to ensure good air circulation and to keep scents from mingling.
Most herbs can be successfully dried on screens, either repurposed window screens or ones made specifically for drying herbs and foods. I prefer screens made with nylon mesh, but wire mesh works fine. Just be sure to clean them thoroughly and remove any rust before using them.
To prepare herbs, spread them in a single layer by type — for example, flowers, leaves, roots, or bark — leaving space for good air circulation. Place the screens in a well-ventilated, dimly lit area with low humidity. I set mine atop small blocks of wood in my garden shed. Stacking the screens is fine, as long as you allow for adequate ventilation.
If you're setting up screens outside on a dry, sunny day, put them in a mostly shady area protected from wind. Cover the plant material with a single layer of cheesecloth, if you wish, to keep out airborne debris. Keep an eye on the weather and bring the screens in at night to avoid the evening dew.
Using a Food Dehydrator
A food dehydrator works quite well for processing herbs. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for placement of the herbs in the machine, but don't set the temperature any higher than 110°F (44°C) to preserve the color, fragrance, volatile oils, and chemical integrity.
EASY-TO-GROW "BUG OFF" PLANTS
Myriad herbs can be grown in pots, flowerbeds, or near lawns or vegetable gardens, where they emit chemicals into the air and/or soil that repel bugs and small rodents. Many are happy in most soil types and require little maintenance (unless potted), providing there is good drainage and the soil has been well prepared. Here are some my favorite herbs that offer protection where they grow and can be dried for future uses. In many cases, the freshly harvested leaves and stems can be rubbed directly onto people and pets for instant relief from pests.
Essential oils are often called the "life force" or "soul" of the plant, embodying its aromatic phytohormones and many powerful compounds. With regard to the crafting of bug-repelling and insecticide products, essential oils provide concentrated, fragrant, natural solutions to myriad pest problems.
Depending on the plant, essential oils are stored in either tiny cellular reservoirs or intercellular spaces and are even used by the plants themselves as repellents against damaging pests. Pure essential oils are extracted from various plant parts — grass, leaves, flowers, bark, rind, needles, berries, wood, roots, seeds, or resin — primarily by steam distillation, with the exception of citrus oils, which are generally cold-pressed from the fruit's rind.
Solvent extraction, another method used to extract essential oils from plants, uses petroleum-derived solvents, such as petroleum ether, hexane, toluene, butane, methane, and propane. The resultant oils are called absolutes and should be used for natural perfumery blending only, not aromatherapeutic use, as solvent residues may be present.
A newer method of extraction is supercritical carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction, a more expensive yet superior process conducted under high pressure and relatively low heat without the use of steam or added solvents. This process results in superior fragrance quality and physiological activity.
Chemically, essential oils have nothing in common with base oils. They do not contain fatty acids, are not prone to rancidity, and, because of their minute molecular makeup, they evaporate easily (hence their other common name, volatile oils). Essential oils blend quite readily with base oils and other fats, and they dissolve in 95 percent ethyl alcohol, and to some degree in 80- and 100-proof ethyl alcohol, making them an ideal formulary ingredient. They react with water much as fatty oils do — by floating to the top — but they readily lend their scent to water and other liquids, such as aloe vera gel, witch hazel, and vinegar.
Buying and Using Essential Oils
As typical of all plant extracts, the concentration of active ingredients varies from batch to batch. The variation depends upon factors such as the geography, growing methods, soil fertility, and seasonal fluctuations, plus the age of the plant at harvest, and processing and extraction procedures. Thus, the effectiveness of the essential oils to repel or kill bugs can vary greatly. It pays to buy the highest-quality essential oils you can afford, preferably organic or wild-harvested — a little goes a long, long way.
Essential oils are usually liquid, but some are quite viscous (vetiver and patchouli, for example) or even semisolid (such as peppermint), depending on the temperature. To measure a thicker essential oil, set the bottle in a shallow bowl of warm water until it liquifies or warm the bottle between your palms for a few minutes (this doesn't work with cold hands!).
If you are serious about purchasing and using real, quality essential oils, I suggest that you read a couple of good books on the subject and take an aromatherapy class, if possible. I also recommend that you call the company whose oils you want to use and talk to a representative about the origins of their oils and their production methods. I purchase my essential oils from a handful of companies I've come to know and trust (see Resources).
Storing Essential Oils
Essential oils retain their healing properties for 5 to 10 years if properly stored in a dark, dry, cool place. The exception to this is citrus oils: They will remain potent for only 6 to 12 months unless refrigerated. When refrigerated, they may last for a couple of years if not opened frequently.
To prolong the shelf life of an essential oil, do not store it in a bottle with a rubber dropper top. The strong vapors will gradually weaken the rubber and allow air to enter the bottle, and the precious volatile beneficial properties will evaporate prematurely. Always purchase essential oils in bottles with a plastic-lined screw-on cap and use a sterile glass eyedropper to extract what you need; or make sure the bottle is sealed with a built-in drop-by-drop reducer cap, which is how most essential oil bottles under 2 ounces are sold.
Store Herbal Products Away from Children and Pets
Store all your herbal supplies and handcrafted products safely away from children and pets. All ingredients, essential oils in particular, have the potential to be toxic if ingested or applied to the skin improperly. Be especially mindful of culinary citrus oils, as they look and smell like fruity candy — store them on the top shelves of your kitchen cabinets away from eyesight and easy reach.
Essential oils are safe for use on children if used as directed in a particular child-safe recipe, but if swallowed, inhaled excessively, poured on the skin, or rubbed into the eyes or mucous membranes, they could be extremely irritating and debilitating, if not fatal.
Essential Oil Safety Tips
Essential oils are highly concentrated forms of herbal chemical energy, and they must be used with caution. Very few essential oils may be used neat (undiluted) on the skin, the exceptions being oils such as lavender, tea tree, patchouli, and rose geranium (and only 1 to 3 drops per day if used in this manner). Always dilute an essential oil in a base oil unless you know it's safe to use neat. It's important to educate yourself about the properties of and contraindications for each essential oil before you use it.
If you rub or splash an essential oil into your nose or eyes — which can cause excruciating pain — immediately flush the affected area with an unscented, bland fatty oil such as olive, almond, corn, soybean, peanut, or generic vegetable oil — whatever you have on hand. Full-fat cream, half-and-half, or whole milk makes an acceptable substitute in an emergency. Using plain water does not help; essential oils are attracted to fats alone. Should the pain continue or should severe headache or respiratory irritation develop, seek prompt medical attention and take the essential oil bottle with you. Most medical staff are unfamiliar with essential oils, so knowing exactly what they are dealing with will help in your treatment.
How to Do an Essential Oil Patch Test
Combine a drop or two of the essential oil in question with ½ teaspoon base oil, such as almond, soybean, jojoba, or coconut, in a tiny bowl. Soak a cotton ball with the liquid and tape it to the inside of your elbow or wrist; leave it for 12 to 24 hours. If the area becomes sore, itchy, or red, do not use this ingredient in your personal bug-repelling recipes.
Derived from beans, nuts, seeds, flowers, fruits, and grains, base oils are chemically classified as fats — they contain fatty acids and glycerin. Many are vegetable oils used in cooking, and you may also hear them called unctuous oils,fixed oils, or carrier oils. Base oils are characteristically greasy, slippery, smooth in texture, and lighter than water, with an extremely low evaporation rate. As their name implies, these oils are used as a base or carrying agent to which essential oils, solid fats, herbs, or spices are added.
I use only plant-derived fats, never lanolin, lard, cod liver oil, or mineral oil. In addition to being animal products, which I prefer to avoid, the first three are thick, don't penetrate the skin well, and often smell bad in formulations. Mineral oil can clog pores and is a petroleum by-product, which most people want to avoid.
When warmed, base oils extract and absorb herbal components such as essential oils, gums, resins, and oleoresins. Flavonoids, alkaloids, and other active principles are partially soluble in warm oil. A wonderful benefit derived from using base oils in insect-repelling formulations is that they evaporate slowly, leaving a skin-conditioning barrier on the skin's surface while delivering protection that lasts a bit longer than that provided by repellents based in water, witch hazel, or alcohol.
The best base oils are organically grown, naturally extracted, and minimally processed. The key words to look for on the label are organic, cold-pressed or expeller-pressed, or unrefined — these guarantee the highest quality. These oils have not been exposed to extraction procedures using petroleum-derived solvents, such as hexane, nor to extremely high temperatures, deodorizing, or bleaching. These processes can destroy or alter an oil's natural molecular state, affecting aroma, color, flavor, and consistency, as well as its antioxidant properties and vitamin, mineral, and essential fatty acid content.
It's important to note that most unrefined base oils — with the exception of coconut, extra-virgin olive, jojoba, and sesame — have a relatively short shelf life and tend to become rancid if stored at room temperature for more than eight months, especially in warm weather. These oils should be refrigerated and used within one year.
Purchase your oils through reputable retailers with a high turnover of inventory, and always check the expiration date on the bottle.
Ethyl alcohol is used by herbalists as a menstruum (solvent) for extracting an herb's chemical components. Ninety-five percent ethyl alcohol (190 proof), also known as pharmaceutical grade alcohol, is sold in some states under the brand names Everclear and Clear Spring. Made from grains, it dissolves and extracts the alcohol-soluble constituents in plants — resins, fats, essential oils, fixed oils, alkaloids, coloring pigments, acrid and bitter compounds, alkaloidal salts, glycosides, organic acids, chlorophyll, uncrystallized sugars, and waxes.
Excerpted from "Naturally Bug-Free"
Copyright © 2016 Stephanie L. Tourles.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction Chapter 1: The Basics Chapter 2: The Ingredient Dictionary Chapter 3: Mixing It Up: Essential Equipment Recipes Chapter 4: Insect Repellents for People Chapter 5: Products for Pets Chapter 6: Protect Your Home Resources Index