Make your own insect repellant for the High Country |

Make your own insect repellant for the High Country

Jasmine Listou Bible
Special to the Daily

Chilled glass of rose in hand, watching the sun drift slowly behind the jagged mountains of the Continental Divide, serenity overcomes you. You've found the perfect Rocky Mountain high, when suddenly a mosquito decides to crash your party. These savage pests, small and large, can disrupt your summer bliss and put an end to your relaxation. So how do you combat these critters?

Chemical past

For decades, we've relied on chemicals to protect us from bugs.

Picaridin, an ingredient found in some bug repellants, is a compound that was developed in the 1980s to resemble the natural compound piperine found in the group of plants that are used to produce black pepper. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, a cooperative agreement between Oregon State University and the Environmental Protection Agency, when the compound was applied to the skin, as much as 5 percent of the picaridin was absorbed into the human body.

N,N-Diethyl-3-methylbenzamide, more commonly known as DEET, is the most prolific active ingredient in most bug repellents. Developed in the 1950s by the U.S. Army, it is used on the skin to protect against mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and other biting insects. One Duke University study published in 2001 found DEET to be linked to neurological damage, and the EPA reported five DEET-related deaths between 1961 and 2002.

While this number is relatively low, given the number of uses of DEET products is estimated to be in the billions, perhaps rather than relying on manmade concoctions, we can simplify our bug battle.

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Found in nature

In nature, there are plants that naturally attract bugs and plants that naturally repel bugs. By simply using the plant-based ingredients that repel bugs, we can create chemical-free bug sprays. We've compiled some of our favorite recipes that begin with the same base formula and allow you to add your favorite combination of essential oils.

Our first base ingredient is witch hazel. This low-growing shrub naturally seeks out water sources and is used commonly to dry and cleanse skin, thanks to its high astringent properties. Our next base ingredient is jojoba oil. Jojoba is actually a liquid plant wax that comes from the beans of a shrub-like plant. It's a favorite for skin products because it has absorption properties that are similar to our skin's own oil or sebum. This jojoba oil will act as our carrier oil, which allows us to utilize our next ingredient, essential oil.

Essential oils are extracted from plants and resins and are highly concentrated and potent. To be effective without being overbearing, we dilute them with our carrier oil. If you can't find jojoba, other options that work well are sweet almond oil, grape seed oil, olive oil and coconut oil. Now, on to the essential oils. This is where the fun begins. We've chosen 10 essential oils that smell lovely to humans but repel many common flying insects. Each oil has different characteristics that work well when paired together. Finish the mixture with distilled water. The distillation process removes many of the impurities by boiling the water and then condensing the steam into a clean container.

Sprays and lotions

Once you've created your spray, it can be sprayed directly onto your skin and your clothing. Lightly rub the mixture into your skin for faster absorption. Try spritzing your bed linens and pillows. Place three drops onto a ribbon to hang in your tent, above your bed or in your kitchen. Add the mixture to your regular lotion. Starting with a natural, scent-free lotion, add 20 to 30 drops of the spray into an 8-ounce bottle of lotion. Shake the mixture well before each use.

Keep your sprays stored in a cool, dry place in a dark-colored glass container. Essential oils do not become rancid, but they do oxidize and deteriorate with exposure to sunlight. By storing your spray in a cobalt blue or amber bottle, you keep out deteriorating sunlight. Glass bottles are also preferred over plastic, as the essential oils will eat away at the plastic and eventually ruin the purity of your mixture.

The witch hazel, distilled water and jojoba oil can be found at Natural Grocers in Dillon. The essential oils can be found at Backcountry Herbal Apothecary on Main Street in Frisco or online at

Quick tips to repel bugs

• Dab one drop of citronella onto the top of each sock to prevent bites.

• Add one of your favorite essential oils to Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap to wash your hands before you head outside (10 to 15 drops of oil per ounce of soap).

• Out on the trails and forgot to apply your spray? Reach for a sprig of lavender and rub the buds directly onto your arms, neck and ankles.

• Already have some bites? Apply one drop of lavender oil to soothe the burning. Repeat every 5 minutes until the itching subsides.

Homemade bug spray

Each combination of essential oils listed here has a different scent and effect. Feel free to experiment with different combinations. Find which scents appeal to you most by heading to Backcountry Herbal Apothecary on Main Street in Frisco.

Bug spray base

2 tablespoons witch hazel

2 tablespoons jojoba oil

35 to 50 drops essential oil combination

Distilled water

Essential oil combo No. 1

(To feel like you just stepped out of a spa)

15 drops eucalyptus oil

10 drops lemongrass oil

5 drops citronella oil

5 drops tea tree oil

Essential oil combo No. 2

(Floral and lovely and a touch feminine)

15 drops lavender oil

10 drops eucalyptus oil

5 drops tea tree oil

5 drops vanilla extract (use organic, pure vanilla extract)

Essential oil combo No. 3

(Earthy and robust and perfect for evenings around the campfire)

10 drops clove bud oil

10 drops spearmint oil

5 drops rosemary oil

5 drops cedar wood oil

Begin with a 4-ounce, dark-colored glass spray bottle. Add witch hazel and jojoba oil. Add your chosen essential oil combination, slowly, one drop at a time. Replace spray cap, and shake to blend ingredients. Remove cap, fill almost to the top of the bottle with distilled water, and shake again. Spray, and watch the bugs flee.

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