May 21, 2009

Years ago, probably around 1992/1993, while I was rock climbing in the adirondacks I was introduced to the "black fly." It was my first exposure to black flies. My climbing guide had warned me that it was "black fly" season but the only black flies I knew of were those pesky kitchen flies. You know, the ones that are born as little maggots and then fly around until you kill them with a fly swatter. So, I didn't think twice about climbing during black fly season. 

Well picture this. A million little black flies, about the size of pencil tip, swarming around your head. You don't feel them bite until after they've drilled a hole and left you a bloody mess. You start to itch like crazy and in my case, being allergic, I develop a fever and tons of welts (wherever they bit me). Initially I tried using bug repellent, the famous OFF, but no matter how much I sprayed on my body it wasn't helping. At one point I started to imagine the black flies were wearing gas masks because I could barely stand the smell of myself so how come they weren't affected??? My climbing guide tried to give me some oil concoction to use but I baulked at the idea and continued to complain and use my "off". Someone suggested a net over the head might help but try rock climbing up a 800 ft rock face with that on your head. I don't think so!

A few days into the climb my guide pulls out the oil concoction again. This time, feeling ill and willing to try anything, I dab on some oil. "Nope, not good enough" he tells me. So he showers me with the stuff and......I'm not sure if it was the carrier oil base drowning the black flies before they could bite me or if it was the nausiating scent of eucalyptus mixed with citronella, but it worked!

I learned two lessons that day: #1 don't be so arrogant always assuming I know best, sometimes a climbing guide knows what he's talking about. #2 even though it seems simple, natural oftentimes is much better than synthetic.

That experience kept me from buying OFF ever again. Initially I purchased someone elses handmade bug repellent but decided it was more fun to make my own. Besides, my kids get a kick out of telling their friends that THEIR MOM makes bug killer.

And although my creation doesn't exactly kill bugs like the kids think, it does manage to keep them away.

Step One: Gather your supplies. You don't need much. Measuring spoons, double boiler for melting, spoon for stirring, tin for storage.

Step Two: Gather your ingredients. Carrier oils, beeswax, essential oils.

My preferred carrier oils are castor and almond. Almond is my new fav. It absorbs quickly and I just like the way it feels. Castor is a skin protectant and who doesn't want to protect their skin when in the hardy outdoors.

For essential oils I use citronella, lemongrass, eucalyptus, and cedarwood oil. This combo has proven to keep black flies, mosquitos and ticks away.

Step Three: Measure out your oils/beeswax. For a 3 inch round tin I used 3 tbs. almond oil, 1.5 tbs. beeswax and .5 tbs castor oil. Neem oil is gaining popularity in natural bug repellent formulas because it is said that neem has the ability to repel mosquitos and other insects on its own. I haven't tried it yet.

Step Four: I melt my beeswax first and then add the almond oil and castor oil. This will start to harden quickly once removed from the heat so you need to add your EO's at just the right time. You don't want to do it while your oils are at their hottest so wait until it cools a bit, but not so cool that it starts to solidify. You will have to play with the amount of EO's. I always use more citronella than anything. One, because my family thinks it smells the best and two, because it is great at keeping the sqeeters away.

Step Five: Once you've added your EO's and your bug repellent is still liquid, pour into your tin (or lotion tube, or whatever you choose). Set on a shelf and let it cool or if you need it right away you can pop it in the fridge for 5 minutes. Once hard it is ready to be used.

If you'd want to try different EO's, here is a list of the most common EO's used to repel insects:

citronella, cedar, verbena, pennyroyal, geranium, lavender, pine, cajeput, cinnamon, lemongrass, rosemary, basil, thyme, allspice, garlic, and peppermint, and eucalyptus (good for ticks).

To use, just rub your fingers across the surface, the oil will melt from your body heat, then rub on your skin.

Natural bug repellents need to be applied more often then the chemically laden commercial products (every 2 hours) but your body will thank you for it.
Heidi said...

This is GREAT! I just did a search for handmade bug dope this week. I tried to do yoga on the back deck one night and was eaten alive. Its time to whip up some repellent =D

cindy said...

Interesting, Michelle, I hear them nasty biting black flies are infamous around the UP. I may have to learn to be a bug repellent maker after we move.

Allison said...

WOW!!! I was always in favor of natural repellents. Funny, this post made me remember dousing our horses with Skin So Soft when I was little!!

Marisa said...

Great idea. I dislike having to wear repellent with all kinds of nasty stuff in it. I have tried using tea tree oil when gardening with my husband and while he complained about the black flies I found they weren't bothering me that much. I have yet to put it to the real test when black flies are really thick, so if it doesn't meet my expectations I will have to try your idea.

Sherrie said...

Fantastic! Thanks for the recipe. :)