In the Garden

June 8, 2015

It’s that time of year. As I type this, I am looking out my window into my little city garden just overflowing with life. A couple of days of seasonable warmth followed by some soaking rain has created a haven of green lushness…my mint is poised to overtake the space with my heirloom grape tomato plants shooting to 4 feet in height, heavy with blossoms. My basil and parsley, have doubled in height and even my lettucehas gone from baby to toddler in just days. I can’t grow a lot in my small area but every inch of soil is crammed with food plants and flowers, as much as the space will accomodate. Now, more than ever, it’s important to grow at least some of our own food.


It makes me smile just thinking of the salads and meals I will create from my tiny space.


Getting our hands in the dirt (even if it’s just a window box or a pot on a sunny sill) connects us deeply with the planet that nourishes us. We feel and see the life offered for our nourishment as seeds spring as delicate greens from the soil and grow into food we will enjoy at our tables.


I could be outdoors from morning until night (if only pesky work didn’t get in my way…). The sun warm on my skin; the breeze cooling my neck and back as I bend over my plants fulfills me in ways I can’t begin to describe.


But even heaven has its ‘bugs.’  As summer heats up and humidity pumps moisture into the air, the lush greens of my garden attract the most beautifully annoying pests that love to feast on my ankles, arms and legs.


You know what I mean. The good news is we are not condemned to a life indoors or to sweltering in long sleeves and pants. Nor do we need to douse our skin in toxic chemicals to ward off these wee pests.


These simple, natural bug repellents can be created right in your kitchen and are most effective without harming you…the planet…or the bugs!


Everybody wins and you get to spend your summer free of itchy red bumps!


Essential Oil Bug Spray

You’ll need:

One (or more) of these essential oils as your base: citronella, clove, lemongrass, rosemary, tea tree, eucalyptus, cedar, lavender or mint (My personal experience is that mint and lavender work the best for me. Citronella works well but the scent is too strong for me…but that’s me.)

Natural witch hazel

Boiled water

Vegetable glycerin (optional…it simply adds body to the spray)


Step by Step Instructions:

Fill 8-ounce spray bottle half full with boiled water

Add witch hazel to fill almost to the top

Add 1/2 tsp vegetable glycerin if using

Add 30-50 drops of essential oils to desired scent.


 The more oil drops you use, the stronger the spray will be. You can mix scents if you like, but it can become overpowering. Be creative here and see what you like and what works best for your skin. Unless you have a specific sensitivity, none of these oils will irritate your skin.


Herb-Scented Bug Spray

You’ll need:

Distilled water

Natural witch hazel

Dried herb options: peppermint, spearmint, citronella, lemongrass, lavender or mint.  (I always use mint regardless of the other herbs I use.)


Step by Step Instructions:

Boil 1 cup of water and add 3-4 tablespoons of dried herbs total in any combination from the above. I use 2 tablespoons mint as my base.


Mix well, cover (to keep the volatile oils in the mixture) and set aside to cool completely.


Strain out the herbs and discard. Mix the herbed water with 1 cup of witch hazel or rubbing alcohol. Transfer to a spray bottle and store in a cool place. I like to keep my brew in the fridge as the days heat up so that the spray is also refreshing as well as effective.


Use as needed when outside.  You can’t over-use this spray.


Insect Repellent ‘On Steroids’

Now, before I even share this recipe. This smells quite…strong when you apply it, but it dissipates as it dries. The upside is that it works incredibly well. It’s what I would recommend if I’m going to be in the woods, on a hike or in ‘buggy’ areas. This is natural bug spray on steroids, if you get my drift.


The legend around this recipe is that it was brewed and used by thieves during the Black Plague to avoid…well, the plague. They drank it and applied it to their skin externally to avoid catching the disease because it kept away the carriers…flies and other pests. The story goes that it worked and they survived. Who knows the truth about that, but I can tell you this for sure. This recipe makes a great insect repellent…it works; it’s inexpensive to make and most of the ingredients are already in your pantry.


Vinegar of the Four Thieves Insect Repellent

You’ll need:

1 (32 ounce) bottle of apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons each of dried sage, rosemary, lavender, thyme and mint


Step by Step Instructions

Put the vinegar and dried herbs into a 1-quart glass jar. I like mason jars for this.Seal tightly and set aside. Shake well each day for 2-3 weeks.


After 2-3 weeks, strain the herbs out of the liquid and discard. Store this powerful brew in half-filled spray bottles in the fridge so they do not spoil. Why half-filled? Because when you want to use it, you will need to fill the bottle the rest of the way with water to dilute the spray a bit. By storing in the fridge undiluted, you maintain the strength of your brew.


If you’re too busy to prepare a natural bug spray…or not inclined to do it, here are some simple tips to help avoid bug bites:


Rub pure vanilla extract on your skin. You repel bugs and walk around smelling like a bakery! Rub lavender flowers or lavender oil on your skin, especially on neck, underarms, ankles and wrists to repel insects. Rub fresh or dried leaves of the mint family all over your skin to repel insects and smell really fresh! (Peppermint, spearmint, citronella, lemongrass work best.) Some wives tales say fresh basil leaves rubbed on the skin prevent bug bites but I have not had success with that one.


Here’s to a great…bug bite-free summer! And another week of yummy, summer recipes to keep you cool, refreshed and deliciously nourished!