Homemade Herbal Bug Spray with Yarrow

Recently, we realized the power of this bug spray as we sat on a lawn and watched bugs approach our arms, hover, and turn away leaving our skin untouched. Amazing!

Not only is it effective, but it is made with just a few high quality ingredients that are non-toxic and safe for our families!

That isn’t quite the case with conventional bug sprays.  Many contain DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) as the active ingredient which is best to avoid in high concentrations and over extended periods of time, especially in small children (read this for more information). If you live in an area where mosquito-born diseases are of particular concern, I understand the use of DEET sparingly, but for many others, a completely natural bug spray is effective and without worrisome chemicals!

As usual, I turned to my knowledge of plants to come up with a chemical-free bug spray alternative.  One of the big players that I can find readily in the yard: yarrow!

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is an attractive flowering plant with leaves that are fern-like.  In the wild, yarrow typically has white or pink flowers, but has been cultivated widely to come in a variety of lovely shades.  For medicinal use, it is often assumed that the wilder varieties contain more potent ingredients.  I found this pink one growing along the edge of my yard. (Learn more about identifying yarrow here.)

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Yarrow is probably best known for its ability to stop bleeding.  Powdered yarrow or poultices can be placed onto cuts and even into noses to stop bleeding quickly.  I also use yarrow in my cold and flu tea blends because it helps to open pores and bring on sweating which can help to bring down a fever naturally.

Not only is this plant helpful in these contexts, but it is also a natural insect repellant.  In some herbal lore, it is reported that the US Army tested yarrow tincture for use in their bug sprays and found it to be just as effective as DEET (see Susun Weed’s tale here).  However, the desired effect did wear off a bit sooner.  No problem – we can just apply some of our yarrow a little more often!

The base of this bug spray is a simple yarrow tincture.

Making a tincture is easy!  Just follow these steps:

1. Fill a glass jar 2/3 full with chopped yarrow.  In my version, I used some dried yarrow mixed with fresher yarrow that I had let wilt for a few days.  I also added dried catnip which is also known for its mosquito-repelling qualities.

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2. Fill the jar to the top with alcohol (vodka is my choice) that is at least 80 proof.  Be sure to cover all the plant parts. Label your jar!

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3. Let the herbs infuse into the alcohol for 4 – 6 weeks, shaking the jar periodically.

4. Strain the herbs out with cheesecloth and store the yarrow tincture in a dark bottle.

5. You can place the yarrow tincture in a spray bottle and use it just as it is.  Optionally, you can also cut it with a little filtered water and/or witch hazel to make the tincture last longer.  For an extra potent spray, try adding essential oils that also repel bugs.

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Some of the best essential oils to add include:

  • Lemon Eucalytpus
  • Rose geranium
  • Mints (Catnip, peppermint, etc.)
  • Lemongrass
  • Lavender
  • Cedarwood
  • Eucalyptus
  • Rosemary
  • Tea Tree
  • Citronella

Spray yourself before you head outside (and every 2 or so hours after) and watch the bugs fly away!  Enjoy your summer!

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Where can I get yarrow, essential oils, and bottles?

My favorite source of dried herbs and related accessories is Mountain Rose Herbs (affiliate link).

I don’t have the time! Can I get this pre-made?

Yes! I have extra available in my Etsy shop.

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Shared on:

Wildcrafting Wednesday

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6 thoughts on “Homemade Herbal Bug Spray with Yarrow

  1. Love this! I put up some yarrow tincture a few weeks ago and it is nearly ready to decant. Hurrah–I didn’t know of this use for it as well! I am going to compare it to a lemon balm/witch hazel bug spray I also have brewing. Many thanks!

  2. Pingback: Catnip Cloths for Teething | These Light Footsteps

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