How To: Lemon Myrtle Bug Spray
This article originally appeared in North Journal, Issue 9
Ah, summer. Warm, salty ocean, skin so brown it shines, camping trips and - mosquitoes. This time of year goes hand in hand with the inescapable sensation of a tiny insect sucking the blood out of your veins. Before you reach for the chemical bug spray though, there is a natural solution at hand - literally, at hand, it's growing all around us. Lemon myrtle (Backhousia Citriodora) is an Australian native tree with some seriously powerful foliage. It's lemony, fragrant leaves are full of oil which has the strongest and purest citral of any plant, accounting for it's insect repelling action. In addition, the oil is an antiseptic, anti-fungal, anti-viral and calmative. It's antimicrobial properties are in fact stronger than that of the more popular eucalyptus and tea tree.
Indigenous Australians have long used lemon myrtle leaves either fresh or dried as a medicine and food flavouring. Lemon myrtle infusions were used to treat colds and flu, gastrointestinal disorders, headaches and fatigue. A powerful antioxidant, drinking lemon myrtle tea is believed to boost immune function and fight free radicals. Simply steep some leaves in boiling water to feel the effects, or you could even make a lemonade to sip on during the long, hot summer days. The diluted oil can be used topically to street skin ailments, cuts, scrapes, wounds and to add a refreshing antibacterial element to soaps and cosmetics. It truly works wonders especially when added to healing balms and cleansing products for problem skin.
In a land where the climate compels you to spend much of your time outdoors, it almost seems unfair that you are immediately plagued with bothersome bugs and insects. Almost. But in Australia there also happen to grow some of the most powerful insect repelling and infection fighting plants. A man called Giambattista della Porta (credited with perfecting the design of the camera obscura) founded a scientific society known as the Otiosi, who studied the 'secrets of nature'. A truly interesting guy, one of his claims is that the same environment produces the disease and the cure. He coined this phenomenon the Doctrine of Analogies. People have been doing this for millennia; they literally look around them at the available plants, animals and minerals to cure any matter of disease and often what they need is right under their noses.
Along with lemon myrtle, other plants with known bug repelling properties include tea tree, eucalyptus, citronella, lemongrass, clove, rosemary, cedar and any member of the mint family, especially catnip. You can really get as creative with the below recipe as you like, as long as you utilise a combination of the above plants. Feel free to add whatever oils you like, such as geranium, lavender, and bergamot to adjust fragrance and beneficial properties. One of my favourite blends is lemon myrtle, geranium and cedar, but you can get as wild as you want. Witch hazel extract has toning and astringent properties, that works wonderfully on inflamed skin conditions such as acne, eczema and sunburn. The benefit of using witch hazel as a base is that you can use this spray to freshen up skin after swimming or spending time outdoors in the sun and it won't irritate your skin, but rather will soothe and cleanse it, while the oils bring that added benefit of keeping insects away.
Lemon Myrtle Insect Repellant (Makes 500mls)
- 1 cup witch hazel
- 1 cup distilled or boiled water
- 10 drops lemon myrtle oil
- 10 drops tea tree oil
- 6 drops geranium oil
- 4 drops cedarwood atlas oil
- Combine the water and witch hazel in a glass jar or bowl. Slowly add the oils drop by drop.
- Divide the liquid between some amber PET spray bottles and shake to combine.
I would usually recommend glass bottles, however plastic works better in this case as you are likely to be carting this around with you on many outdoor adventures. The amber colouring helps prevent light penetrating and keeps the liquid fresh. The spray will keep for around 3 months, or longer if kept in the fridge.