The 101 on DIY Tick Repellents Using Essential Oils

Like our entire team at Arogya, I feel blessed to live nearby the lush forests of Connecticut. I’m grateful for the ability to enjoy well-preserved trails, forage for edible gifts such as ramps and thimbleberries, and to simply breathe in the diverse flora and fauna. At the same time, living amongst nature also means existing side by side with ticks, including Ixodes scapularis. This hard-bodied arthropod, commonly referred to as the blacklegged or deer tick, is responsible for the spread of Lyme Disease, as well as the malaria-like parasitic disease babesiosis and two rarer, potentially fatal conditions: Human granulocytic anaplasmosis (which has only been reported in Wisconsin and Minnesota) and Powassan Virus (one case has been reported in Connecticut).

You’ve probably heard (or might have noticed) that 2017 is an especially prolific year for deer ticks. Scientists report this is largely due to the fact that 2014 into 2015 was a “mast” year, or a phase in which trees in the Fagaceae family such as oak and beech produce an abundant amount of acorns. I definitely remember the 200 year-old oaks near our home exploding with acorns in the fall of 2014. These cupule-capped nuts provide ample fuel for rodents, including the white-footed mouse, whose populations subsequently surge.

The white-footed mouse is significant in that it has been found to be a leading culprit in the spread of Lyme Disease. I was shocked to learn from a recent NPR story that one mouse can host 50 to 100 ticks at a time and infect up to 95% of them with Lyme. In brief, soaring mice populations mean more food for ticks and more opportunities for these ticks, you, and your loved ones to become infected with Lyme. Mice have also brought Lyme Disease into less expected places, such as densely populated suburbs. Away from large stretches of forest, these small rodents thrive without the same threat from natural predators like raptor birds, foxes, and coyotes.

The good news is that there are many safe ways to protect yourself and your loved ones (including pets) from the threat of tick-borne illness. This series of blogs will present a number of environmental and human/animal friendly methods for tick prevention, as well as how holistic medicine can be used to help treat Lyme Disease (*in conjunction with Western medicine and by itself).

***One very important note about prevention: Nothing can replace regular tick checks. Check at least once a day, as well as immediately after spending time outside. Remember, ticks seem to prefer hard-to-reach and hard-to-see places like underarms and the backs of knees, as well as the base of the scalp. Therefore, have a small mirror handy. Keep in mind that a nymph-sized tick is very small – approximately the size of a poppy seed. Lyme generally takes at least 24 hours to be transmitted illness, so the importance of these checks cannot be overstated. In addition, if you find an attached tick, the safest and most effective way to remove it is with tweezers or a tick removal tool. ***

Without further ado, here is the rest of our first post: The 101 on DIY Tick Repellents Using Essential Oils

There are a number of essential oils that repel ticks and other insects. Here’s a bit about each, as well as how to make a water or oil-based repellent using one or a combination of these oils. As the volatile oils wear off more readily than synthetic products, natural repellents need to be reapplied on a regular basis. If you are prone to skin allergies, test a little on a small patch of skin before applying elsewhere. These repellents are pet-friendly, too.

Essential Oils that Repel Ticks:

  • Nootka Tree Oil made from Alaska Yellow Cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis)

    Foliage and cone of the Nootka Tree, which contains a naturally occurring insecticide called nootkatone.

    • Oil made from Alaskan yellow cedar, or what is also called the Nootka tree, not only repels but also kills ticks. That’s because it contains a natural organic compound called nootkatone, which functions as a fully biodegradable insecticide. There is a growing body of research supporting the effectiveness of this compound as an insecticide. To give you a sense of how nontoxic nootkatone is, it’s been used as a food preservative for years. Additionally, it’s a naturally occurring compound in grapefruit. So, if you’ve eaten grapefruit, you’ve ingested nootkatone. As you will learn in our next blog, the Bertrams and I have been very pleased with the ways in which spraying cedar oil on our lawns have helped combat tick activity (the spray contains true cedar and juniper derived oils).
  • Other Cedar Oils (Cedarwood oil)
    • Ironically, not all cedar oil is made from true cedar, which is in the Pinaceae family, but various types of conifers in juniper and cypress families (although the popular essential oil made from Moroccan and Algerian Atlas Cedar is from the Pinaceae family). These oils have also been found to repel insects, although they do not contain nootkatone.  A number are also used as food additive preservatives (due to antifungal properties), a testament to their safety.
  • Grapefruit Oil
    • Like nookta oil, grapefruit essential oil contains nootkatone, an organic compound that repels and kills ticks. It also has a pleasant and refreshing scent.
  • Oils made from the Pelargonium Family, including Rose Geranium and Geranium 

    Flowering rose geranium plant

    • A growing body of research suggests that geraniol, a compound that is found in essential oils made from geranium plants, is an effective insect repellent. Geranium essential oils are made by distilling the flowers, leaves, and stems of the plant in oil. The end product has a pleasant floral aroma and, unlike most essential oils, can be used directly on the skin undiluted. While you can dab a few drops directly on your body, we recommend making a spreadable repellent by using one of the recipes below. You can find rose geranium oil, which is made from an uncommon Pelargonium species native to the Cape Provinces and the Northern Provinces of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, on our website or in our store.
  • Lavender 

    Lavender

    • You might be familiar with lavender for its calming and stress relieving properties. Lavender essential oil, which is sourced from the fragrant,  purple buds of the lavender plant (herb Lavendula officinalisto), is also an effective repellent for ticks and fleas. You can find this oil on our website or in our store.
  • Refined Lemon Eucalyptus Oil
    • Refined lemon eucalyptus oil is derived from the citronellal-rich aged leaves of the Corymbia citriodora, a tree native to Australia. Lemon eucalyptus oil is recommended by both the CDC and EPA as an effective and safe insectrepellent.
  • Citronella
    • Citronella has been used as a repellent for mosquitos and other insects for decades. The oil is sourced through the steam distillation of certain grasses in the Cymbopogon grass family (Lemongrass is in this family, although it is not used to create citronella oil).
  • Lemongrass
    • As mentioned, lemongrass is also in the Cymbopogon plant family. When distilled into an essential oil, lemongrass has a pleasant crisp scent and astringent properties. Like citronella oil, it also functions as an insect repellent.
  • Additional essential oils: Peppermint, Oregano, Rosemary, Thyme, Lemon, and Garlic
    •  Essential oils made from peppermint, oregano, rosemary, thyme, lemon, and garlic also possess repellent properties.

Basic DIY Tick Repellent Recipes

Creating a water or oil-based DIY repellent is easy! We recommend storing your formula in a small glass or plastic spray bottle, or one with a roll on applicator. As essential oils are volatile, make a fresh batch every two months.

Water-Based Essential Oil Repellent:

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces witch hazel or apple cider vinegar (the witch hazel more neutral smelling)
  • 2 ounces water
  • 30-40 drops of one or a combination of essential oils listed above

Instructions:

Combine the witch hazel or apple cider vinegar with the distilled water and essential oils. Shake before applying.

Oil-Based Essential Oil Repellent

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces of non-greasy oil such as jojoba
  • 30-40 drops of one or a combination of essential oils listed above

Instructions:

Combine the oils. Shake before applying.

Stay-tuned for our next blog about sustainable ways to protect your yard from ticks, including information on safer sprays and tick-repellent plants.

 

by Sophie Slater