We’re approaching summer bug season in many parts of the northern hemisphere, which in addition to sun and fun means lots of smelly insect repellant wafting through the air. The standard chemical ingredient in many conventional bug sprays is DEET, a neurotoxic chemical that, although it seems to work against annoying critters, is also working against you and your family’s health. But you have a friend in yarrow herb, which just so happens to work better than DEET at repelling insects without causing harmful side effects.
If you live in hardiness zones 3-9, which covers the vast majority of the U.S., chances are, yarrow already grows wild somewhere in your yard or neighborhood. Its flowers are small and clustered, and can manifest in a variety of appealing colors including red, pink, yellow or the common white. But these amazing plants represent more than just eye candy, offering health-conscious folks a safe escape from pesky mosquitoes, horse flies, ticks and various other insects, all without the need to apply any poison.
The Healthy Home Economist‘s Sarah Pope recently published a helpful recipe for making a yarrow tincture at home that, when produced correctly, offers superior protection against insect bites without the toxicity of a DEET-based repellant formula. Though you don’t have to make your own yarrow tincture at home to take advantage of its benefits, Pope suggests that doing so will produce the greatest potency.
Referencing the work of Wise Woman Herbal’s Susun Weed, Pope notes that research conducted by the United States Army found that yarrow extracted into a tincture works better than DEET at repelling ticks and mosquitoes. Though it doesn’t always last as long, yarrow tincture is orders of magnitude safer than conventional bug sprays, which makes it worth investigating as you continue your journey away from chemical toxicity.
Use this recipe to make your own yarrow herb insect repellent at home
In case you weren’t aware, DEET exposure, particularly among children, is associated with some pretty nasty side effects. Some children sprayed with DEET-based bug repellants have gone on to develop seizures, for instance, even when applied at low potency. Others, according to a 2001 paper published in the journal Human & Experimental Toxicology, have developed brain damage in the form of encephalopathy.
DEET isn’t something that you want to mess with, in other words, though it’s pervasive in many conventional bug sprays. If you’re serious about finding a viable and safe alternative to this poison, consider making your own yarrow tincture at home, or buying a pre-made yarrow tincture, though slightly less potent, if you don’t have time to go the homemade route.
“Fortunately, finding fresh yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is not that hard as it is a common plant that grows wild all around the world in temperate regions,” wrote Pope. “Susun Weed suggests the white or pink yarrow varieties as the best ones to tincture. She recommends picking the flowers, flower buds, seeds, stalk, and leaves from the top third of the plant.”
The complete recipe for making yarrow tincture at home is available at the following link:
Just remember: Even the strongest yarrow herb tincture may need to be applied much more frequently than conventional, chemical-based bug sprays. Weed suggests spraying yarrow tincture on the skin every 20-30 minutes when pests are heavy, and perhaps every 1-2 hours when they’re not as heavy.
Be sure to check out Susun S. Weed’s book Healing Wise from the Wise Woman Herbal Series here:
Sources for this article include: