Best Natural Insect Repellents when you’re Out in the Woods

Venture into the woods in the summer, and your conviction to ‘be more natural’ goes flying out the window as the bugs come flying in. Soon you’re interspersing your body slap ‘bug dance’ with sprays of chemical repellents that are all good and well until some gets in your mouth.

Insect repellents may be effective, but they contain toxins that could lead to a wealth of adverse health effects. But humans have been battling the bugs since time immemorial and, it turns out, traditional remedies for bugs are safer, cheaper and just as effective as chemical cures.

Sagebrush, Wormwood, and Mugwort

The First Nation’s tradition of smudging is incredibly effective as a mosquito repellent. Sage, wormwood and mugwort are all from the same genus and can be dried and burned as smudge or the fresh leaves can be crushed and applied directly to the skin.


This is the most widely used herb for insect control and products usually contain a low concentration (5-10%) as higher concentrations may cause skin irritation. Citronella essential oils are effective, but only for about 2 hours after application.

Lemon Eucalyptus

This essential oil is very effective at repelling insects, but only for about an hour after application.


Yes, your kitty had it right all along! Crush catnip leaves and rub it on the skin for some effective relief from insects that, studies show, is ten times more effective than DEET.


Widely used as a natural alternative to DEET in India, neem does have a positive effect on keeping mosquitoes at bay. Used undiluted, it can cause skin irritation.


The Cherokee used the root of this plant which they mixed with bear fat and rubbed it onto the skin as an insect repellent. You can use coconut butter as a base instead.


The Iroquois also used bear grease with crushed cedar to augment its effectiveness as a bug repellent. Coconut butter will also work well as a substitute you know, if you’re running low on  bear grease.


Burning sweetgrass is a really effective mosquito repellent. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the University of Guelph and the University of Mississippi found two chemicals in sweetgrass, phytol and coumarin, are effective bug repellents.

You can make your own, effective insect repellent from items you can easily get from your local health-food store. This recipe is effective for about two hours, so be sure to reapply regularly. Get your natural insect repellent recipe here.

Camping? Make friends and influence people around the campfire with meals that are the cat’s pj’s. Get your copy of the Flaming Marshmallow’s Guide to Campfire Cooking.


Nikki is an author and writer specializing in green living ideas and tips, adventure travel, upcycling, and all things eco-friendly. She's traveled the globe, swum with sharks and been bitten by a lion (fact). She lives in a tiny town with a fat cat and a very bad dog.

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