Illustrations by Ingrid Wu.

Picture this: You’ve been planning some quality time outdoors all week. You’ve taken the evening off work and prepared a backpack with all your hiking essentials. You arrive at the trailhead, soaking in the green and brown of the forest. Suddenly, you feel a sting on your ankle — the bugs have arrived.   

In Florida, going outside is already a battle against the heat and rain, and bugs add a nasty bite to the challenge. You want to keep them away, but the chemicals found in traditional bug repellents can have severe effects on humans in high quantities. However, with Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases becoming serious threats, it is imperative to protect yourself. Don’t forget about your garden, either: Pests can easily harm vegetable crops, and synthetic pesticides contain phosphates and nitrates that lower soil quality and contaminate nearby water reservoirs.

There is a better alternative: Natural options are both safe and effective. Essential oils from plants have been proven to have repellent properties, and species such as lavender, catnip, citronella and geranium offer short-term protection against mosquitoes and other insects. For the garden, neem oil is non-toxic and child-safe, and it works against many pests. Using simpler ingredients and more natural alternatives is surprisingly easy and fun — and it smells a lot better.


Witchy Bug Spray


  • 10 drops rosemary essential oil
  • 10 drops lavender essential oil
  • 10 drops cinnamon essential oil
  • 10 drops eucalyptus essential oil
  • 10 drops cedarwood essential oil
  • 4 ounces distilled water
  • 3.5 ounces witch hazel
  • 1/2 teaspoon vegetable glycerin (optional)
  • 1 8-ounce spray bottle


  1. Fill the spray bottle halfway with water.

  2. Add witch hazel so the mixture almost reaches the top of the bottle. Witch hazel is an astringent made from the witch hazel shrub, and it is known for its skin moisturizing and soothing benefits.

  3. Add 1/2 teaspoon of glycerin if using. This will preserve your spray and make it last longer.

  4. Use 30 – 50 of any combination of the essential oils above. The intensity and scent depends on the ratio of essential oils used.


Sweet Vinegar  Home Spray


  • 15 drops lavender essential oil
  • 10 drops eucalyptus essential oil
  • 10 drops tea tree (Melaleuca) essential oil
  • 6 drops lime essential oil
  • 6 drops bergamot essential oil
  • 2 ounces distilled water
  • 2 ounces white (or apple cider) vinegar
  • 1 4-ounce spray bottle


  1. Pour the water and vinegar into a 4-oz spray bottle.

  2. Carefully add the drops of essential oils. If you only have one or two varieties, just make sure you have about 45 – 50 drops total. Other options include citronella, rosemary, geranium and peppermint. One small bottle of essential oil contains enough to make many batches of spray, and they can be used to make lotion, soap and even for cooking with food-grade oils.

  3. Shake well and spray away! Due to the intensity of the oils, this spray is best used in the area around you and is not to be applied directly to the skin.


img_6577Garden Pal


  • 2 teaspoons Neem oil
  • 1 teaspoon liquid soap (organic)
  • 1 quart water


  1. Add Neem oil and soap to water in a small bowl. Neem oil is very effective in small amounts, so a small concentration is enough to deter most bugs. If there is a stronger infestation, increase the Neem oil concentration. Transfer to spray bottle and shake thoroughly.

  2. Spray on plant foliage to deter pests! After about a week, there should be a decrease in insects.

Bzz! Neem is completely natural and is sourced from the seeds of the Neem tree. It is biodegradable, non-toxic to children and pets, and easy to find at gardening shops or natural food stores. With this recipe, you can use Neem to keep bugs out of your garden. You can even use it in low concentrations as a bug repellent!

Bee Balm


  • 6 tablespoons beeswax pastilles or beads
  • 6 tablespoons cocoa butter
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons castor oil
  • 15 drops each of citronella, lemongrass, and eucalyptus essential oils
  • 5 drops each of peppermint and geranium essential oils Tins or small glass jars


  1. To melt the beeswax, you will need to construct your own simple double boiler. First, boil about an inch of water in a saucepan. Mix together the beeswax, cocoa butter, coconut oil, and castor oil in a glass measuring cup, glass jar or metal bowl. Place the container with the ingredients in the boiling water and reduce heat. Do not melt the ingredients directly in a saucepan!

  2. After the ingredients are melted, set aside and let cool. Wait until the edges begin to harden, then add the essential oils.

  3. Place in a tin or jar while still semi-liquid. After about 30 minutes, the mixture will harden into a balm. Use as needed on skin.

Bzz! If you only want to make one tin, cut the recipe in half!