Natural Tick Repellants: A Vermont Herbalist’s Approach
A big thanks to guest blog contributor Emily French of Sweetgrass Herbals for this informative write-up on natural approaches to repelling ticks.
There are two categories of botanical repellents for Lyme. The first is the external repellents, specifically for making one’s self less attractive to ticks and other insect hosts of Lyme and its common co-infections. The second is the internal repellents: herbs that optimize the immune system’s response to bacterial infections like the Lyme complex by specifically strengthening immune function. After you have received your recommendations from a Lyme-literate herbalist, be sure to consult a licensed naturopathic physician to make sure that treatment is compatible with any other health conditions or medications you might be taking. Integrative care—care that is co-managed by qualified health practitioners with different areas of specialization—is the most holistic and comprehensive.
Regarding external repellents, the best recipe I’ve come across is from Stephen Harrod Buhner’s book “Healing Lyme”. It is easy enough to make at home, and though the ingredients are a little pricey (about $125 for a season’s worth of repellent), when we think of the costs associated with a Lyme infection, it doesn’t seem so expensive after all. The recipe is below. If you’d prefer not to make it yourself, Montana Farmacy sells both the ready-made repellent and a concentrated blend of all the essential oils, to which you just add 8oz pure alcohol. They’re online at www.montanafarmacy.com. Search for “Outdoor Lyme Armor Natural Tick Spray” in their online shop.
It’s worth noting what to do in the instance of a tick bite, as well. Here’s the rap from an herbalist’s point of view:
Remove the tick carefully. Use tweezers to grab the tick as close to the mouthparts as possible and pull straight back. Do not twist the tick, as this can cause the mouthparts to more easily break off in the skin. Don’t grab the tick by the stomach either, as that can cause the contents of the stomach to be ejected into your skin. Cover the bite with Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata) tincture (a potent antibacterial), then with moist bentonite clay. The bentonite clay has a strong pulling effect, and will help to pull the infection from the site of the bite. Cover that with cotton and leave on for 12-24 hours. The Middlebury Natural Foods Coop has recently begun carrying bentonite clay in the bulk section for just this purpose.
Begin taking the following: Homeopathic Sedum 1M 3x daily for 3 days, Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus): 3,000mg supplement daily. Contact an herbalist for a broad-spectrum antimicrobial and immune-stimulating blend of herbs to help ward off infection. Consider antibiotics.
Cut out all inflammatory foods: sugar, flour, alcohol, non-organic, red meat, dairy, and coffee. Lyme loves inflammation, and inflammatory foods weaken immunity.
Internal repellents are also useful for those of us living in Lyme-prevalent areas. These are herbs that support strong, healthy, and alert immune function. The primary herb we use as a Lyme deterrent is Astragalus Root (Astragalus membranaceus). A recommended adult dosage is 1,000mg daily all throughout tick season (which is nearly year-round, as the ticks become active anytime the temperature rises above freezing). Other good immune supports include adaptogenic and nutritive herbs like Schisandra Berry, Eleuthero, Ashwagandha, and Cordyceps mushroom. In addition, eating a healthy diet free from inflammatory and immune suppressing foods like sugar, white flour, fried food, non-organic meats and dairy, and caffeine keeps our bodies primed for health. The severity of a Lyme infection is directly proportional to the health of the immune system, so making wise choices of supportive food and herbs now will tip the scales in your favor if you ever find yourself dealing with a Lyme infection.
NATURAL TICK REPELLENT from Healing Lyme, Stephen Harrod Buhner
TO MAKE: Take 1⁄2 teaspoon each of the essential oils of Rhododendron tomentosum (formerly: Ledum palustre, aka Labrador Tea, and no Rhododendron anthopogon will not work, don’t use it.), Tagetes minuta, Chamaecyparis nootkatensis, Artemisia absinthium, Myrica gale (aka Bog Myrtle), Juniperus virginia, Eucalyptus citriodora (aka Lemon Eucalyptus), and Origanum majorana (aka Marjoram – note: Origanum vulgare, aka oregano, will work but is not quite as strong.) Add the essential oils (4tsp total volume) to 8 ounces of pure grain alcohol (95% alcohol) or as close to that as you can get. Blend well and keep in a tightly capped brown bottle out of the sun. These oils range in effectiveness from 50-95% in repelling ticks (it always works fairly well on black flies). The combination runs around 99% effective. TO USE: I use a 1 ounce brown herb bottle with a spritzer/spray attachment. Apply liberally and often during tick season.
ACCESSIBILITY & COST OF THE OILS: All these oils are findable on the internet. Just google the oil name, and hit the shopping function. Nearly all the oils are inexpensive, and they will make many, many batches of the repellant. However: Ledum palustre/ Rhododendron tomentosum essential oil is very expensive (as you will find). It is, nevertheless, essential to the mixture. It has the highest repellant rate, 95%, of all of them, so don’t scrimp. Total you will be looking at around $125 for a season or two’s protection for you and your family. Pretty cheap really.
Emily French is a clinical and traditional herbalist working with a wide range of clients and herbal medicines. Her work revolves around her love for reconnecting people with the sophisticated art and science of plant-based healing that we’ve all known, somewhere in our bones, for thousands of years. With over 4,000 hours of clinical experience, Emily has a broad understanding of both acute and chronic health issues, and how to work with the healing plants to help people move toward balance and vitality. She is the founder of Sweetgrass Herbals, based in Lincoln + Bristol, Vermont and a cofounder of The Hawthorn Center. Learn more at www.sweetgrassherbals.com.