Herbalist extraordinaire Susun Weed of the Wise Woman Herbal series of books says that the United States Army studied yarrow and found a tincture of this herb outperforms DEET in repelling ticks and mosquitoes. The one drawback is that it did not remain effective as long, so it needs to be reapplied often. I was unable to find a source for this study, so you will have to try it and see if you agree.
One thing is for sure: avoiding the use of DEET containing insect repellents on yourself and your children no matter what is a wise parenting decision. This stuff is so highly toxic that it isn’t worth it to ever use it in my opinion. It has been known to cause seizures in young children even at low potency. In addition, a review of the scientific literature turns up 17 cases of DEET-induced toxic encephalopathy in children (1).
Ms. Weed suggests spraying yourself with yarrow tincture every 20-30 minutes if the insects are heavy. If not, every couple of hours should be sufficient. Yarrow works for repelling horse flies and other insects that are bothering your horse when you are riding too.
The best tinctures are made with freshly picked plants. Buying a commercially prepared tincture from the store made with dried plants is not as potent
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. It has lovely, long lasting flowers that may be white, yellow, red, or pink. 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.
Preparing the yarrow tincture is performed as follows:
If you absolutely cannot source fresh yarrow to make this insect repellent tincture, you can use dried yarrow. Just know that it will not be as potent and you will most likely have to respray yourself more often to achieve satisfactory results.
Note that powdered yarrow is not suitable for tincturing. You can only use the dried yarrow root, as the dried flowers, buds, stems, and leaves will not retain enough potency after drying.
Place two ounces of the dried yarrow root in a pint jar. Add 10 ounces of 100 proof vodka.
Cap and label as described above.
Top up with more vodka over the next week as necessary.
Leave for 6 weeks and then strain it for use.
Note that a properly made yarrow tincture is appropriate as a broad spectrum insect repellent, but especially for mosquitoes, ticks, horse flies and deer flies.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
Note that crushing yarrow leaves and stems and rubbing them on yourself does not really work very well (neither does citronella, by the way). The yarrow potency needs to be concentrated via tincture.
ty sis! THis is good to know. I must try this! xo