Choosing Herbs to Repel Biting Flies

Basil in plantpot, close up
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Biting flies are a problem for man and beast. Unfortunately, the hot and muggy weather that invites us outside and into the garden also is perfect for flies. The good news is that herbs can be quite effective in repelling those biting flies, reducing the need to spray your yard or yourself with chemical bug sprays. The plants themselves can help repel flies and other insects in your garden, and you can use the herbs to create an all-natural bug spray and salve to protect yourself.

Herbs That Naturally Repel Flies

Plant fly-repelling herbs in your garden or in movable pots, which allow you to keep them near doorways, on patios, next to your potting bench, or wherever you spend a lot of time:

  • Basil: Any variety of basil is wonderful because it grows extremely fast and grows well in containers. Grab a leaf and rub it on your skin for instant protection from flies and other biting insects.
  • Lemon balmLemon balm is really easy to grow and makes a nice companion plant in a mixed pot. Plant it in a border around your patio, to repel biting flies.
  • CatnipAnother great repellent herb is also a favorite of your cat. It grows very well in pots and, when cut, it grows back thickly.
  • LavenderFor a gorgeous border planting with benefits, plant lavender. It is a wonderful repellent for flies.
  • Other herbs that work to repel flies are tansy, mints, and bay.

DIY Herbal Bug Repellents

One easy way to keep flies away is to rub any fly-repellent fresh herb on your exposed skin. Just pick a few leaves and rub it in. You can also kick the herbs' repellent aromas (repellent to flies but not to us) into the air by simply brushing the plants whenever you walk by. You and your garden will smell great, and it tells those little pests to back off.

To make a simple bug-repellent herbal spray, combine a selection of fresh herb leaves with vodka in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour the mixture through a strainer to extract the liquid and transfer it to a spray bottle. Spray the areas that you want flies to stay away from. This trick has been used successfully on pets and small farm animals as well.

Herbal Bug-Repellant Salve

A salve is like a thick lotion that is rubbed into your skin. These have been used by herbalists for centuries. Homemade salves are easy to make and last a very long time, so they're definitely worth a little bit of work. To make a salve, you will need:

  • 10 to 12 drops essential oils of your choice 
  • 3/4 ounce natural beeswax
  • 4 ounces herbal oil base (olive oil, calendula oil, and grapeseed oil are popular options)
  • Double boiler
  • Storage jars or tins (well cleaned and, preferably, sterilized)

Warm the oil in a double boiler and slowly add grated beeswax. Stir until the beeswax has melted, then add the essential oils. Pour the mixture into jars or tins while it is warm enough to pour easily. Let the salve cool before use.

Herbal Bug Spray

A homemade bug spray should be in every gardener's toolkit. It's very easy to make and can be placed in a small spritzer bottle that sits by the front door or on your potting bench. Spray a little bit on your skin every time you go out into the garden.

An all-purpose blend smells nice and wards off all sorts of pesky insects:

  • 2 parts distilled water
  • 1 part witch hazel
  • 10 drops each lavender, eucalyptus, and lemon essential oils
  • 5 drops bergamot essential oil

Add the ingredients to a clean spray bottle, and shake well. Feel free to replace any of the essential oils with other repellent scents.