ORLAND — A summer afternoon spent overlooking one of Downeast Maine’s serene lakes or taking a late evening stroll down a rocky beach is as close to heaven as it can get.
You’re enjoying a vibrant sunset when — BUZZ — a blackfly does its dance and decides to take a big bite out of your forearm.
Blackflies — along with their mosquito and tick pals — are about the only things capable of ruining a Maine summer night.
For some families, traditional diethyltoluamide-based — or DEET as it’s commonly known — bug repellants can cause respiratory problems, rashes and inflammation. For others, DEET simply smells terrible.
In “Naturally Bug-Free,” Orland author Stephanie Tourles has perfected 75 natural solutions for repelling blackflies, mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, ants and other insects that really know how to put a damper on a picnic.
“I’ve always thought that Mother Nature can provide the natural and safe solution to your bug issues,” she said.
Tourles, who has written a dozen books on topics ranging from how to make natural body scrubs, to raw juice recipes and healthy living tips, has created a collection of bug repellant sprays, drops and powders for both humans and their pets.
“Over the years I’ve often heard from people looking for alternatives to the standard chemical arsenal that’s commercially available to repel and control insects and pests,” Tourles said. “I have made my own herb-based repellent products for years for personal use and have given samples to friends and readers.”
Tourles said she is sensitive to chemicals and that using DEET products “makes my skin feel like I am being attacked by fire ants.”
DEET was formulated in 1944 for the U.S. Army to use as a pesticide during jungle warfare in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
The chemical is the most common active ingredient in common bug repellants such as Off!, Cutter and Repel.
“The EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] recommends washing DEET off of your skin when you get inside,” she said. “Nobody does that. If [DEET] can damage plastic, leather and glass, what is it going to do to you?”
With the Zika virus becoming an international health crisis, people seem to be more concerned with deterring mosquitoes than ever.
Tourles says her recipes have not been tested in Zika or malaria-infested countries, but that the natural ingredients have been used for centuries to ward off insects.
“What I can tell you is that the herbs that I use and the herbal extracts and essential oils have been traditionally and historically used for hundreds, if not thousands, of years to repel and or kill insects,” she said.
For travelers heading to Zika-infested countries who are concerned about contracting the disease, Tourles recommends putting DEET products only on clothing.
“My suggestion, but I can’t make up your mind for you, is please only apply DEET to clothing, not skin. Wear linen, long sleeves. Wear something that breathes,” she said. “Use one of my sprays on your neck, wrist and ankles.”
Tourles also does not like to use typical flea and tick products on her pets, since those chemicals end up in animals’ bloodstreams and can be dangerous if licked.
Her recipes are packed full of natural ingredients that work together to ward off bugs. Plus, your skin, pets and home will smell like a meadow.
Essential oils such as lavender, lemongrass, geranium, peppermint and eucalyptus smell great to humans, but not so much to insects.
“You’ll find these to be very aromatic and pleasant, but bugs just absolutely abhor the scent,” Tourles said.
One tried and true recipe is “Lemony Bugs-Away Spray,” which was featured in one of Tourles’ first books, “Organic Body Care Recipes.” The spray is a freshly scented repellant using citronella and lemongrass essential oils and wards off flying insects.
Sprays and balms are safe to use directly on skin, while the drops are for use on clothing. Powders are for animal fur and even carpets.
Tourles stresses that each person will have a different reaction the recipes.
“As with any product, not every recipe in this book is going to work for every body,” she said. “Everybody’s chemistry is unique. What might work very well for me, a woman who is 5-foot-3, might be different for man who is 250 pounds.”
Tourles said trial and error should narrow down what works for each person and that some may require more applications than others.
“Naturally Bug-Free” also includes tips for how to rid homes of rodents (they don’t like peppermint) and recipes for natural cleaning products that will help kill eggs and larvae.
Other natural bug repelling tips Tourles has discovered over the years is that insects are attracted to dark clothing, so wear light colors when outdoors. She also has learned that some insects are not very good at fliers.
“Mosquitoes and blackflies are not great fliers,” she said. “In strong, 15-mph winds, they just can’t take it. So I do a lot of my gardening when it’s windy.”
At 7 p.m. on June 23, Tourles will speak at the Blue Hill Public Library, where she will have samples and copies of the book for sale.
To learn more about Tourles and her book collection, visit www.stephanietourles.com.
Essential Tick-repellent clothing drops
This formulation combines 100 percent undiluted essential oils for a potent aroma that most humans find appealing, but ticks and flying insects absolutely abhor. When applied by the drop — to clothing, shoes, or accessories only — it creates an aromatic aura that repels these nasty pests for hours. Excerpted from “Naturally Bug-Free” by Stephanie L. Tourles, used with permission from Storey Publishing.
2 drops each of essential oils including geranium, catnip, and peppermint
1 scant Tbsp. lavender essential oil
½ oz. glass bottle with screw cap
Add the geranium, catnip, peppermint, and lavender essential oils to the storage container. Screw the top on the bottle and shake vigorously to blend. Allow the oil to synergize for 1 hour.
Store at room temperature, away from heat and light; use within 2 years. Do not store the bottle with a dropper top, as the strong vapors will degrade the rubber tip. Store only with a screw cap.
To apply, shake well before using. Apply a few drops to your hat, bandanna or neck scarf, lower leg and hem of pants, hem of untucked shirt, cuffs or ends of shirt sleeves, inside shirt collar, and on socks. Reapply up to three times per day.
Be careful. This is an aromatherapeutically concentrated formula, so use only by the drop as directed. Do not apply to spandex or rayon fabrics or plastic surfaces.