Lemon Balm Bug Spray

lemon balm bug spray

I’ve tried a lot of homemade bug spray recipes. Some were just terrible. I remember taking one concoction camping and I’m pretty sure that I was attracting every mosquito in the county with that particular formula!

On a weekly basis, readers write in to ask about homemade insect repellents, but until now, I hadn’t developed a recipe I felt comfortable recommending.

This one works for me, my family and friends that tested it, at a 100% success rate, so I’m happy to finally have an effective solution to offer.

The best part is that it’s yet another way to help use up some of my abundance of lemon balm and other herbs!

If you don’t have some of the herbs listed, that’s okay. I adapt it to what I have on hand. You can make it with just lemon balm if you want. I do think the synergy of all of them makes for the best results though.

Lemon Balm Leaves and Flower

To create lemon balm bug spray:


  • a handful of fresh lemon balm leaves
  • plus a generous pinch each of basil, catnip and mint from your garden.

Stuff a glass jar full of the herb leaves, then pour witch hazel extract over them, almost to the top. You can usually find witch hazel in your local drug store or in the pharmacy section of a grocery store.

Cap the jar and set it in a cool, dark cupboard for a week or two. Strain and store out of heat and light.

When you’re ready to mix up a fresh batch of spray, fill a small glass spray bottle or mister half way with the infused witch hazel. You can buy the little bottles shown from SpecialtyBottle.com.

Fill the rest of the bottle with water, but not quite to the top.

Lemon Balm Bug Spray Ingredients

At this point, I add a few drops of essential oil, to boost the spray’s power. Without the essential oil, it’s not very strong, so I highly recommend adding them.

I add:

  • 1 drop basil essential oil
  • 2 drops citronella essential oil
  • 1 drop lemongrass (or more citronella) essential oil

If you’d like to use a solubilizer, such as polysorbate 20, to make sure the essential oil mixes into the spray well, try adding the same amount as essential oils. (So three drops poly for 3 drops essential oil.)

If you’re pregnant, nursing, or have chronic health issues, research each essential oil and consult a qualified professional for further guidance on usage for your condition before use.

Screw the spritzer top onto the glass bottle and shake well.

Spritz on and around you as needed for bug control, shaking thoroughly before each application. We’ve found this exact combination will last an average of one to two hours, keeping gnats and mosquitoes away, before needing to be reapplied, but that will also depend on your particular body chemistry and how heavy the bug load in the area is.

Once you’ve mixed up a batch with water, store in the refrigerator and use within 1 week. The remaining undiluted witch hazel will last about six months.

This spray is intended for people, not pets.




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  1. Thank you! I have been wanting an effective bug repellent for a while!! And I have the lemon balm already. I can’t wait to try it! :)

  2. Yet another winner, Jan! Thanks for this “tried and tested” and detailed information. We have our fair share of mosquitoes here at night and the resident barn and cliff swallows are just not keeping up with their duties!

  3. Do you have to dry the herbs first? With an oil infusion you have to so it will not mold. Just wondering if it is different with the witch hazel.

    1. Hi Pam! You can use dried lemon balm if you don’t have fresh, but you don’t have to. I believe that fresh herbs make for a more effective spray, so recommend those above dried for this recipe. Since witch hazel is water and alcohol extracted, mold is not a problem. The herbs will usually turn the witch hazel brownish, but it’s still perfectly fine to use. In an oil infusion, water content won’t mix in and can ferment or mold, so I agree with you that freshly dried herbs are best for those.

  4. Hi Jan – I don’t have catnip in the garden or citronella in my essential oil cabinet. Do you think it will still work? Thanks!!

    1. Hi Lea! I think it will work fine; just use an extra drop or two of lemon eucalyptus or lemongrass & give it a go!

  5. Thanks for the great recipe! A great flea repellent for dogs is brewer’s yeast- the kind you find in the vitamin section. One tablet a day makes your dog taste bad so fleas go elsewhere. It’s the only thing I’ve used on my dogs for over 20 years.The dogs think it’s a treat and come running when they hear the bottle shake!

    1. Thanks for the information Gail – that’s something I haven’t tried yet! (and I was starting to think I’d tried everything) :)

  6. Hi Jan, I have a question, not about the bug repellent, I am trying that thought the mix is setting in my closet. I have a question about the lemon balm tincture, I read not to use a metal lid or plastic. I made it up today and I have it in a mason jar, I put the mason jar lid on and put cheese cloth under the lid as well, is this okay? Or what are the correct jars and where can I get them? Thanks, Terry

    1. Hi Terry! The cheesecloth will probably help. I usually put a layer of plastic wrap between a tincture and a metal lid or either just use a plastic lid. Especially with vinegar, but also with alcohol based, the liquid will get against the metal and start to rust. This makes it difficult to open and will eventually make your tincture taste off. It’s more of a problem with vinegar though, than alcohol, so I think yours will be fine!

  7. Thank you! I have all the herbs you mentioned and put witch hazel on my shopping list! My daughter is the most likely in our family to be bitten, so I know she’ll be excited to make a batch of your recipe. ~Lisa

  8. I will be making this over the upcoming weekend. My family is known for being bitten worse than everyone else, so we will truly be putting this to the test. My son’s got such sensitive skin, he actually gets what look like grease splatter blisters from a lot of his bites, around day 3 or 4 so we would really like to prevent him from getting bitten at all! I will let you know how it works out! Thank you for sharing all of your knowledge with us all!

    1. Hi Sarah, I can commiserate with you. When I was a kid, all of the biting bugs in the county gravitated to my brother & I. Benadryl was a daily beverage! I sure hope the lemon balm spray helps prevent some discomfort for your family – I’d love to hear how it goes!

  9. Hi Jan, I have a question.
    Why do you use witch hazel extract?
    What does it add to this mixture??

    1. Hi Paulette! I use witch hazel to help extract the properties of the herb. I’ve seen people use vinegar instead but I (a.) don’t want to smell like vinegar and (b.) think it attracts gnats, which are bad where I live. You could probably just make a tea and use, but the shelf life would be really short (a day or two), whereas witch hazel lasts a lot longer.

  10. What is the minimum time for the witch hazel to become infused with the herbs? I am going on a river rafting trip and would love to make some to take before I go.

    1. Hi Ida! I’ve let them infuse only about two days before when a relative needed an emergency batch since the bugs were driving her crazy gardening. She said it still worked! I did add an extra couple drops of essential oil though in case the mixture wasn’t strong enough.

  11. Do you think if a tea was made with lemon balm, basil and mint and was used in place of the water when the witch hazel infusion is mixed that it could replace the need for essential oils? Just thinking of different options that could lower cost some since we don’t have those eo in our pantry but I’ve basil, mint and lemon balm going crazy in the garden.

    By the way I stumbled upon your site today for the first time searching for herbal soap recipes. Your recipes gave me lots of inspiration. Thanks.

    1. Hi Juniper, I’m happy you liked the soap recipes! I think you could definitely try a lemon balm/basil/mint tea instead of plain water + essential oils. You may need to reapply it more often because it might not be as strong, but especially if you have plenty of plants to play with, worth an experiment!

    1. Hi Luc! Yes, the witch hazel I use comes from MountainRoseHerbs and has 14% alcohol, but I’ve seen alcohol free versions.

  12. Just wondering if I could possibly go a step further and make a soap with some of the same essential oils for use while camping? I know they recommend unscented soaps and deodorants due to the perfumes attracting bugs while camping but what if I put some bug-repelling scents into a liquid or bar soap?

    1. Hi Felicia, I think that’s a great idea! The only thing you’d need to look out for is that I think some of the same essential oils that repel insects are also toxic to fish and other aquatic creatures so you want to avoid using them around streams and bodies of water. (IF I’m remembering correctly. It’s pre-breakfast so my brain is a little less-sharp at the moment!) :) You could also make a bug repelling lotion bar, to rub on after using unscented soap and it should stick around on your skin longer too.

  13. can I use regular witch hazel from the drug store? It’s 86% witch hazel 14 % alcohol

  14. Awesome!!! I can’t wait to try this! I live in a forestry area, and the bug population always comes for ME! Thanks, Jan!

    1. Hi Kayla! I’m just not sure about mites and ticks – we have a lot of gnats and mosquitoes around here which is what I use it for. I do believe that lavender repels ticks, so you could add some lavender flowers to the infusion, or the essential oil. I think lemongrass may be of help too. For mites, I like garlic oil, but that won’t mix well with this mix: https://thenerdyfarmwife.com/garlic-ear-oil-for-humans-their-pets/

  15. I Jan, the local preschool is growing lemon balm, yah! so I just made this. I used 5 drops of Citronella and Lemongrass and 3 drops of Basil. Looking forward to giving it a try up here in Northern Australia the mozzies come out in the hundreds and go crazy.

  16. I don’t have any catnip, could I just add more mint? Sidebar…would apple mint be acceptable?

    1. Hi Tori! Yes, it would be fine to add more mint. I haven’t personally tried apple mint in this recipe, but since it’s in the same family, I feel like it would work as a substitute. :)

  17. Another question…would it be possible to substitute oregano oil for basil? It’s okay if it’s not, I just already had oregano and was curious! :) Thanks for the help

    1. Hi Tori! That’s a great question! I’m not really sure since I haven’t done much with oregano oil, other than occasional use of Oreganol capsules in the past for really tough colds/sinus stuff for family members. Unfortunately, my husband developed a significant allergy/hives to those! So I don’t do a ton with oregano in general to be able to advise one way or the other on its effectiveness. It’s possible it could work though! :)

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