This year my family and I decided to head up to the Galloway Forest in Scotland for our Summer holiday. All previous visits to Scotland for me have been pre midge season so an I expected some midge action during an August visit. I've had my eye on a homemade insect repellent 'recipe' for some time and decided that I would try and make it with a view to giving it a go one evening. It is from a Woodland Ways blog and I'll let them take the credit via this link here but I've laid out how I found making it with a few observations along the way...Notably how I got in Midgeville with it!
I started out gathering the required amount and combination of plants required and had to make a substitution at this early stage. One active ingredient is tansy and I couldn't source any so I substituted it for yarrow which is another plant with known anti insect properties and you may remember Ray Mears applying crushed yarrow leaves to his skin to ward off the beasties when in Belarus. I was collecting and drying the plants as I sourced them but I think I was up to, and maybe a little over what was required but not by much.
Once I'd got enough I used a small blitzing attachment on my kitchen blender to make it into a rough powder and then bagged and sealed it. The bag looks a bit suspicious don't you think?
This mix was then put in a saucepan and the recommended oil added. It was gently warmed and it gently bubbled a bit like porridge but looked very similar to homemade mint sauce.
And then to a muslin jam bag to separate the infused oil. I put 250ml of oil in at the start and managed to retrieve 125ml back, even when wringing the muslin hard.
Then to the next lot of oil needed, distilled oil. I mixed the distillation of the two needed together and did it using a homemade hobo stove.
I used a honey stove to light some barbecue briquettes using a honey stove and then transferred them to the hobo stove (which ironically is made from a couple of converted barbecue lighters). The larger syrup tin was kept close to the smaller collecting tin by being wrapped in foil to keep them aligned and the briquette ash out. The briquettes were allowed to burn out before the two tins were moved.
Success. There wasn't much oil from this so I did a repeat to generate some more. All the ingredients were now ready to be united.
The beeswax was shaved into a weighing scale and the syringe was used to measure the equivalent volume of water into a plastic container to give me an idea how much distilled oil to add. Not the best likeness, water and gloopy oil, but I think I was just under the stated amount.
I used a small gas barbecue to warm the beeswax outside with one of the ingredients in the background (I should really have melted it before adding the other ingredients). Be warned, if you heat beeswax on it's own it can spit and sticks like crazy to surfaces. Once the beeswax had melted I checked the repellent's constancy on a piece of old foil like checking for a setting point of jam.
I saved enough for a potential good usage in Scotland and still had a fair amount left so I had a light bulb moment and chucked the greenery back in, which technically had about 125 ml of unretrieved oil in it, added a small block of candle wax to save adding more beeswax and poured the chunky mixture into a jar with a suspended, and plaited, jute wick. Viola, an anti bug candle.
The above picture shows the tidied up candle and you can also see that the mix is set by looking at the inner rim of the jar. I wondered if it's just a little over set at this stage and may need warming in my hands or water first. I'll find out in the test.
One thing I did test was the burn capability of the candle wax. I set fire to the kitchen roll which I'd cleaned the jar up with and it burnt and burnt with only a little amount of wax on it which boded well.
So to the test. I am holidaying on the edge of Galloway Forest on a property with a small stream running through it so I decided to test it whilst sitting out having a drink one evening. The distilled oil really bossed the dried greenery and I sat away from folk as it was rather strong (but not unpleasant). If you've ever smelt the distilled oil used you'll know that it has a sort of camp fire smoke smell.
I'd pondered earlier if it was set a little too hard. Well it is a tad if I'm honest, but not by much because running my finger over it warmed it to a usable consistency. If you look closely at the flame on the candle you can clearly see the dark oily smoke coming off which was reassuring.
So if you are wondering if the midges came out to play...Er, yes! I tried it on more than one night and as I was using a homemade, and therefore un-tested repellent, I was acutely aware of the airborne beasties.
I'm pleased to report that I am bite free to this point. Now I'm not someone who gets overly bitten as a rule, and sitting near my midge magnet wife may have slewed things but I'd be happy to use this in the slightly less midgetastic England where I live. The only thing to point out is that it does linger on clothing, but equally, if you are round a fire then a smokey smelling fleece isn't going to matter. Here's the link again to the Woodland Ways blog page if you fancy a crack at making it.
And if plan A hadn't worked I had a plan B...