Bugs be gone!! (Herbally)

Mosquito No one really knows why insect repellents work and good luck finding anything that’s 100% effective. In laboratories repellents are tested against a scale of +100 (repels) to –100 (attracts). DEET, the main ingredient in most popular commercial insect repellents, scores a mere +10 in lab bioassays. Not so great for the “most repellent” of such products (which contain 5-10% DEET). The other bad news for DEET is that its a powerful neurotoxin capable of causing some severe side effects in its users. (see links below)

Here’s some good news, in the same lab tests done on nepetalactone, the essential oil in catnip that gives it it’s characteristic odor, catnip oil scored a whopping +49% to +59% at a high dose. At lower doses it still outscored DEET coming in at +39% to +53%! Catnip oil is ten times stronger than DEET at repelling mosquitoes!

To make your own catnip repellent its best to purchase a high grade catnip essential oil and mix it with coconut oil at a 5% dilution. That means 20 drops of essential oil to 20 ml. carrier oil. You don’t have to apply it to your skin for it to be effective, you can rub it into outdoor clothing (a scarf, headband, gloves, socks,pants leg).

Alternatively, if you can’t get the oil, try making a hydrosol of your own garden catnip and spray it on.

There are other great herbal insect repellents for a wide range of insect pests, here are a few of them:

  • Both Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) and Pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides) contain the powerful insect repellent, pulegone – Pulegium means “flea” in Latin. Way back in the first century Pliny made note of pennyroyal’s effectiveness against fleas. Beware of using it on your pets though. There are reports of dog deaths due to their exposure wearing pennyroyal laced collars. Mountain mint may be safer and more effective. Just pick some fresh leaves and rub them on your clothing. Pregnant women should avoid both plants since they can induce miscarriage.

For mosquitoes:

  • 1) Vinegar infused with lemon balm
  • 2) Citronella is widely available,especially popular as candles to burn and ward off the insects. Some are allergic to it.
  • 3) Lemon Eucalyptus essential oil is very effective. Just add a few drops to a spray bottle of water.
  • 4) Other useful essential oils to use this way are Lemongrass oil, cinnamon, peppermint, clove, rosemary, castor oil. Try a mix of 30 drops lavender oil to two tablespoons of a carrier oil.I like combining oils as much as I can.
  • 5) Make your own catnip/rosemary oil: Roll 2 cups of stemmed catnip and 1 cup of cut rosemary sprigs with a rolling pin. Pack them into a sterile jar and cover with a good quality, light body care oil like grapeseed oil or jojoba. Seal and store in a cool dark place for two weeks.  Shake it daily. When its finished, strain it, seal and refrigerate for up to 8 months.

Need a fly repellent? Here’s a recipe used in the forest service:

2 cups white vinegar
1 cup Avon Skin-so-Soft
1 cup water
1 T eucalyptus oil (available at drugstore)
20 oz spray bottle

  • This one is a fly repellent for horses:

1 oz citronella oil
2 oz Skin-so-Soft or Coat-so-Soft
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup water
20 oz spray bottle

You can also add a couple of tablespoons of garlic powder (NOT garlic salt) to their feed a month before fly season, or 1/4-1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (depending on size) to feed. The vinegar has been reported to help prevent entroliths in places where horses are prone to them (mostly in the west).

Note that the color of clothing makes a difference, wearing dark colored clothing attracts the bugs. Best to stick with white or khaki. Also, evergreens tend to harbor mosquitoes.

  • Ticks – Rose Geranium oil. DEET is used against ticks so it may be that catnip will work on them,too? I’ll have to experiment with that.
  • Chiggers: actually this is a technique that works. If you’ve been out in suspected chigger territory, rub your legs frequently with firm pressure. This destroys chiggers before they get a chance to dig in.

Do you have any other natural repellent suggestions? Or examples of what’s worked best for you? Please share….

Links on health hazards of DEET:

Health Hazards of DEET

Department of Health on repellent risks

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About dcoda

An herbalist for over 40 years, ten years spent alone in the Ozark Hurricane Creek Wilderness Preserve, working with its brilliant botanicals. I'm an instructor and co-founder of the Ozark Herbal Academy which offers training in medicinal and edible plants through hands-on workshops and online courses.

Posted on May 1, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. What a nice and informative article. I like your natural formulas for detouring those pesky flies and mosquitoes.

    I have long been a advocate of brushing one’s body down when the field to knock off those chiggers looking for a free lunch. It is good to see someone else telling how to protect yourself and youngsters from being eaten alive.

    Chigger Bites Treatment has a great natural treatment for those chiggers that do get through your first and second lines of defense. It does stop that horrible itch and does it quickly. One more safe and sane way to protect yourself and save the environment.

    Thanks for the great information.


  2. Thank you. The knowledge and information is greatly appreciated.

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