What's up with this long list of plants people claim will repel mosquitoes? A little investigative reporting delves into this question. One thing is for sure: organic bug repellent researchers and users say that natural sprays don't last as long as DEET or other poisons, and not everyone gets the same benefit from every type of repellent. For those who want to go the organic route, you'll need to reapply more frequently and try out different herbs and plants. Luckily, there are plenty!
Some people swear by citronella candles, and they contain botanical ingredients that do repel mosquitoes. These work when you're sitting right beside them on a windless evening. Keep in mind that mosquitoes can smell us humans up to 50 feet away, making citronella a pleasant repellent that works—to some extent.
Frequently Mentioned: Garlic Repels Mosquitoes
Some folks rub a cut garlic clove on their skin, others just eat vast quantities and say mosquitoes stay away. Have any researchers looked into it? They have—and discovered that garlic and garlic oil do indeed repel mosquitoes. One study used petroleum jelly, beeswax, and 1 percent garlic oil. The delicious-but-stinky herb also prevents malaria. By the way, if you feed everyone in your family the same amount of garlic, nobody notices the smell!
Catnip: Pet Attractor, Mosquito Repellent
Catnip has so many wonderful uses, and now researchers from Iowa State University claim it may be 10 times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than the most popular repellent, DEET. Just growing a big patch of catnip (or a big patio container) probably won't help all that much, but again, crush some leaves and rub them all over your skin and clothes. (By the way, did you know catnip tea is great for soothing tummy troubles?)
Black Pepper Oil
East Africans believe that eating plenty of black pepper keeps mosquitoes and other flying insects away, and there's some research backing for that claim. The U.S. Department of Agriculture looked into the problem a few years back and tested compounds isolated from black pepper (piperidines). Scientific American magazine reports that piperidine's effects last three times longer than DEET—up to 73 days, assuming of course it doesn't get washed off in the meantime. It's possible black pepper essential oil might have the same effect, but watch out—sensitive people might find their skin red and irritated, and don't get it in your eyes. Dab or mist on clothing if you use black pepper oil.
Lemon, Lemon, and More LEMON
For a quick and easy mosquito repellent, grow a container garden of lemon grass, lemon thyme, and/or lemon balm. Citrosa is another lemon-scented plant some folks claim repels mosquitoes; the plant might not do much more than look pretty, but crush a few leaves and take a good whiff. When it's time to hang out on the deck, crush a few sprigs between your fingers and rub your skin liberally. Crushed lemon thyme has about 60 percent of the effectiveness of DEET—that's a big help in the war on mosquitoes. Please keep in mind that lemon-based essential oils and plants may cause skin sensitivity in some people, or may cause just about anyone to sunburn more easily.
Mix and Match Essential Oil Mosquito Repellents
Organic Gardening magazine recommends mixing any combination of the following essential oils to equal 2 ½ teaspoons: basil, juniper, palmarosa, citronella, rose geranium, rosemary, myrrh, cedarwood, and/or pine. Stir into 1 cup of 190 proof grain alcohol for a carrier. Spray on skin or clothes as needed. Another recipe we found was 20 drops eucalyptus, 20 drops cedarwood, 10 drops tea tree, and 10 drops geranium oil in 2 ounces of carrier oil such as jojoba. Apply as needed.
Choi, C. (2008). DEET beaters. Scientific American, 299(2), 34.
Coats, J. and Meyer, B. (2001). Catnip drives cats wild, but drives mosquitoes away. Iowa State University College of Agriculture. Available from http://www.ag.iastate.edu/aginfo/news/2001releases/catnip.html
Long, C. (1994). Bugged by DEET. Organic Gardening, 41(7), 20.
Salinas, O. (2009). Scientists develop better mosquito repellent. FoxNews website. Available at http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,525224,00.html.
Schroeder, M. and Kendall, P. (2003). Garlic for mosquitoes? Colorado State University Extension Service. Available from http://www.ext.colostate.edu/safefood/newsltr/v8n1s07.html