How do they work?
Plants have been used as natural insect repellants since ancient times, often grown strategically to deter harmful or pesky insects from entering human habitations. The mutually beneficial relationship between plants and humans has been extremely important, particularly in areas where mosquitoes and other biting insects can carry devastating diseases. Beyond planting some lavender, or growing basil, studies have shown that crushing or burning certain plants increase their insect repelling properties. This is where essential oils come in. Essential oils concentrate the oils in the plant, creating a more potent and active form of the natural substances found in the plant.
Before we dig too much deeper, the first step in understanding essential oils as insect repellants is to understand how they work. Contrary to popular belief, not all of these plants push bugs away. Some of the more common oils have a potent scent, which hides other smells and confuses mosquitoes and biting pests. While the oils are not directly driving mosquitoes away, they are making it much harder for the mosquito to find and bite you. Other plants actively repel the insects, producing smells that drive them away. These plants tend to react when damaged by an insects bite, or when brushed against, so are typically more useful when used in an oil or smoke form. Finally, certain plants contain chemicals that are toxic to insects. This is where the ever popular citronella fits in, repelling and killing simultaneously.
How to use them?
As mentioned above, having live plants in strategic locations can offer limited protection as an insect deterrent. Most plants that contain repelling agents require direct interaction with the insect to release their oils. Essential oils overcome this factor by providing a concentrated form of the oil which can be used in a variety of ways.
- Plants – Whether potted or placed around the yard, plants will provide some protection from pesky insects. Often, gardeners will plant insect repellant decorative plants near fruits and vegetables, driving away the pests that would normally eat them.
- Burning the leaves – This process creates pungent smoke, known to drive away and confuse biting insects.
- Diffusing oils – Diffusors are a handy home devices that works by combining essential oils and water in a chamber. The oil and water mix is then vaporized, sending the combination airborne. Diffusors are used to cover larger areas, while also scenting the room.
- Direct application – some plants can have their oils applied directly to the skin, either through crushing the leaves or using an essential oil. Others require an oil or lotion to act as a carrying agent. Whatever the form, this is one of the most potent and direct ways to use plant oils as insect deterrents. Many manufacturers sell insect repellent mixes, such as Repel by Cure Oils, which are formulated for maximum effect.
What to use
Mother Nature has provided a nearly endless supply of plants that can be used to deter insects, be they blood sucking mosquitoes or lettuce munching aphids. For the purpose of this post, we will cover a few of the more common plants and oils out there.
- Lavender – This pleasant smelling plant repels mosquitoes. Best used in an oil form.
- Basil – A common kitchen herb, both the plant and the essential oil repel biting insects.
- Marigold – Commonly used in gardening for repelling aphids, white flies, and other veggie eating pests, this plant also repels mosquitoes.
- Eucalyptus – Whether burned as leaves, or used in oil form, eucalyptus is a highly effective mosquito repellent. Even the CDC loves eucalyptus, proclaiming its effectiveness in fighting malaria carrying mosquitoes.
The list of plants and essential oil combinations goes on and on. Regardless of whether you plant, burn, diffuse, or directly apply these natural remedies you are sure to see a reduction in pesky insects and scratchy mosquito bites!