Bug Off! These Powerful Plants Can Help

Ah, summertime. The days grow warm and long, kids are on break, adults schedule vacations, and we all pour into the great outdoors—where we’re met by mosquitoes, ticks, gnats, flies, and other insect pests.

It may feel like Mother Nature is pulling a fast one on us, but she has provided tools for keeping things in balance. Given the severity of the diseases carried by some biting insects, people will want to make careful choices about the insect repellents they choose for themselves and their families. For those who want to stay natural, there are plenty of options, and one ingredient—lemon eucalyptus oil—matches up to DEET in repelling mosquitoes and may have some effectiveness against ticks as well.

Environmentally Friendly Ways to Repelling Insects Outdoors

Those of us who spend a lot of time in our backyards can start by making them less friendly to insect pests. First, dump any standing water that’s accumulated in buckets, old tires, tarps, and the like. Mosquitoes love to breed in such spots.

Next, try planting herbs that help deter pests. House flies and mosquitoes will avoid basil. Plant it in the garden and in pots where people congregate—it will provide some insect relief and an ingredient for pesto!

Lemongrass, an ornamental that contains citronella oil, is a mosquito repellent and a nice addition to chicken and pork dishes. Grow it in a pot so it can winter indoors.

Try planting mint in pots too, then pluck the leaves and crumple them into iced tea while the plants help keep bugs off nearby plants. Both mosquitoes and ticks will avoid rosemary and catnip plants. Other herbs to try planting include lemon thyme, lemon balm, and oregano.

Repelling Insects Naturally & Safely Topically

For a natural insect repellent that’s applied to the skin or sprayed on clothes, look for one key ingredient: oil of lemon eucalyptus. The only plant-based mosquito-repelling ingredient that’s recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s found in bug sprays and lotions made by natural products companies as well as companies that also make repellents containing DEET.

Oil of lemon eucalyptus isn’t safe for children younger than 3, so consider a soy-based repellent for preschoolers. One commercial repellent containing 2 percent soybean oil along with glycerin, lecithin, vanillin, and oils of coconut and geranium was as effective as DEET in one study.

Tips to Increase Your Bug Repellent Protection

Bug repellent is a must for anyone who’ll be exposed to potentially disease-carrying insects. To get the most protection, follow these recommendations:

  • When using on children, follow the instructions on the product’s label. Parents should spray the repellent on their own hands, then apply to a child’s face. Use mosquito netting rather than repellent for babies under two months old.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants, and tuck your shirt in your pants and your pants in your socks.  
  • Turn on a fan to deter mosquitoes on patios and porches.
  • Mosquitoes love dawn and dusk, so if you don’t love mosquitoes, avoid being outdoors during those hours. 
  • People who may have been exposed to ticks should shower after spending time outdoors, in addition to doing regular tick checks on clothing and bodies.

Tips to Soothe Stings & Bug Bites

  • A wasp, a yellow jacket, or a bee got the best of you? Homeopathy may help. If the pain lessens after ice or cold applications, try Ledum (wild rosemary). This is typically the first homeopathic remedy given after a bug bite.
  • For swelling and burning pain, try Apis (crushed bee). Carbolicum acidum is useful if you’ve been stung more than once.
  • Check the product’s label for the proper dose.

“16 plants that repel unwanted insects” by Tom Oder, Mother Nature Network, www.mnn.com, 4/22/19

“How to keep mosquitoes out of your yard” by Jessica Walliser, www.RodalesOrganicLife.com, 5/27/16

“Keep pests off pets! Plants to grow that repel ticks and fleas” by Emily Cardiff, www.OneGreenPlanet.org

“Natural mosquito repellents”; “Safer bug spray: Natural bug repellents” by R. Morgan Griffin, WebMD.com

“Plant-based insect repellents: a review of their efficacy, development and testing” by M.F. Maia and S.J. Moore, Malar J, 4/15/11

“Prevent mosquito bites,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.CDC.gov 

Essential Homeopathy by Dana Ullman, MPH ($10.95, New World Library)


Jane Eklund

Jane is a long-time resident of New Hampshire, where she holds an editorial position at Keene State College. She has a background in both literary and journalistic writing, including book reviews, poetry, and history.