As a ninth-generation Floridian, it is safe to say that I am no stranger to insects. Growing up I often heard people joke that the mosquito should actually be listed as our state bird. As amusing as that may seem, these little bugs are more than just annoying, they can also be very hazardous to people and animals.
Mosquitoes can carry West Nile Virus, which can cause inflammation of the brain, and has been known to be fatal in some cases. There is no vaccine for the West Nile Virus, and although mosquito control does what they can, it is up to the individual to take protective measures to avoid being bitten. Mosquitoes have also been known to carry malaria, which kills an estimated 1 million people each year worldwide. If that wasn’t enough to be concerned about, we also need to worry about our animal friends. Heartworm larvae is transmitted by mosquitoes, and as most animal lovers know, if left untreated, heartworms can clog up the heart, causing cardiovascular problems and death. For years I (along with the rest of my family) have used repellents containing DEET thinking there was no alternative. After doing some research, I learned that DEET, aka N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide, damaged DNA in both laboratory animals and human cells. This study even shows that baby chicks exposed to DEET developed birth defects. Needless to say, I decided there had to be a more environmentally friendly way to protect ourselves and our pets.
Citronella is the most common natural ingredient used in making mosquito repellents. The unique citronella aroma is a strong smell, which masks other things that would normally attract mosquitoes, making it harder for them to find what they are wanting to sting. Even though citronella is used in many forms, the living plant is more successful in keeping them away because it has a stronger smell. When purchasing citronella, look for the true varieties, Cybopogon nardus or Citronella winterianus. Other plants may be sold as ‘citronella scented,’ but these do not have the mosquito repelling qualities of true citronella.
Marigolds are hardy annual plants with a distinctive smell that mosquitoes (and some people, myself included), find very aggressive. Marigolds contain Pyrethrum, a compound that is used in many insect repellents as an alternative to DEET. Besides repelling mosquitoes, marigolds also repel insects that target tomato plants.
In August 2010, entomologists at Iowa State University reported to the American Chemical Society that catnip is 10 times more effective than DEET, the chemical found in most commercial insect repellents. According to Iowa State researcher Chris Peterson, the reason for its effectiveness is still unknown. “It might simply be acting as an irritant or they don’t like the smell. But nobody really knows why insect repellents work.” Beware though, by using this to repel mosquitoes, you may also be inviting every stray cat in the neighborhood into your yard.
Horsemint, also known as Beebalm, is an easy-going perennial plant that repels mosquitoes somewhat like citronella. It gives off a strong incense-like odor that confuses mosquitoes by masking the smell of its usual victims. As a bonus, Horsemint leaves can be dried and used to make herbal tea, and its flowers also attract bees and butterflies to your garden.
Ageratum, also known as Flossflowers, releases a smell that mosquitos find extremely offensive. The flower and leaves produce coumarin, which is widely used in commercial mosquito repellents.
Now, of course, there are times where you cannot control your environment and you need to use a spray. Never fear I have a homemade natural bug spray recipe that you will wonder how you ever lived without!
What you will need:
– Essential oils: choose from Citronella, Clove, Lemongrass, Rosemary, Tea Tree, Eucalyptus, Cedar, Catnip, Lavender, Mint
– Natural witch hazel
– Distilled or boiled water
Fill 8-ounce spray bottle half full with distilled or boiled water, add witch hazel and fill almost to the top. Add 30 to 50 drops of essential oils to desired scent. The more oils you use, the stronger the spray will be. Play around with the scents to make one that works for your nose.