Herbs that repel unwanted insects

Are you an insect magnet? If you aren’t, you probably know one. Insect magnets attract annoying insects the second they walk outdoors — or so it seems.


If this describes you, take comfort in knowing that one of the ways you can fight back against mosquitoes, gnats, flies, no-see-ums and other pesky bugs doesn’t have to involve covering yourself with a sticky spray or engaging in chemical warfare. To help you enjoy going outdoors, try strategically placing insect-repelling plants in your garden or on your patio.


Basil

Repels house flies and mosquitoes. Plant basil in containers by your house doors and in outdoor areas where you like to relax or entertain. Basil is delicious in salads, in many pork and chicken recipes and with a variety of soups. Basil also improves the flavors of certain vegetables, include tomatoes, peppers and asparagus. You also can use fresh basil to make an insect repellent spray. A simple recipe calls for pouring 4 ounces of boiling water into a container holding 4 to 6 ounces of clean, fresh basil leaves (stems can be attached), letting the leaves steep for several hours, removing the leaves and squeezing all of the leaves’ moisture into the mixture. Then thoroughly mix 4 ounces of (cheap!) vodka with the basil-water mixture. Store in the refrigerator and apply as a spray when going outdoors. Be sure to keep the spray away from your eyes, nose and mouth.



Lavender

Repels moths, fleas, flies and mosquitoes. Lavender has been used for centuries to add a pleasantly sweet fragrance to homes and clothes drawers. Although people love the smell of lavender, mosquitoes, flies and other unwanted insects hate it. Place tied bouquets in your home to help keep flies outdoors. Plant it in sunny areas of the garden or near entryways to your house to help keep those areas pest free. You can also use oil extracted from the flowers as a mosquito repellent you can apply to exposed skin when going into the garden or patio. The Everything Lavender website has a guide for extracting the oil and making a lavender-infused body oil. Added benefits are that lavender oil nourishes the skin and has a calming effect that induces sleep.


Lemongrass

Repels mosquitoes. You’ve no doubt seen citronella candles in stores during the summer and read how citronella will keep mosquitoes away. Citronella is a natural oil found in lemongrass, an ornamental that can grow up to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide in one season. (It's worth noting that lemongrass isn't just the name of one plant; it's the umbrella name for plants in the Cymbopogon family, which also includes citronella grass.) This grass with wonderful culinary uses is hardy only in South Florida (Zone 10), so almost everyone else will have to grow it as an annual. It does well in a pot or in the ground in a sunny, well-drained location. Use its fragrant, narrow leaves in chicken and pork dishes and to flavor soups and salad dressing. Many Asian recipes call for lemongrass.


Lemon thyme

Repels mosquitoes. This hardy herb can adapt to dry or rocky, shallow soil and will thrive in your herb garden, a rock garden or a front border as long as these are in sunny locations. The plant itself will not repel pesky mosquitoes. To release its chemicals, you must first bruise the leaves. To do this, simply cut off a few stems and rub them between your hands. Before you do that, though, it’s advisable to make sure the plant’s natural properties will not adversely affect you. Determine your tolerance by rubbing crushed leaves on a small area on your forearm for several days.



Mint

Repels mosquitoes. Mint is best grown in pots rather than the ground because it spreads aggressively. Once established in the garden, it can be difficult to remove. Cuttings of mint in mulch can help broccoli, cabbage and turnips. The leaves are commonly used to flavor minty iced tea. The aromatic properties found in the leaves are also present in the stems and flowers. With a little work, the plant’s aromatic oils can be extracted and combined with apple cider vinegar and cheap vodka (or witch hazel) to make a mosquito repellent. Containers of mint strategically placed in the garden or on the patio will help keep nearby plants insect free.


Rosemary

Repels mosquitoes and a variety of insects harmful to vegetable plants. Rosemary is available in various forms. Plants can be grown in containers on a patio and shaped into ornamental pyramids, grown in herb gardens or planted in landscaped beds, where some varieties can grow quite large. Rosemary’s oils are as delicious to home cooks who use herbs as they are unpleasant to many insects. The plant itself and its cuttings are effective repellents. You can make a simple repellent spray by boiling 1 quart of dried rosemary in a quart of water for 20 to 30 minutes and then straining the liquid into a container at least a half-gallon in size that contains a quart of cool water. Put a cap on the combined liquid and store it in the refrigerator. Add the repellent to small squirt bottles as needed when going outdoors. Discard the remaining repellent in the refrigerator when it no longer has a strong telltale smell of rosemary.


Bay Leaves

Repel flies. When you grow this plant, you won’t have to rely on the dried leaves from stores to add flavor to roasts and soups. Just pick the leaves as you need them.

Chives

Repel carrot flies, Japanese beetle and aphids.

Dill:

Repels aphids, squash bugs, spider mites, cabbage loopers and tomato hornworms.



Fennel

Repels aphids, slugs and snails.

Lemon balm

Repels mosquitoes.

Oregano

Repels many pests and will provide ground cover and humidity for peppers.



Parsley

Repels asparagus beetles.

Thyme

Repels whiteflies, cabbage loopers, cabbage maggots, corn earworms, whiteflies, tomato hornworms and small whites.

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Smith Mountain Lake Virginia