Q. I read about using catnip to repel mosquitoes. How exactly do you use it? Rub it directly on the skin? Make a lotion or oil? Drink it in a tea?
A. Catnip (AKA Catmint, Field Balm, Menthe des Chats, etc) is known scientifically as Nepeta cataria. It has been used as a tea to treat insomnia, headaches, digestive upset and hives.
We would be cautious about drinking it to prevent mosquito bites, however. You might end up overdosing and that could lead to a headache, lethargy, nausea or vomiting.
People have used catnip topically for arthritis or even hemorrhoids, but there is little, if any evidence that the herb might work for such purposes.
There is some evidence that catnip oil has the ability to repel mosquitoes, house flies, mites, cockroaches and ticks (Phytochemistry, Jan. 2011; Journal of Medical Entomology, July 2006; Journal of Economic Entomology, April, 2002).
How you would make catnip oil, however, is not clear. Reader response has been mixed. Here are just a few comments from our website:
Jann offered this:
“I tried this a couple of summers ago. Grew my own catnip (in hanging pots to keep it out of reach of several neighborhood cats) – made sure it was the real-thing catnip. Found a recipe for the catnip mosquito spray on the Internet. Don’t have the recipe any more, but the person who posted it said it worked, and the solution seemed pretty strong to me.
“It didn’t work to deter mosquitoes at all as far as I could tell. It did work to attract the neighborhood cats to me. One day I had a tiny piece of the freshly picked catnip in my pocket as I walking in the yard – a neighborhood cat that usually ignores me followed everywhere I went, meowing the whole way.”
“I have grown catnip in my garden and I must say it is really effective against mosquitoes, house flies and aphids.
“The only problem with catnip is that it has some behavioral side effects on pet cats. When my pet cat (Meeow) goes near it, she starts rolling on the ground and becomes aggressive. Can anyone tell me how to deal with this?” Ankit
“Well, nothing ever bites me because of the supplements I take, including high-B complex and garlic. So far this year I haven’t used repellant even once. I have kept windows open, have spent lots of time outside at night — and exactly one bite so far. (I admit, it’s much worse in the mountains… those blackflies would bite chunks of flesh off an elephant!)
“My cats love me, but they would love me SO much more if I were covered in catnip oil! Also, I wonder what would happen if one were in the woods and a bobcat or cougar came along. Would catnip oil disarm their bad intentions? By the way, I think you can buy this oil at pet supply stores.” Cindy
For now, we would have to say that applying catnip oil to the skin has received mixed reviews at best. Some say it is totally worthless against mosquitoes. Others suggest that it is about as good as DEET.
We would love to get your report. Let us know if this is worth a try or a total bust.