catnip plant

People are understandably concerned about biting insects, especially mosquitoes. Headlines about the Zika virus and birth defects have a lot of people worried about going outside. That is why insect repellents are flying off pharmacy shelves. The fine folks at Consumer Reports recommend products containing DEET (Off! Deepwoods VIII and Ben’s 30% DEET Tick & Insect Wilderness Formula. They keep the flying insects away for 7.5 to 8 hours. The highest rated CR products against the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits the Zika virus contain 20% picaridin. They are Sawyer Picaridin and Natrapel 8 Hour.

Are There “Natural” Insect Repellents that Work?

Another highly rated CR product contains 30% lemon eucalyptus (Repel Lemon Eucalyptus) and it worked for about 7 hours. It may not be quite as effective as DEET or picaridin, but it performed well enough to be highly rated.

Some of our readers would like other natural approaches to mosquito repellents, like this questioner:

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; Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association, Dec. 2012).

How you would make a DIY mosquito repellent with catnip is not perfectly clear. There is no organization like Consumer Reports that could test your do-it-yourself remedy, which is why we like their recommendations best.

Homemade Recipe with Catnip:

If you want to give this a go, we would suggest purchasing oil of lemon eucalyptus, catnip oil, witch hazel and coconut oil. Here are some suppliers, though we cannot vouch for any of them. Here is a link to Lemon Eucalyptus from Edens Garden and Catnip Oil from Plant Therapy on Amazon.

We would mix equal amounts of oil of lemon eucalyptus and catnip oil (roughly 20 drops or one milliliter of each) together with 8 ounces of witch hazel and 8 ounces of coconut oil. Once the ingredients are thoroughly mixed you can transfer the mixture to a convenient glass spray bottle. We really like these glass bottles from Amazon for spraying on small amounts of liquid. Shake before spraying. Keep out of eyes or sensitive areas.

Always test a small area of skin on the forearm first to see if you are sensitive or allergic to any of the ingredients. Perform the test a day or two before applying to other skin to make sure you are less likely to experience a negative reaction.

We make no promises about such do-it-yourself insect repellents. Reader response to catnip 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.”

Ankit says:

“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?”

Cindy shared this story about vitamin B and garlic:

“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.”

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 have serious doubts about that, especially now that people are worried about West Nile Virus and Zika.

The easiest solution to the mosquito repellent search is to go with one of the Consumer Reports recommendations. If we could only pick two products, we would go with Sawyer Picaridin and Repel Lemon Eucalyptus

We would love to get your report. Let us know if the catnip approach is worth a try or is a total bust.

Revised June 30, 2016

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  1. Marco

    if you have a place where there is stagnant water, the mosquitoes will breed there. Sometimes near your home or garage there are drains where there always is a little stagnant water. If you pour a tiny amount of vegetable oil on the water it’ll create a tiny film of oil on the surface, flies that go lie their eggs in there will get stuck and die.

  2. Noel
    Fairfax, VA

    I’ve heard that consuming some amount of Brewer’s Yeast daily (such as adding to cereal, oatmeal, etc.) might have a repellent effect against mosquitoes (possibly due to Vitamin B compounds). Does anyone have any experience with that approach?

  3. DO

    I’ve lived near Astoria, OR for over 10 years. We do have some mosquitoes here during the summer. Lavender oil extract works every time to keep them away. I’ve always been a mosquito magnet, and even though I take garlic and B vitamins, they DO NOT work for me against mosquitoes. There is no remedy that works for everyone. You just need to keep reading and experimenting.
    I went to Belize for two months to escape some of the cold, wet Northwest winter. I took lots of lavender, but apparently the mosquitoes there “Didn’t get the Memo” that lavender was supposed to repel them. Within 10 days, both of my arms had more red welts, than there was space to get new bites. I had also taken Vicks with me, to soothe the bites. It was a blessing, in that while it didn’t stop the hurt, they didn’t itch or need scratching. After most of the original bites healed, I noticed I wasn’t getting that many new ones, and wondered if it was the Vicks. All the visitors I encountered had bites all over them as well. I started using the Vicks on my arms, neck and face for prevention, and the last few weeks I was there, I hardly got any more bites. I told other people about my experience (some had seen my arms) and the Vicks seemed to help them also.

  4. bb

    Re: a kitty became aggressive with catnip…we had a neutered male who as xtremely affectionate…until he got a whiff of catnip. He wasn’t aggressive toward us, but toward the other cats in our household. We just let it wear off (in a short time) and he was back to his loveable self. The others learned, “Don’t mess with me when I’m enjoying myself!!”

  5. pp

    A couple of years ago on this same blog, I heard about Listerine (original amber) as a mosquito repellant. I mix it half and half with water in a spray bottle. Spray your arms, legs, around your body.–or under a picnic table where they collect. Wonderful, easy, and not so toxic. You can use the store brand–it’s just the amber kind.

  6. Abigail

    Wikipedia has this to say about catnip. Note last sentence about effectiveness on skin.
    “Nepetalactone is a mosquito and fly repellent. Oil isolated from catnip by steam distillation is a repellent against insects, in particular mosquitoes, cockroaches and termites. Research suggests that, in vitro, distilled nepetalactone repels mosquitoes ten times more effectively than DEET, the active ingredient in most insect repellents, but that it is not as effective a repellent when used on the skin.”

  7. DS

    I mixed a teaspoon of orange oil and a teaspoon of vanilla extract with a cup of water in a spray bottle. It seems to keep, all bugs away from me and smells great. This was in a book or column by Howard Garrett, the Dirt Doctor. He has stronger solutions of orange oil for killing fire ants. The spray smells great and can be used on skin or clothing, kids, pets.

  8. Doc

    When I returned home from overseas in the early 1970’s I bicycled across the US. I found NO effective use for ANY ‘muscuito’ (little pest) from ANY herb. What I found was that they were horridly expensive, some worked for up to five minutes to repel our six legged brothers, and then failed. I was riding around smelling of Herbal Oils, sweat, and road-weariness.
    The ONLY time I actually cursed God and meant it was in a corn field in Iowa when I was stuck inside my sleeping bag inhaling mosquitoes and black flies, with a concoction of nearly 10 herbs that were suppose to repel them. Many a day I was chased down a hill and ran screaming from my bicycle into an ice cold Wisconsin or Minnesota lake, with mosquitoes clinging desperately to my oil soaked jeans, heavy woolen shirt, and hat. NEVER again will I even consider a repellent made from anything except what the USMC taught me: 100% DEET works SOMETIMES. They call it ‘Jungle Juice’ or a reason. Herbals simply do not work FOR ME.

  9. Donnie

    I rarely have a mosquito problem, even though I live next to a river and there are wetland areas. I put Mosquito Dunks in my birdbaths and that works very well. I also put big pots of Mosquito Plants from the nursery on my deck. There is a bed of Catnip planted in my backyard. And there are a lot of Dragonflies flitting around my yard, and they are natural mosquito predators, and so are the many birds that come to my feeders. Marigold is reported to repel mosquitoes, too.

  10. Jennifer

    The studies done on catnip were done on the extract, not on a tea. The extract is very concentrated and very expensive. I’ve ordered some. $7.40 for .08 oz (really just a few drops) from online. I use it in an essential oil blend, with alcohol and water, and find it pretty effective. This is where some of the original studies originated. Joel Coats, Iowa State University.

  11. Ruth Cobb

    Cats love catnip or even the smell of menthol. I have used a muscle rub with menthol scent and my cat would like my body parts through my clothes. Most cats get really playful and then sleepy. My dog ate some that was on the floor and she got very playful, rough and never did get sleepy. I didn’t know dogs would react to catnip. I read somewhere that not all cats like catnip. We had one who wouldn’t play with it. What about planting catnip, citronella, etc., in pots by outdoor spaces or hanging baskets?

  12. dormand

    If a natural and effective repellent to mosquitoes can be proven, this would be great, especially with the periodic threat of West Nile virus, which killed Dallas civic leader Charley Pistor, a really great guy.
    One rarely recognized attribute of mosquitoes: they are drawn to individuals who have had dengue fever in the past.
    My wife had dengue fever while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines for two years decades ago.
    We love our backyard gardening and she has a herb garden to support her gourmet cooking skills. She always loads up with various mosquito repellents and yet these tiny beasts are upon her within minutes of her entering the backyard. They ignore me and I only have a couple of mosquito bites a year, in spite of mowing our yard myself.
    We are fastidious at dumping any standing water immediately as these little critters are ubiquitous.

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