6 Herbs That Naturally Repel Mosquitoes and Fleas

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6 herbs that naturally repel mosquitoes, fleas and other biting bugs

Summertime is full of fun stuff – sun, surf and big, silly blockbuster movies – but there’s one part of summer that’s not so fun: the BUGS. ‘Tis the season for mosquitoes, fleas and other itch-inducing insects to come out in full force, leaving your skin covered in bites and your fingers frantically scratching away, desperate for a little relief.

I’ve always been a magnet for mosquitoes and other bite-happy bugs, and my skin is super-sensitive to bug bites. Once, when I was in elementary school, my dog Louie became the unwitting host to a pretty extraordinary number of fleas that arrived very suddenly one weekend. Unaware of his unwelcome visitors, I spent the weekend playing and snuggling with him as usual. By that Monday, I was so completely covered in angry, itchy red bites that my teacher sent me home thinking I had chicken pox!

So come summertime, I’m always on the lookout for new natural ways to repel those pesky little biters. Commercial bug repellents like Cutter and Off are full of nasty chemicals like DEET, so they’re unwelcome anywhere near my skin. Call me crazy, but since I try my utmost to keep pesticides off my veggies and out of my diet, I’m not about to go rubbing pesticides on my skin!

How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Bugs and Love My Lemon Balm

A few weeks ago, I planted lemon balm in my herb garden. I’d never used it before, and didn’t know much about the herb, but I was attracted to the scent and the pretty, bushy leaves and thought it would be a nice addition to my herb garden.

I did a little research on lemon balm to see how I could put it to practical use, and now I’m very happy I did!

Lemon balm is a member of the mint family, and looks quite similar, with soft, grooved, slightly “furry” leaves. But rather than having a minty fresh scent, it has a strong lemony aroma, somewhat similar to lemon verbena and citronella.

Here are a few cool benefits of lemon balm that I found:

  • Improves digestion
  • Promotes relaxation
  • Alleviates stress and anxiety
  • Helps cold sores and blisters—crush leaves and apply to the affected area
  • Attracts bees and butterflies

But while bees and butterflies love lemon balm, other, less desirable bugs don’t feel quite so favorably about it.

Lemon balm is a natural bug repellent.

It contains high levels of a compound called citronellal, which gives it its lemony aroma and flavor that bugs find so unpleasant. You’ll notice that “citronellal” sounds a lot like “citronella,” another plant used in many bug repellent sprays, lotions and candles.

But why shell out money for one of these products that almost always contain other, potentially questionable or downright toxic ingredients? You can just plant a cheap little lemon balm plant (mine cost $2.99) and you’ll have a near-endless supply of bug repellent just sitting in your yard, ready whenever you need it!
 

How to Use Lemon Balm

Crush the fresh leaves and rub them directly on your skin, especially around the ankles, arms and other areas most exposed and vulnerable to bug bites. The lemon scent, which repels the bugs, is very strong. It rubs off very well onto skin. You can just sort of crush the leaf up a bit, and then use the leaf like a wipe.
 

How and Where to Grow Lemon Balm:

Plant the lemon balm outside, perhaps near your front or back door, or on your deck, patio or wherever else you often sit outside, as the plants will help ward off bugs in those areas.
Lemon balm happily thrives in sun or partial shade, and should be kept in moist, well-drained soil. Keep in mind though that, like other mints, lemon balm is invasive, and it will spread and take over your garden like a weed if you let it. For that reason, it’s best to keep it contained in a pot.
 


5 More Plants That Repel Biting Bugs


Lemon balm isn’t the only herb on the block that keeps bugs at bay. Here are 5 more herbs that work as bug repellents. Like lemon balm, you can plant them in areas you want to keep bugs away from, or crush the leaves and rub them into your skin. If your pets suffer from fleas, you can also use these herbs for them.

1. Citronella

Sort of “the original” for bug repelling, with a powerful lemony scent. It’s used in many commercial bug repellents and candles. I’m a little hesitant to plant it though, as I understand it can be a skin irritant. It’s also not quite as portable as lemon balm or the others listed below. It’s a grass-like plant that grows up to 6 feet tall! If you’re looking for citronella, make sure you get the varieties Cybopogon nardus or Citronella winterianus, as some other citronella varieties won’t have the same effect—some aren’t even true citronellas, they’re just citronella-scented.
 

2. Catnip

Studies suggest that catnip may be even more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET (the ingredient used in most commercial bug repellents, which is highly toxic). It also repels cockroaches, an attribute that many of us living in urban areas can certainly appreciate. It can be used similarly to lemon balm; crushed and rubbed onto the skin. A word of caution to cat owners: watch where you plant your catnip! Your cat may want to roll around on it and play with it. Plant catnip apart from the rest of your garden so your cat doesn’t accidentally damage any other plants nearby.
 

3. Marigolds

In addition to mosquitoes, marigolds repel garden pests, too! We have lots of marigolds growing in the Gerson Institute’s garden to keep the bugs away from our veggies. The flowers are edible as well, and add color and flavor to salads or can be a gorgeous garnish when you want to dress up a dish.
 

4. Lavender

Grow it around the house and garden to keep bugs away. It’ll grow inside too, if you keep it next to a sunny window. Has a lovely scent, pretty purple flowers and calming properties as well, so it’s a charming addition to your garden or home for several reasons!
 

5. Peppermint

Biting bugs don’t like the scent of peppermint, so you can crush up the leaves and rub it on your skin to ward them off. As an added bonus, peppermint also can also do double-duty as itch relief if you do get bitten!

Oops, I seem to be getting a little ahead of myself!

If you want to learn more about how to relieve itching naturally (just in case you forget your lemon balm one day) check out:


 

Have you tried using any of these herbal bug repellents? Or, have you found other natural repellents that work? Please share in the comments below!

About the Author

Ally Bacaj is the Gerson Institute’s Communications Specialist. She joined the Institute after graduating from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 2010.

Ally manages the design and content of our website and writes, edits and collects contributions for our blog. She also shares news and information from the Gerson Institute on our Facebook page, Pinterest and Twitter.

In her spare time, you can find Ally unearthing vintage treasures at the swap meet, gardening, starting ambitious DIY projects and occasionally finishing them.


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  • robertg62

    Good tips on herbs. You can try pennyroyal too. That’s supposed to be a good flea repellant. And if you’re interested in natural, non-toxic methods you can use in your yard and garden, copious use of diatomaceous earth and nematodes will help. Thanks.

  • Julie Rittenoure Haag

    I read up on NEEM and there are so many health benefits to this plant but each part of it is very specific as to what it helps with. This is why it is very important to look up all plants because when people are just told about the name of a plant for its natural benefits, they need to know what part of the plant will help them with their specific need. Leaves, stems, seeds, etc carry so many different properties that help heal & support certain needs. So always read up on all plants in their whole not just their leaves. I have found this article and the 6 herbs to repell mosquitos very helpfull. I have a beautiful backyard and I hate that mosquitos are always feeding on sweet my little toddler. I am against DEET usage especially on children. I have blended up cloves of garlic with water and put in a spray bottle to mist my child but I do not like how it makes her smell like an Italian eatery. It did work well. Also another cool thing I did was swallow a small whole glove of garlic(do not cut it open). Garlic acts like a sponge to and soaks up all the fungus in your body and it is one thing your body will never grow immune against. I did this one summer and never got a single mosquito bite. I never smelled like garlic because I did not cut it open. Only down side to it was that when you pass it, it comes out whole in your stool and if you have some gas before going to bathroom, that gas will smell like a big cloud of garlic.

  • Beatriz Riveros

    As a child and now a grandmother I remember the wonderful smell of eucalyptus branches and their leaves that my mother placed under the beds as a prevention for colds and for the great aroma around the rooms.

  • iriegirl

    You can put 2 teaspoons or vanilla extract to a cup of water in a spray bottle to use to repel mosquito s. Smells a lot more pleasant than garlic. You can also just spray on post of your porch or something that will absorb some of the spray to keep the pest away from the area.

  • pic520az

    What amazes me is people spend billion’s of dollars on these products when it only take a few minutes to make them yourself and they work a lot better than any store bought product and they are a lot safer.

  • pic520az

    I make lemon spray for fleas if I find any on my dog it doesn’t kill the fleas but they hate the smell.

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