Planting Herbs to Repel Insects

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With summer approaching and the insects not far behind, it’s a good time to think about planting to keep the bugs away.

I started working eons ago for a woman at her place called The Herb Basket, so my introduction to gardening for real was working with herbs. I’ve never given it up, since herbs are incredibly versatile and eminently useful.

Herbs as Pest Control

One of their century-long uses for herbs is discouraging insects. Opting for a less toxic approach makes sense, as more information comes out that DEET isn’t great for everyone. Plus, planting herbs in the garden is always a good thing in my book. Not only do they smell great, they’re typically very hardy and have multiple uses. I like the plants that pull their weight.

So, for those who want to repel those pesky bugs without the use of harsh chemicals, give herbs a chance.

Here are a few of my favorites:


Pennyroyal is a fairly well known herb in the mint family that is useful to repel fleas, ants and flies. I used to use pennyroyal oil on my dog’s collar to discourage fleas. Plant it around the perimeter of the house, or you can set a bowl of dried pennyroyal in the pantry or cupboard to keep ants out. Be sure to keep it out of reach of kids and pets, though, since it can be harmful if ingested in large amounts. (I don’t suspect it tastes very good, but you never know.)


This is a very strong smelling member of the Artemisia family that is effective at repelling moths. It’s a pretty greenish-grey plant with feathery looking foliage. It’s well-behaved, too, so it won’t take over your garden. I used to hang a bundle in the closet to keep everything fresh smelling when I lived back in humid Ohio. (Of course, I’m partial to the fragrance. I also used to make wreath bases with it so I spent a lot of time working with southernwood.) It also supposedly repels flies so I’m going to hang bunches near the sliding door this year.


Who doesn’t love lavender? This is a medicinal and culinary herb (yes culinary, it’s wonderful in desserts of all sorts) that is fairly effective at repelling mosquitoes. You can plant lavender around where you’ll sit or recreate in the evenings, although dabbing on a bit of the essential oil works better.


Studies show that catnip oil is as effective as DEET in repelling mosquitoes. It’s the nepetalactone, the primary component in the oil, which keeps them away. Since you don’t have to go high tech to enjoy the benefits of catnip, some people simply have it growing around their garden. This way, they can pull off a few stalks and rub the leaves on their arms and necks. (You might want to rub some on a small area on your arm first just to make sure you don’t have a reaction to it.) Or you can blend a couple of cups of fresh leaves in a food processor, and then add it to 3 cups of white vinegar in a large, sealed jar. Mix it up every few days for a couple of weeks before straining the liquid. Pour it in a spray bottle and spritz it on yourself before venturing outdoors.


This is another good one to help deter mosquitoes. You could easily add it to the catnip spritzer listed above. Plus, it smells so wonderful with its piney fragrance, too. I like to keep it close to the kitchen door so I can snip off a bit anytime I go past. On a cautionary note, particularly if you opt to use the essential oil, it shouldn’t be used by pregnant women.

Meet Amy Grisak

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