Summer season can be a lot of fun with its warm and long days, but it is also peak mosquito season. Mosquito bites are unpleasant and leave our skin covered with bumps that don’t stop itching – and you know that scratching with your fingernails just makes it worse. To ad insult to injury, every now and then some of these insects also spread disease when they bite. This year we have an epidemic of the zika virus that is spreading mainly via mosquito bites in Florida. It can ruin your summer vacation plans, but that is the least of your concerns. The virus can have some long-term effects and it the illness cannot be prevented by medications or vaccines.
If you are like me you know what is like to be a mosquito magnet. They just love me and my skin is very sensitive to the bites that I cannot help but scratch non-stop. Under the summer heat, those parts I scratched slowing turn into scars that take a long time to disappear.
I’m a very big opponent of chemical pesticides and only buy organic products for my house. So I will do anything to avoid putting bug sprays such as OFF on my kids and me. With the spread of the Zika virus I had to find an alternative to DEET-based sprays and I came across Lemon Balm.
Lemon balm is very similar mint and contains high levels of citronellal, a compound that bugs find very unpleasant. It is one of the three main active ingredients in citronella oil that is used in non-DEET bug repellent sprays, lotions and candles. Citronella essential oil has more than eighty components, of which the most important ones are citronellal, geranial and limonene. They are present at high concentrations in the oil and are responsible for the repellent properties of the oil.
If you don’t have it in your garden you can buy a small lemon balm plant for under $5 and it will grow without much oversight.
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 thrives well in either sun or partial shade, and should be kept in moist, well-drained soil. Be mindful that lemon balm is an invasive plant, and it will spread and take over your garden like a weed. In order to prevent this from happening it is recommended to keep it contained in a pot.
Five Other Plants That Repel 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Mosquitoes 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.