Fly, bug control, plants
Photo by Joshua Oluwagbemiga
Flies and mosquitoes are a scourge to any experience, emergency or otherwise. Having these 10 plants around will discourage their bites and bothers.

Unfortunately, insects could not care less about your problems. They are all too concerned with finding their next meal (which is likely you). Mosquitoes, for example, are attracted to body odors, especially if you’re sweating and giving off a strong odor. And they feed off your blood. Rivers or lakes are the breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other common pests. In addition to candles, scented oils, and over-the-counter sprays, some plants found in nature that can aid you in bug control. Applying nature’s repellent is as easy as rubbing the leaves of the plants on your skin. However, some plants must be burned so that the oils in the smoke repels the insects.


The concentrated peppermint oil (aka metha piperita oil) has been used to rub on the skin, or as a spray, to repel insects from biting. In this form, the oil can actually be used not only to repel mosquitoes but to kill the larvae and eggs of several of the species.

Though peppermint has one of the most pungent oils of all the mints, various cultivated and wild mints can be found over North America. Wild mints are typically found along streams, where the leaves can be collected and the fresh oil from the leaves rubbed over the skin.


This fragrant member of the mint family contains a chemical called nepetalactone, which is both a feline attractant and a useful insect repellent. Just rub the fresh leaves between your hands and rub the expressed oil over the exposed parts of your body.


Rosemary is easy-to-grow, somewhat drought tolerant plant that pretty much takes care of itself.

The leaves have long been used in pantries to repel moths. When tossed into a campfire, the smoke is somewhat repelling to insects. You need to stay near the smoke for this to be effective. Rub the leaves between your hands, and then rub the oils over your exposed body parts.


Lavender is another old world herb which is grown for spice, fragrance, and potpourri. It’s oil is widely used in perfume manufacture. And has even been used in a non-toxic (to humans) anti-termite oil.  Mosquitoes and flies and other insects do not like this fragrance when it’s in the air. They are repelled even more when the freshly-rubbed leaves are all over your skin.

Laurel Sumac

Laurel sumac is a shrub found in the chaparral and foothill regions of the west and Southwest. The Native Americans of the Los Angeles County region would rub the crushed leaves over their skin so that animals would not smell them when hunting. The side benefit was that mosquitoes do not like this fragrance. Rubbing my skin with the leaves kept the mosquito at bay. Only an occasional brave one would enter my aura and try to bite. I regarded it as adequate under the circumstances, and certainly better than no repellent.


The genus Artemisia includes such plants as mugwort (A. douglasiana), California sagebrush (A. californica), and great basin Sagebrush (A. tridentate). Artemisias grow all over the world in a great variety of environments.

Crush the leaves and rub them over your exposed skin. The mosquitoes don’t like the strong scent put off by these herbs. They will tend to bite less.


Lantana is a commonly-planted ornamental which has been shown to repel mosquitoes. According to “Plant-based insect repellents: A review of their efficacy, development, and testing,” by M.F. Maia and S.J. Moore, both lantana, in general, and specifically Lantana ukambensis can be somewhat effective in repelling mosquitoes just by planting them in pots around a residence. The smoke of the burning lantana leaves is even more effective.

The Malaria Journal published the results of dozens of plants used to protect from mosquitoes. Some of the plants were rubbed on the skin, some burned, and some simply grown around residences.


Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is a member of the mint family with a lemon-mint fragrance, and aside from its medicinal and culinary uses, has the reputation of keeping the mosquitoes at bay. This one is easy to grow in your garden or a pot. Lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus) is a drought tolerant ground cover commonly used in cooking and in the making of essential oils. Lime basil (Ociumum americanum), also known as hoary basil, is a native of Africa which is generally used in herbal medicine.

The fresh leaves of three listed plants must be rubbed between the hands, and then the oils rubbed over the exposed parts of the body. Their effectiveness of lemon and lime-scented plant was recorded in the article “Indoor Pest Repellent Plants,” by C. Clarke, published by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Lemon Eucalyptus

I experimented with the leaves of lemon eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora), which make an excellent lemon tea. The fresh leaves were crushed and rubbed over my skin. I noted a reduction of mosquitoes landing and biting. Later, I learned from a study reported in the Malaria Journal that indeed many of the eucalyptus species can be utilized for an insect repellent.

Citrus Peels

I have also experimented with the fresh peels of lemons and oranges, rubbing the peels directly on my skin. I have tried rubbing just the inside of the peel on my skin, and just the outside of the peel. Both are effective above a mediocre level regardless which side of the peel you use.

Citrosum (aka Mosquito Plant)

Botanists know this plant as Pelargonium citrosum, often marketed as the “mosquito plant.” It’s sometimes erroneously referred to as the citronella plant. Despite the fact that this is perhaps the most widely known plant which is reputed to repel mosquitoes, research suggests that it is entirely ineffective in doing so.

In his article, “Mosquito plant Pelargonum citrosum – the Citrosa Plant,” Robert Pavlis shares research which indicates this plant has no indication whatsoever in repelling mosquitoes.

Other Ways of Bug Control

We’ve all heard that tossing sage or rosemary in the campfire is a good bug control. It seems that the smoke of any aromatic plants will keep them away, the leaves of such plants as eucalyptus, bay, and camphor. But if you don’t happen to have aromatic herbs around your campground, just keep the fire smoky, and you’ll keep most of the mosquitoes away.

Worst-case scenario: You have no insect repellent and you have no idea what sorts of plants are growing all around your hiking trail or campsite. Now what? Look for a charred, blackened piece of wood and rub it over your exposed skin. You can do the same with mud, though charcoal is more efficient.

This article is from the spring 2018 issue of Survivor’s Edge Magazine. Grab your copy at

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