Image by CatCrazy from Pixabay

Written and Narrated by Marie T. Russell.

You've probably heard of catnip in relationship to cats. Some cats really love it. Most cats react to catnip by rolling, flipping, rubbing, and eventually zoning out. On the other hand, bugs hate catnip. I'm talking of mosquitoes, black flies, deer flies or horse flies, and gnats. When they smell it, they usually leave the premises.

In the enchanting woods of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, where I spend my summers, black flies, deer flies, and mosquitoes can be unwelcome visitors. While commercial bug repellents may offer protection, they often come with various chemicals that raise concerns for our well-being and the environment. Fortunately, catnip offers a natural alternative.

I grow my own catnip which is very easy. It is almost too easy to grow. as it is of the mint family and is fairly invasive. So I grow it in a planter box on the porch. I've concocted a recipe, with the help of the internet, to create a homemade bug repellent that harnesses the power of catnip, coconut oil, and other essential oils. I will share how to craft this repellent that fends off pesky insects while doubling as a nourishing skin moisturizer. 

Catnip vs. DEET

While I can personally vouch to the effectiveness of catnip as a natural bug repellent, there have been studies that compared DEET and catnip as bug repellents:

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  • Peterson, C. J. (2001). Efficacy of catnip (Nepeta cataria) as a mosquito repellent: laboratory and field studies. Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association, 17(2), 199-202.

This study found that catnip was at least as effective as DEET at repelling mosquitoes in laboratory tests. In field tests, catnip was more effective than DEET at repelling mosquitoes for up to 2 hours.

  • Coats, J. R., & Wright, M. (2003). Repellent effects of catnip (Nepeta cataria) on mosquitoes (Diptera: Culicidae). Journal of Medical Entomology, 40(3), 423-426.

This study found that catnip was more effective than DEET at repelling mosquitoes in laboratory tests. However, the study also found that the effectiveness of catnip declined over time while the efficacy of DEET remained constant.

  • Stensmyr, M. C., et al. (2021). The irritant receptor TRPA1 mediates the mosquito-repellent effect of catnip. Current Biology, 31(7), 1723-1732.

This study found that the active ingredient in catnip, nepetalactone, activates a receptor in mosquitoes called TRPA1. This activation causes the mosquitoes to avoid the catnip-treated area.

In addition to the studies listed above, several other studies have investigated the effectiveness of catnip as a mosquito repellent. However, the results of these studies have been mixed. Some studies have found that catnip is as effective as DEET, while others have found it less effective.

It is important to note that the effectiveness of any insect repellent can vary depending on several factors, including the type of insect, the concentration of the repellent, and the environmental conditions. Therefore, it is essential to research and test different repellents to find one that works best for you.

Overall, the research suggests that catnip is a potentially effective mosquito repellent. OK, so now you've not only heard it from me and my personal experience, but you've heard from the research. So how can you make your own catnip repellent?

Catnip: A Natural Bug Repellent

Embracing Mother Nature's gifts, this bug-repellent recipe weaves together the following elements:

1. Catnip, a plant celebrated for its insect-repelling properties, as well as its cat-pleasing effects, is at the heart of this recipe. I no longer have a cat, so I'm not sure whether your cat will want to lick this off of you when you use it. If your cat does, you'll both be happy... you because the bugs will be staying away from you, and the cat, well, because it's ingested its happy sauce made of catnip.

Whether using fresh catnip leaves, or the dried variety, the secret ingredient in catnip is nepetalactone - a natural compound that bugs find unpleasant. When infused with coconut oil, catnip unleashes its power to keep the bugs at bay.

2. Coconut oil, a staple in natural beauty remedies, acts as the carrier oil for this bug repellent. Its light texture, combined with a mild aroma, ensures a smooth and gentle application. If you prefer a coconut oil without its natural scent, that is also available in stores, under the name "refined coconut oil". Furthermore, coconut oil's high smoke point allows for cooking and infusions without compromising its integrity. Once infused with the catnip, coconut oil becomes the foundation of our bug-repelling lotion.

I also tried making this recipe with olive oil, but I did not care for the olive oil scent.

3. Essential oils, renowned for their bug-repelling virtues, add strength and versatility to the blend. Citronella, lemon eucalyptus, lavender, and peppermint converge in this magical concoction, creating an aromatic harmony that insects dare not disturb. Each of these oils plays its part, combining their natural properties to provide an extra layer of protection against bothersome critters.

For those seeking an additional layer of defense, neem oil can be a valuable ally. Neem oil, derived from the neem tree, is a well-known natural insect repellent. Incorporating it into the mix elevates the repellent's potency and widens its protective embrace.

Making the Bug Repellent

Here's a step-by-step guide to crafting this magical elixir:

Step 1: Infuse Catnip into Coconut Oil

The usual recommendation is to melt 1 part coconut oil in a small saucepan over low heat, adding1/2 part of fresh chopped catnip leaves to the melted coconut oil. For example, 1 cup coconut oil, and 1/2 cup of fresh catnip leaves or four tablespoons of dried catnip leaves. Allow the catnip to infuse the oil for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

I actually put mine in jam-size mason jars, thus making separate portions. I replace the lid with aluminum foil, screw the cover on tightly, and put the jars in a slow cooker. I lay a towel in the bottom of the slow cooker first, then add some water. Add the sealed jars, and put enough water to reach the lids, and let it simmer. I usually let mine simmer 4 hours. I add extra jars filled with water to help hold the catnip-coconut oil jars upright. 

Let it cool a bit and then strain the catnip leaves from the coconut oil using a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Now, we have the infused catnip oil brimming with the bug-repelling power of nepetalactone.

Step 2: Add Essential Oils and Neem Oil (Optional)

Introduce 10-15 drops of essential oils (or more according to your preference) to the infused coconut oil to complete the symphony of aromas and repelling qualities. Feel free to play with combinations, selecting from citronella, lemon eucalyptus, lavender, and peppermint oils to achieve your preferred scent. I will often just let my intuition suggest how many drops of each to add to the mixture.

According to experts, for an extra layer of defense, include a teaspoon of neem oil, further strengthening the repellent's efficacy. I have not tried the neem oil as I didn't have any on hand, so I can't vouch for its efficacy. But I do plan to try it next time.

Step 3: Apply liberally and enjoy a bug-free experience

Once the ingredients are well-mingled, allow the mixture to cool and solidify. Your bug-repellent is now ready for use. Store it in a cool, dry place and apply a liberal amount to exposed skin before venturing into the woods. Bring a small container of it with you as you may wish to reapply every two hours or so.

The natural bug repellent can manifest as a liquid or creamy texture, depending on your preference. Coconut solidifies below 76 degrees Fahrenheit (24 Celsius). So if you keep it above that temperature it will be liquid. But even if it solidifies, when you scoop it out into your palm, it will melt making it easy to spread over your skin. And your skin will also appreciate the nourishing and moisturizing properties of the coconut oil 

Step 4: Forming a Salve

If you would prefer a salve, you can use the emulsifying properties of beeswax to create a catnip-infused salve. While I have not done this myself, the way to do it is to combine the infused oil mixture in a clean saucepan with 1-2 tablespoons of beeswax pellets or grated beeswax. Stir gently over low heat until the wax melts and blends seamlessly into the concoction.

Pour the liquid mixture into small containers with lids like jars or tins to solidify into a salve. Allow the mixture to cool completely before using it as your bug-repelling companion for when you go out into nature.

A Nourishing Skin Moisturizer

As you use the catnip bug repellant, you'll discover an unexpected benefit The coconut oil nourishes and hydrates the skin, leaving it supple and refreshed, while essential oils add a delightful touch of fragrance.

Blending the essence of catnip, the versatility of coconut oil, and the harmonizing properties of essential oils, we craft a symphony of protection against black flies, deer flies, and mosquitoes. This magical elixir, gentle on the skin and fortified with nature's might, allows adventurers to immerse themselves in the embrace of our planet's wilderness without fear of pesky bugs. As we savor the beauty of nature's gifts, let us honor her wisdom by using bug repellents that safeguard our well-being and the environment.

About The Author

Marie T. Russell is the founder of InnerSelf Magazine (founded 1985). She also produced and hosted a weekly South Florida radio broadcast, Inner Power, from 1992-1995 which focused on themes such as self-esteem, personal growth, and well-being. Her articles focus on transformation and reconnecting with our own inner source of joy and creativity.

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