Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

January 24, 2022

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Bug off

Mosquito repellents you can eat and drink — and use to make any feline merry


Is there fact in fiction? Can you keep bloodsuckers away with the stinky rose? Some say yes. A few days before venturing into the deep woods, intrepid adventurers pop cloves of garlic — usually one or two a day — and let their pores do the rest.

Yes, garlic juice is an ingredient in insecticide and herbicides. But no, there isn’t evidence that sweating garlic repels mosquitoes. According to the American Mosquito Control Association, it only keeps them away if you squeeze its juice directly onto your skin. That area will be protected for 20 to 40 minutes.

Lemon Balm

This hardy perennial contains citronellal, the compound that gives off a lemony aroma. Biting bugs don’t care for lemon flavours. Bees, on the other hand, adore lemon balm’s little flowers. In 2007, researchers at the Entomological Society of Korea found that 30-percent citronellal extract was 78 percent effective on human bait in vitro.

Sadly, lemon balm’s powers wear off fast. See for yourself by crushing fresh balm leaves to release the oils then rub them directly on your skin. (It can irritate, so check first.) This herb reseeds fast, which is why a lot of people grow it in pots. Try it later as a tea, in a bath or infused in vinegar.


Another herb mosquitoes may not want at a barbecue is basil. Again, its repellent properties are on the weak side and short lived. But growing different varieties of basil could be an interesting experiment. Plant some lemon, cinnamon or Peruvian basil and see if your ankles fare any better this summer.


One test showed that catnip — a component in commercial pesticides and insecticides — was 10 times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET; another says that it deterred the bugs only briefly and yet another that it has no effect whatsoever. Either way, this is one herb that we best leave our cats to enjoy. There are no useful tests on its topical effects. For all we know it might be so potent it could lull the hardiest of garlic-eating backwoodsmen to sleep in broad daylight — with an army of swarming mosquitoes lurking nearby.

Unfortunately, none of these natural repellents provide protection in areas where mosquitoes could spread infectious diseases or viruses.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.


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