Herbs for Health: Treat Insect Bites and Stings

Use herbs and essential oils for natural insect repellents and bug bite remedies.


  • Pennyroyal
  • Calendula
  • Eucalyptus
    Photography by Steven Foster

A supplement to The Herb Companion from the American Botanical Council and the Herb Research Foundation. 

Aphids, whiteflies, spider mites, leaf-munching caterpillars. Herb ­gardeners know these plant pests all too well. But you don’t need to be a ­gardener to have close—frequently unpleasant—encounters with a whole array of other annoying outdoor insect and arachnid pests.

To distinguish which kind of critter you’re dealing with, just remember: insects have six legs, arachnids, eight. Mosquitoes, fleas, and flies (which are insects), as well as ticks and chiggers (which are arachnids), are biters. Most of these are after your blood. Many of them need a protein meal so that they can lay eggs. Bees, wasps, hornets, and ants (insects all) are stingers. Some kinds of ants both bite and sting. If you spend much time outdoors, bug bites and stings are inevitable. Most cause only transient local pain and/or itching, but about 1 percent of Americans experience severe allergic reactions to insect venom; about fifty die each year.

Furthermore, these pests can transmit diseases. Mosquitoes can carry malaria, yellow fever, or encephalitis; tick-borne Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are known throughout much of the ­United States. Your local newspaper and television station will surely let you know if any insect- or tick-borne diseases are prevalent where you live and what measures you should take to deal with them.



An ounce of prevention

These pests can make gardening during the warm months disagreeable; when they’re really bad, they can drive you indoors. The first line of defense is prevention. Most people do attempt to stay out of the way of stinging insects, and most of them won’t bother you unless you bother them first. A repellent can deter parasitic bloodsuckers such as mosquitoes, blackflies, deerflies, and horseflies, which attack uncovered skin around the hands, face, neck, and legs. Scientists have tested thousands of substances, including hundreds of plant essential oils, for their insect-repellent potential. Those of pennyroyal, cedarwood, citronella, and eucalyptus are the most ­commonly used in insect repellents.

The essential oil of European pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) has the strongest reputation as an insect repellent. The ­specific name, pulegium, is derived from the Latin pulex, meaning “flea”, and refers to the plant’s re­puted ability to kill fleas. The Roman historian Pliny wrote of pennyroyal: “The blossom of it, fresh gathered and burnt, kills fleas by its smell.”



Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Get the latest on Natural Health and Sustainable Living with Mother Earth News!

Mother Earth News

Your friends at Mother Earth Living are committed to natural health and sustainable living. Unfortunately, the financial impact of COVID-19 has challenged us to find a more economical way to achieve this mission. We welcome you to our sister publication Mother Earth News. What you sought in the pages of Mother Earth Living can be found in Mother Earth News. For over 50 years, “The Original Guide to Living Wisely” has focused on organic gardening, herbal medicine, real food recipes, and sustainability. We look forward to going on this new journey with you and providing solutions for better health and self-sufficiency.

The impact of this crisis has no doubt affected every aspect of our daily lives. We will strive to be a useful and inspiring resource during this critical time and for years to come.

Best wishes,
Your friends at Mother Earth Living and Mother Earth News

Save Money & a Few Trees!

By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of Mother Earth News for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).


Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Classifieds