For centuries, indigenous groups have used plant-based methods of deterring mosquitoes. The Māori used manuka, Indians used neem leaves and Chinese traditional medicine espouses the use of lemon eucalyptus.
All these plants have naturally-occurring chemicals to discourage insects from eating or living in them, so it makes sense that this affect could be harnessed to repel insects. But do they actually work?
Lemon eucalyptus (Corymbia citriodora) extract
This is a strong natural repellent from the leaves of the lemon eucalyptus tree. The extract contains 85% citronella, a well-known mosquito repellent. Many plant extracts are effective for a short time, but evaporate quickly. However the exception to this is ‘PMD’, or para-menthane 3, which is the only plant-based mosquito repellent that the Centre for Disease Control advocates use of.
A plant that’s native to India and other south-Asian countries, the neem tree provides a huge number of health and wellbeing solutions. Some research has shown that it works well as a mosquito repellent, but it can irritate if used undiluted. Neem is not recommended in areas where mosquito-borne disease levels are high, but it may offer some protection.
Mint family (Lamiaceae)
Worldwide, a variety of mint derivatives are used as insect repellents, including peppermint, catnip, basil, lemon thyme and lavender. There is some evidence to suggest these all work against some mosquito species, and use of a carrier oil may increase their potency and longevity. However, they may cause skin irritation and are not suitable in infection-prone areas.
There are studies that suggest coconut oil, the current miracle-cure-all, may help dissuade mosquitoes from biting. However we know that coconut oil is best used as a carrier for other bioactives, such as manuka oil.
Manuka oil (leptospermum scoparium)
From the same family as eucalyptus, tea tree and cloves, manuka has been used as an insect repellent by the Māori people for hundreds of years. Manuka shows promise as a gentle insect repellent. As well as being a repellent, Manuka oil is excellent as a treatment for bug bites and stings, as it is anti- bacterial and anti-microbial, it really helps.