November / December 2003
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Herbs That Repel Bugs
Insect pests generally have pretty poor eyesight and as a result they seek out their dinner by scent rather than sight. That is one of the reason that big fields of a single crop are so susceptible to pests that love to attack them. In your own garden, you can easily confuse those bugs by mixing up the scents that waft their way on the breeze.
Instead of planting all your roses in a bed with nothing but roses, plant some chives around the edge for a border and stick a few oregano in as ground cover. The different smells will confuse any pests that come looking for the smell of roses. All of the members of the allium family - onions, chives, garlic, shallots - are excellent pest repellants. Their presence in the garden helps keep insect pests at bay. You can also make sprays of allium and hot peppers to spray on your plants to keep the pests away. Those sprays will help discourage dogs, cats, deer, rabbits and other critters that might wan to use your garden as an all-you-can-eat buffet.
There is something about herbs that is repellant to most insect pests. They don't like to eat herbs and they don't like to smell them. You can take advantage of this by inter-planting all your gardens with herb plants. Almost all herbs are good for discouraging insect pests, because almost all herbs have strong scents. Some are particularly repellent to particular insects.
Dalmatian Pyrethrum Chrysan-themum cinerarifolium. This variety of chrysanthemum is the source for many natural insecticides for flying and crawling insects. It is one of the least harmful to mammals or birds, but the dried flowers of the pyrethrum daisy will kill or stun the insects the moment it touches them. It is one of the safest pesticides to use on pests and their bedding to keep fleas and ticks away. The powder is the result of drying and crushing the flowers.
English Pennyroyal Mentha pulegium. A small-leaved herb that has spikes of lavender flowers, pennyroyal is a member of the mint family and tends to sprawl rather than grow upright. Ground pennyroyal is one of the most effective tick deterrents available. Dust powder made from the leaves around areas where the pet sleeps and plays. The plant makes a good ground cover and grows well in hanging baskets.
Epazote Chenopodium ambro-siodes. This annual plant is used in much Southwestern cooking, particularly in bean recipes, but you can also make a strong tea from the plant and use the water to wash floors and porches to repel insects and larvae.
Feverfew Chrysanthemum parth-enium. Another lovely daisy plant, feverfew blooms midsummer through fall. The flower heads are used to make a pesticide to kill many pest insects.
Lavender Lavandula angustifolia. All of us know lavender as a beautiful aromatic herb that is used to scent food, soaps, cosmetics and many other products. However, if you dry bunches of lavender and hang them in the closet, they will repel moths and make your clothes smell good at the same time.
Lemon Basil Ocimum basilcum v. citriodorum. An aromatic herb with small pretty flowers and lemony fragrance, lemon basil is a fine culinary herb. When planted in the garden close to tomatoes, it not only improves the taste of the tomatoes but deters white flies as well.
Mugwort Artemisia vulgaris. Often thought of as a medicinal herb, mugwort leaves are used to repel moths. They can be made into sachets or dried and hung in the top of the closet.
Peppermint Mentha piperita. Great in tea, peppermint also helps to repel ants, aphids, cabbage lopers, flea beetles, cabbage worms, squash bugs and white flies. Plant it near susceptible plants or make a tea from the crushed leaves and spray it on infested plants.
Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis. One of the most popular herbs, rosemary leaves that are dried and powdered are used as a flea and tick repellent. Dust the powder around where your pet sleeps.
Sage Salvia officinalis. Although you can't make Thanksgiving dressing without it, sage is also helpful planted next to cabbage to improve the taste and repel cabbage worms and moths.
Tansy Tanacetum vulgare. Leaves of this fern-like plant are used to repel ants and moths in sachets or when strewn around. The small yellow flowers are used in potpourri and dried for everlastings.
Wormwood Artemisia absinithium. Another member of the artemisia family, this variety grows tall with gray silky foliage and spikes of small flowers. Powdered dust made from the leaves and sprinkled on plants and soil will deter many insects. It is not toxic; the bugs just don't like the fragrance.
Tansy, rue and anise are good at repelling aphids, a perennial garden pest. Chamomile and hyssop will help discourage cabbage moths on your cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli. Basil and dill planted near your tomato plants will help keep tomato hornworms away and encourage your tomatoes to grow steadily. Dill and fennel are also good food plants for butterflies, particularly the swallowtail. They lure the caterpillars from other plants you'd rather not have gnawed.
If you're having problems with beetles and squash bugs on your squash and cucumbers, plant mint, oregano or tansy nearby. Catnip and savory will discourage flea beetles and bean beetles on your bean plants and parsley and rosemary will keep carrot flies away from your carrots.
Inside the house, you can used dried herbs to make fragrant potpourri or sachets that will repel insects in the closet or storage chests. Mint, rosemary, rue, tansy, thyme, wormwood, southernwood, lavender, pennyroyal and lemon geranium are all excellent at repelling moths that would get into your winter clothes. Put the dried herbs in a cloth bag that is loosely woven enough to let the air circulate and let it hang from a hanger in the closet or tuck it into a drawer or chest for the summer. When it comes time to get out your winter clothes, they'll smell good and be moth-free.
If you thought herbs were just for soup, think again. They serve a variety of purposes in every room of the house and throughout the garden. They are easy to grow and a delight to enjoy. Add more herbs to the garden today!