Summer is one of my favorite times of year – the wild plants are thriving and the weather is perfect for being immersed in nature. Camping, hiking, swimming, lounging by a river, gardening, wild-harvesting plants, berry picking, you name it – I’ll be there. Nothing is worse than getting to a beautiful destination, setting up your tent, blankets or chairs, and then the swarm of biting bugs arrives. I’ve been chased away from relaxing river spots and retreated to hiding in my tent for hours to try to escape these pesky buggers. 

Unfortunately, this year many people across America are noticing more mosquitoes and bugs than ever before – due to climate change [1]. The hotter temperatures and wetter weather is the perfect environment for them. Luckily, there are several methods for using plants to naturally repel mosquitoes besides showering yourself in chemical bug spray. 

For one, many insects dislike smoke, as well as the smell of certain aromatic plants – combine the two and you have a powerful pest repellent. In this article, you’ll learn the different ways you can use plants for bug repellent, as well as which aromatic plants are best for keeping the biting bugs at bay. You’ll even get a recipe for a DIY natural bug spray you can make at home!

Natural Ways to Repel Bugs

There are many different ways you can use herbs to repel bugs. Incense is one of the best ways to take advantage of the fact that bugs don’t like smoke. Choosing incense made from one or more of the aromatic plants listed below will be the most effective bug repellent. In addition, if you happen to be around a campfire and have some of the aromatic plants around, like dried herbs for tea or incense, or if you find some grow nearby, you can burn them in the fire to amplify its bug-repelling effects. 

You can also apply certain aromatic plants topically to naturally repel insects. Aromatic plant hydrosols and essential oil sprays work great as a natural bug repellent. The key to using natural bug spray is to reapply often! You can also try applying topical preparations like herbal-infused balms, which contain higher amounts of wax as an ingredient, which means it stays on the surface of the skin longer. 

You may also find that if you grow these herbs in your garden, the aromas will help to naturally reduce the amount of unwanted insects on your other garden plants, without requiring the use of pesticides. 

5 Aromatic Plants for Pest Repellent

The herbs listed below highlight just a few of the many plants that are effective as bug repellent. Every person is unique and can react differently to each plant, and some plants may be more successful with certain types of bugs – therefore, it is important to experiment and find which plants work best for you. Some other plants that work great to repel insects include Cedar, Cedarwood, Cinnamon, Sage, Lemongrass, Thyme, Tea Tree, Lemon Balm, Rosemary, and Basil.


There are actually many benefits to Eucalyptus, including its bug repellent properties, but it is also traditionally used for immune system support, cold and flu symptom relief, mental clarity, stress relief, and so much more. It is quite common to see its relative, Lemon Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora), in natural bug repellent sprays on the market. Eucalyptus is believed to be effective at repelling mosquitoes, as well as other bugs such as roaches, ants, flies, spiders, lice, and more.


Citronella is probably the most popular aromatic plant used for bug repellent. Maybe you have seen Citronella candles or tiki torches on store shelves? Citronella essential oil is extracted from Citronella grass (Cymbopogon nardus), a native plant to tropical Asia. It is commonly confused with Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) because they are close relatives and share similar aromatics – both are effective natural bug repellents.

Citronella is traditionally used for its antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties and is known to help repel flying insects. It can also help uplift your mood – which is helpful for when annoying bugs are getting you down! According to one scientific study, Citronella provided protection against mosquitoes for up to 3 hours when applied topically [2]. 


In general, most bugs dislike Citrus fruits due to limonene, a terpene found in their peels. Any Citrus essential oil or incense will act as an effective bug repellent, including Lemon, Lime, Grapefruit, and Orange. Limonene is a common ingredient in natural bug repellent, as well as many natural household cleaners due to its antimicrobial properties. 

In aromatherapy, it's believed to help your body release serotonin, the feel-good hormone, naturally elevating mood and uplifting the spirit. Many Citrus oils are commonly used for stress and anxiety relief as well. A powerful resin, Elemi, also contains high amounts of limonene and can be burned as incense to repel mosquitos. 


Lavender is well-known for its stress relieving properties, but it truly is a multi-faceted plant. It is thought to help keep away mosquitoes, moths, black flies, gnats and fleas – making Lavender a great ingredient to use in flea repellent, since it’s believed to be non-toxic for dogs. Not only is this plant effective at keeping bugs away, but it’s also an anti-inflammatory, meaning that it can help reduce pain, swelling, and itching that can happen if bug bites do occur. 


Not only is Peppermint a cooling, refreshing herb for summertime, but it also works to repel insects. Most bugs do not like Peppermint, including mosquitoes, spiders, roaches, moths, flies, and ants. The menthol in Peppermint helps act as a bug repellent, and also can relieve pain and itching associated with bug bites. You can also apply Peppermint essential oil diluted in a carrier oil to your forehead to help relieve headaches.

DIY Homemade Bug Spray Recipe


4 oz amber spray bottle


1.9 oz of distilled water

1.9 oz of Witch Hazel

20 drops Peppermint essential oil

20 drops Eucalyptus essential oil

15 drops Lavender essential oil


Measure out essential oil drops into your spray bottle. Top off with equal parts distilled water and Witch Hazel. Shake well before each use. 

Apply topically to skin and clothes as often as needed for best results. Avoid your face and eyes.

You can also just use 55 drops of a single essential oil, or even different essential oil blends  and make your own unique aromatic combination. Play around with it and have fun!

Article Written By Melissa Szaro


  1. Austin, Daryl. 2022. “Is mosquito season worse this year? What to expect in your state.” Today. Retrieved from
  2. Kongkaew, C., Sakunrag, I., Chaiyakunapruk, N., and Tawatsin, A. 2011. Effectiveness of citronella preparations in preventing mosquito bites: systematic review of controlled laboratory experimental studies. Trop Med Int Health. National Center for Biotechnology Information.

© 2022 The Northwest School of Aromatic Medicine. All rights reserved.

*The statements above have not been evaluated by the FDA, and are for educational purposes only. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This article should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult your physician before you use this information for health purposes.

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