Bug Off with Thyme!
by Wendy Gist
It may be a revelation to many to find that a chemical in thyme, the common kitchen herb, may be a successful mosquito repellent.
Thyme is indigenous to the Mediterranean. Long ago, the ancient Greeks thought of thyme as a representation of courage and sacrifice, and the herb was very popular among them. In fact, they used thyme in bath oils, as incense, and for massage and medicinal purposes. Thyme has been used throughout history to improve various ailments such as reproductive system illnesses, digestion, and melancholy.
A perennial herb, thyme belongs to the mint family. This useful plant adds a sweet fragrance to many gardens. It is known for attracting bees and as a magnificent herb for culinary and aromatic practices. Thyme comes in many varieties: most preferred is common thyme. Some other varieties include Lemon thyme, Silver thyme, and Creeping thyme. The leaves are excellent when harvested throughout the summer, before the herb bursts into its fine-looking pink and purple flowers. Due to its monoterpenes, a key chemical found in this multifaceted herb, thyme may act as a natural, safe element in repulsing insects.
To DEET or Not to DEET
Unfortunately, many insect repellents contain harmful toxins. Most everyone is familiar with DEET (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide), as it is known to be one of the most effective insect repellents. It is a powerful chemical known to absorb easily into the skin (especially in children). A Duke University study “found prolonged applications of DEET caused neurological damage in rats” (Song 93). The Environmental Protection Agency, however, maintains DEET is safe if used properly by following specific (sometimes bothersome) precautions: do not apply to hands or near eyes and mouth of young children; do not allow young children to apply this product to themselves; use just enough repellent to cover exposed skin and/or clothing; do not use under clothing; avoid over-application; after returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water; wash treated clothing before wearing it again (“The Insect Repellent DEET”).
There is no denying that DEET can be toxic. A natural, pleasant repellent may be safely applied before heading outdoors.
Mosquito Bites: More than Just an Itch
Mosquitoes are a significant culprit in the transmission of diseases such as West Nile Virus, Dengue Fever, Malaria, and Yellow Fever. In all, mosquito bites transmit more than 30 arboviruses (Pleasant). In other words, they can be more than just an annoyance; they can actually be hazardous to your health.
When the female mosquito lands on your skin, she stabs her sharp and thin proboscis into you—the host! The female mosquito literally sucks your blood into her abdomen until it is full. When she is finished drinking your blood like a tiny vampire, some of the mosquito’s saliva is injected, which remains in the wound. This saliva is what causes the annoying itch and is the red flag of many diseases.
To help with the agonizing itch, one may wash the area with soap and water. An ice cube may be held on the swollen bite to help reduce itching. Aloe vera gel is a great remedy for relieving mosquito bites.
Thyme: A Natural Mosquito Repellent
According to a study conducted by the School of Agricultural Biotechnology, Seoul National University, Korea:
“Five monoterpenes (carvacrol, p-cymene, linalool, alpha-terpinene, and thymol) derived from the essential oil of thyme (Thymus vulgaris) were examined for their repellency against the mosquito. All 5 monoterpenes effectively repelled mosquitoes based on a human forearm bioassay. Alpha-terpinene and carvacrol showed significantly greater repellency than a commercial formulation—N, N-diethyl-m-methylbenzamide (DEET)—whereas thymol showed similar repellency to that of DEET. The duration of repellency after application for all these monoterpenes was equal to or higher than that of DEET” (Park et al 80).
For those who prefer to use natural alternatives to deter pesky mosquitoes, thyme may be a viable option. Natural essential oil mosquito repellent sprays can be found in natural health stores and online. Always check the manufacturer’s credibility before buying a product.
How to Make a Home-Made
Those who wish to try a natural herbal repellent made with thyme may enjoy this recipe *:
4 drops (each) of Thyme, Lavender, and Peppermint essential oil
8 drops of Lemongrass oil
Mix into about 2 teaspoons of vegetable or grape seed oil. Adjust the amount of oil to suit your sense of smell and according to effectiveness (if you dilute it too much it won’t work). Apply more frequently than chemical mixtures.
(*From The Complete Book Of Essential Oils And Aromatherapy by Valerie Ann Worwood)
Keys to Avoiding Pesky Mosquito Bites
Peak Mosquito Times—avoid going out during dusk and dawn. If you need to go out at dawn or dusk be prepared, covering up with light-coloured, long-sleeve shirts (tucked in), pants, socks, and a hat. Treat clothing with natural repellent. Apply repellent to exposed skin before heading outdoors.
Mosquito Attractants—mosquitoes are attracted to moisture, dark clothing, perfumes, or any fruity type fragrance, and lactic acid (released more after exercise or after eating certain foods, such as high potassium, salty foods) (“Natural Mosquito Repellents”). Avoid these types of attractants.
Mosquito Proof Your Home—Install screens or repair damage to old screens; this will help prevent mosquitoes from entering your home. Decrease the number of places where mosquitoes can lay their eggs and breed by draining all standing waters. Remove items around your home that may gather such water.
“Mosquito Bytes.” The Why Files. 2002. University of Wisconsin, Board of Regents. 12 Jan 2006.
“Natural Mosquito Repellents.” About Chemistry. 2006. About, Inc.,
A Part of the New York Times Company. 2 Jan 2006
W.S. Choi, J.H. Kim, K.H. Kim, and S.E. Lee. “Monoterpenes From Thymus vulgaris as Potential Mosquito Repellents. Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association. 21 (2005): 80–3.
Pleasant, Barbara. “Outsmarting Mosquitoes.” Mother Earth News. Aug/Sept 2003.
Song, Sora. “The Dirt on DEET.” Time. 8 July 2002:93.
“The Insect Repellent DEET.” The Insect Repellent DEET/Pesticides/US EPA.
27 Oct 2005. Environmental Protection Agency. 1 Jan 2006.
Wendy Gist, MS, Natural Health. She is a freelance writer who concentrates on natural healing issues. She contributes articles to several leading publications and has found that writing is the best approach in helping others live healthier, happier lives.