Natural Insect Repellent: Beautyberry Banishes Bad Biting Bugs

Researchers are finding evidence that beautyberry, long used as a folk remedy, really is an effective natural insect repellent.

| April/May 2009

natural insect repellent beautyberry

Not just pretty: chemical compounds in Beautyberry leaves are natural insect repellents.


Warm weather brings out the big three of biting bugs: mosquitoes that transmit West Nile virus, deer ticks that carry Lyme disease and, in warm climates, fire ants that can quickly take over your yard. Instead of using toxic DEET to protect yourself, wouldn’t it be great to use leaves gathered from a native shrub?

This is exactly what you can do with beautyberry (Callicarpa americana ), a deciduous shrub of the southeastern woods best known for its bracelet-like clusters of showy purple berries that ripen in fall. Compounds found in beautyberry leaves have shown amazing natural insect repellent properties, proving the worth of the centuries-old practice of placing leaves under mule harnesses to deter biting insects.

In 2006, researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Products Utilization Research Unit in Oxford, MS, found that extracts from beautyberry leaves could match DEET for repelling mosquitoes. The next year, experiments showed that the active ingredients from the leaves (callicarpenal and intermedeol) provided 100-percent repellency of black-legged ticks for three hours. In 2008, the four-person research team, headed by chemist Charles Cantrell in Mississippi and entomologist Jerome Klun in Maryland, published research that added fire ants to the list of pests repelled by essential oil distilled from beautyberry leaves.

Cantrell says toxicity testing is needed to evaluate the safety of applying potent beautyberry compounds to human skin. “Plants containing these compounds have long been used as folk remedies with no ill effects that we know of, so I would not anticipate any harmful effects when plants are used in the traditional way,” he says. Fresh green leaves, crushed and rubbed on people or pets, often repel insects for a couple of hours.

American beautyberry is easily grown in moist, partial shade in Zones 7 to 9, and in protected sites near buildings in Zone 6. Among ornamental species, Cantrell notes that leaves of Japanese beautyberry (C. japonica , hardy to Zone 5) contain both compounds.

Container-grown plants of American beautyberry are widely available from native plant nurseries. Visit the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Seed and Plant Finder to find a source near you.

10/26/2014 1:29:23 PM

I have lots of beauty berry shrubs, and the seed pods are at their peak. If any one would like some of them please let me know and we will figure out shipping cost[couldn't be much].Also does anyone know how to make the bug repellent? I have lots of leaves plus Hords of Mosquitoes. Thank you;Karen Cummings

7/31/2014 8:04:12 PM

A great mosquito & tick repellent I found that is already mixed & works extremely well plus last a really long time. My family & I have found it to be Very WATER & SWEAT RESISTANT. We only spray it on once a day & within a few minutes forget all about it & don't have to worry about mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, chiggers, flies or much else for the rest of the day & it's completely chemical free. Their $15 dollar bottle last me about 2 months. We get ours at, enjoy..

7/24/2014 7:20:02 AM

Remember it's the oils/compounds in the leaves that repels, not just having the plant in the yard. Many people have been fooled by articles written recently about lemmongrass (which contain citronella oil), scented geraniums etc which indicates just having them in a pot by your door will repel. You have to release the oils inside the leaves to accomplish this. All that being said, I have several beautyberries in my backyard and this gives me yet another reason to love them even more.

linda barnes
10/14/2012 2:49:18 AM

wonderful news to me.mosquitos n ticks are horrible n deadly bugs! i have a good friend who suffers terribly for years from a bad-lyme disease tick-bite.wish i this news back then to have pre-vented her from fallin gravely ill! thanks for the wonderful useful,great news!now i have to go find it,for my family friends n community! sincerely yours,

sarah stains
8/28/2012 3:26:26 PM

Are the berries of a Beauty Berry Bush Edible?

judy fletcher
7/16/2012 8:30:42 PM

interested n birds and nature items 4 back yard.

william coursen
7/20/2009 9:10:12 PM

I am interesting in finding a place to purchase "Beautyberry." Can you give me some suggestions? I live about 50 miles north of Pittsburgh, PA. Thanks.

alexa fleckenstein m.d._2
5/26/2009 8:46:53 PM

Any idea if allergic reactions to beauty berry have been reported? It would be great if we had another benign insect repellent at hand. Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. physician, author.

clinton boyda
4/13/2009 1:39:43 AM

This is such a great article.. simple, natural and efficient way to beat the ongoing pushes of commercial solutions - I love it!

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