Plants to Protect the Gardener: Natural Insect Repellents

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ILLUSTRATION: KIM ZARNEY
Spearmint or lemon balm will keep nasty stinging gnats away while you're puttering around in your garden.

We hear about marigold, nasturtium, and various herbs that
can help keep bugs off the vegetables in the garden . . .
but what about something to shoo insect pests from the
gardener?

Stinging gnats–which bite about the face, eyes, and
behind the ears–really annoy me. Once, when the
swelling from such a bite had nearly closed my right eye, I
went to a doctor who wrote me a prescription ($4.00). I
took the piece of paper to the drugstore and had it filled
($3.50). Then I swallowed the capsules and, in less than an
hour, was staggering around like a drunkard. Another day
and the swelling (also my $7.50) was gone.

Now when the gnats start buzzing, I pull a handful of
spearmint or lemon mint, squeeze it to crush the leaves and
rub the crumpled foliage where the little devils like to
bite. The pests keep flying around, but won’t light nor
sink their fangs into me as long as the fragrant odor
lasts.

Yes, I know: every supermarket and drugstore sells chemical
insect repellents that will do the same job and do it
longer. I also know that a drop of those commercial
formulations in your eye can be much worse than a gnat
sting. Such repellents have even been known to dissolve
plastic watch crystals and eyeglass frames.

I’ll stick with my mints. I have the plants growing in
several places around the garden and I’m never far from
their pleasant protection.