The role of catnip as an insect repellant opens the door for more effective natural repellents that don’t have the same toxicity as those containing DEET.
Spring and summer bring warmer weather and longer days, but they also bring back pesky insects like mosquitoes and flies that can make time outdoors uncomfortable. Fortunately, it turns out catnip is the perfect backyard bug repellant, and researchers from Northwestern and Lund universities have recently uncovered the compound that makes the plant so distasteful to bugs.
Catnip, and its active ingredient nepetalactone, has been used as an insect repellant for thousands of years, but until recently, scientists weren’t quite sure why it was so effective. It turns out that nepetalactone targets the irritant receptor TRPA1, which is a pain receptor found in most animals. When bugs come into contact with catnip, this irritant receptor is triggered, dissuading them from coming any closer.
Humans have these same irritant receptors, but while other foods, like wasabi and garlic, activate them in humans, catnip seems to activate them only in insects, which is why it’s is a great repellant, but doesn’t cause discomfort for us.
This new research into the role of catnip as an insect repellant opens the door for more effective natural repellents that don’t have the same toxicity as those containing DEET. In addition to using catnip in these repellants, scientists could replicate its receptor-triggering properties for a scalable synthetic version.
As for your backyard, now is a great time to invest in some catnip plants in anticipation of the summer months. Your yard will be bug-free and the neighborhood felines will love it as well!