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Oils from Herbs and Spices to Replace Synthetic Pesticides

Mint leaves

Herbs and spices like thyme, rosemary and mint, usually used to flavor food, can also offer a green alternative to synthetic pesticides.

Research has shown that oils derived from the herbs interfere with insect nervous systems, causing them to spasm haphazardly until they die. Best of all, these all-natural pesticides are inexpensive to produce.


Because these killer-spice oils have already been developed and produced widely for food flavoring and perfumes, it should be easy and cheap to get them on retail shelves for farmers in a short time. Companies are already racing to get them out.

According to National Geographic, the plant oils repel insects in similar ways that chili peppers can repel elephants. The oils work by disrupting an insect’s cellular membranes, which causes fatal leakages of essential fluids. They are most effective against smaller and soft-bodied pests, like whiteflies, spider mites and aphids, in part because smaller insects tend to have large surface areas relative to their internal volume and so become more exposed to the oils.

The killer spices are also more effective than synthetic pesticides in that they are developed by plants through the complicated interplay of natural selection, whereas synthetic pesticides are usually composed of simpler chemicals which bugs can adapt to more quickly.

The only downside to the killer spices is that they evaporate and degrade much quicker than synthetics, but when combined with their environmental advantages, and with the fact that they are potentially cheaper to produce, they’re the clear winner.

Only one question remains unanswered for this curious writer: If the natural pesticides are already being widely produced in the form of perfumes, why no word yet on replacing all those horribly-scented DEET-based insect repellents too?

At the very least, it’s possible the surface has only just been scratched on the potential of these killer spice oils. Until then, the deeper scratches will have to be reserved for my mosquito bites.

Source: National Geographic

Image Credit: ZeHawk on Flickr under a CC License


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Written By

has been making up for lost time since finishing his graduate degree in Philosophy by traveling and working to change the world. He has worked with groups like The Sierra Club, Environment America & U.S. PIRG, Environment Oregon & OSPIRG, and Progressive Future on local and national political campaigns. His environmental journalism can be found throughout the web, which also includes regular contributions to Between adventure and activism, he currently can be found doing freelance writing from his home in Hawaii.


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