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I first discovered this gem of an idea from those “dons of the natural way” over at Herbs And Oils World. Their simple article outlines a super-easy process of adding 10 to 15 drops of peppermint essential oil to a spray bottle full of water, and then spraying it in the places where spiders lurk / where they enter the home. Brilliant, simple, non-toxic and natural – and anything that does away with the need for nasty chemicals in the home is fine by us! Your house will even smell nicer!
Why Do Bugs Hate Essential Oils?
Part of the reason the post got my attention is because it touches on a far deeper subject with fascinating implications – and I couldn’t resist the chance to put forward some ideas that I have been mulling over for a while.
It turns out that there are a huge number of essential oils that either have a bug repellent or pesticide action. This makes absolute sense if you think about it – because in nature, plants evolved essential oils partly as a defense mechanism against being eaten to the ground by pests.
In the past few years, a whole host of scientific studies have “rediscovered” numerous essential oils that work as insecticides – and people are beginning to use them: Orange oil is now a popular and accepted treatment for termites; Tea tree essential oil has been reported effective against scabies and is sometimes added to laundry to get rid of mites; Neem oil has been found effective against numerous insect species in tests.
Several essential oils are now used effectively against spider mites in the garden: A 2010 study found that Red Thyme, Lemon Eucalyptus, Citronella, Pennyroyal, Caraway Seed and Cloverleaf essential oils were effective against red spider mites that had become resistant to chemical pesticides. Essential oils have been found effective against ticks, against ants and all kinds of other critters. Neem is used year after year against spider mites on crops, prior to flowering – and it still works.
These are just a few examples – there are many, many more.
One of the benefits of using essential oils in this regard is their (general) low toxicity and biodegradability. They are simply “closer to nature” than chemical pesticides! Within a few years these natural substances may well actually be proven to be less harmful to the environment when sprayed.
Where it gets really fascinating is when you notice the “mind-blowing” fact that essential oils still work on bugs after thousands of years, whereas pesticides of the chemical variety lose their effectiveness after a few years or even less – because the insect pest has evolved to be resistant to the chemical. The way this process works – in a nutshell – is that when a chemical pesticide is sprayed a few of the strongest bugs may survive, going on to breed – and by a process of natural selection over the course of a few years, the bug has evolved to the point where the insecticide no longer works. What this means in real terms is that interest in the use of essential oils against bugs is coming to the fore as more and more chemical pesticides lose their effectiveness.
Why is it that essential oils continue to be effective against pests in this way, while pesticides flounder? My theory is that it is in some way because nature seeks equilibrium. This is quite simple to explain. If there are too many bugs, a greater proportion of the plants get eaten. This has a stronger natural selection effect on the plants, leading to a repopulation with plants that are more resistant to pests. Similarly, pests that are more able to deal with the plants natural defenses will survive, and choose to eat the more palatable of the plants. So the plants and the insects to some extent work in “synergy” on a species level – making each other stronger through a “symbiotic”, mutually beneficial, reciprocal process of natural selection.
Another thing I find extremely interesting is the research (again, still a very untapped field) that has demonstrated in certain cases that “broad-spectrum” effects from a whole plant or essential oil extract have greater efficacy than single molecules which were chemically extracted because they were considered the primary active ingredient. Again, this is astonishing if you think about it.
This line of inquiry I consider to be one of the most important in herbalism – and quite central to its validation as a discipline: Drug companies seek single molecules because this gives them potential (I imagine) for a patentable product. However, in more and more instances we seem to be finding that “pure molecule” pharmaceutical drugs have unacceptable side effects in the human system. Perhaps the whole concept of extracting a single molecule and applying it as a remedy is flawed! This is an idea with potentially massive implications – but it too makes some sense to the intuition: We evolved alongside plants for hundreds of thousands of years also. Perhaps at some point it will even be proven that, in the same manner in which the “broad spectrum” essential oils attack bugs, the broad spectrum approach of herbalism is more effective against various sicknesses in the body.
Essential oils, typically, are made up of hundreds of types of molecules, in varying amounts – with a few molecule types making up the majority of the oil, but also with a large number of minor components which often have not been studied in depth. There is huge untapped potential here for research.
This idea of an equilibrium (complex stability) in nature is something completely alien to modern agriculture, which seeks to control and enforce. Nature being what it is, seeks to “bring the balance back”. It is my view that we are not alien to nature but part of it – and that it is only by working with it, rather than against it, that we will be able to reach optimum health.
I’m of the belief that essential oils will ultimately take their place as the best of all insecticides (when they have finally realized that it is not actually possible to do better than nature has already done!) – and at some point “science” will return to a more holistic philosophy in line with the original ideas (attributed to Hippocrates) regarding the Vis Medicatrix Naturae – or healing power of nature.
Anyway – much theorizing and much that is not known for certain. I hope these musings have given food for thought and inspiration! I’m not the first to put forth these ideas, several others have paved the way before: Kurt Schnaubelt (at first glance) appears to have discussed them in much greater depth – although I have not yet read his works.
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