Catnip repels pest

From New Orleans, at a meeting of the American Chemical Society

LINE IN THE SAND. Termites burrow readily through untreated sand (top) but not through sand treated with catnip oil (bottom). Peterson/USDA Forest Service

Catnip may be the cat’s meow, but the plant’s oil repels roaches and mosquitoes (SN: 9/8/01, p. 148: Available to subscribers at Feline stimulant fends off mosquitoes). Now, the entomologist who discovered this insect-harassing power of catnip, Chris Peterson of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service in Starkville, Miss., has found that the oil also repels termites.

Peterson challenged termites to a test of whether they could burrow through sand that he’d treated with catnip oil. Below 100 parts per million by weight, the oil wasn’t an effective barrier. At 250 ppm, the oil discouraged termites from plowing through the sand. Above 500 ppm, the oil was deadly.

A natural product such as catnip oil may be less toxic to people and the environment than current termite repellents, says Peterson. Catnip oil by itself may not work well, he says, since it breaks down quickly. In the future, however, the oil’s lifetime may be extended through special formulations. Peterson notes that catnip oil must still be tested for safety and effectiveness in realistic settings. Simply planting catnip in a yard probably would not stave off termites, he adds.


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