Botanical Insecticides

- These plant oils can be used in place of conventional insecticides -

Summary: New, natural, plant-based botanical insecticides offer an effective, low toxicity, and environmentally friendly alternative to conventional insecticides. Most are based on plant essential oils like peppermint oil, clove oil, and a number of others. Plants make these oils as a deterrent to insect feeding damage. A variety of formulations are now available including dusts, aerosols and even wettable powders.

Plant-based (botanical) insecticides

Plants produce many powerful chemicals which they use to defend themselves against herbivores (mostly insects) and pathogens. Just a few examples of these highly active natural insecticides are nicotine (Nicotiana plants), certain plant sterols (drug precursors), urushiol (poison oak and ivy oil), as well as pyrethrum and rotenone.

Some plants also produce essential oils in specialized gland cells. These oils are potent feeding deterrents and natural insecticides. Examples of essential oils are peppermint oil, clove oil, citrus oils, lavender oil, thyme oil, and rosemary oil. Recent research has shown that certain combinations of these essential oils, sometimes combined with natural pyrethrins, can be formulated into effective and very low toxicity insecticides.

Botanical (essential oil) insecticides are safer & effective

I don't normally suggest that you use insecticides indoors. With a few exceptions, conventional synthetic insecticides are just too hazardous for this use. However, some of the new botanical insecticides are safe enough to use indoors and are just as effective as conventional (synthetic) insecticides for use against indoor insect and spider pests.

clove, a source of eugenol used in botanical pesticides

Clove (Syzygium aromaticum) is a source of eugenol used in some natural, botanical insecticides. Image from

Insecticides from plants

Until recently the availability of plant-based insecticides was limited to a few products like neem oil and pyrethrum. While these products are effective and exhibit very low environmental impact they have a limited range of uses. With the advent of new natural botanical insecticides there are now many more choices.

As an effective alternative to conventional insecticides the "botanicals" are available in a variety of formulations for a variety of pest control situations. Note that a pesticide formulation is simply the physical form of the product and the way in which it is applied. Dust (D), aerosol (A), and wettable powder (WP) formulations are all useful in different specific situations (see below).

Currently botanical insecticides are available to control bed bugs, cockroaches, boxelder bugs, stink bugs, carpenter bees, yellow jacket nests, and a wide variety of other common household pests.

Formulations of natural insecticides

Aerosol sprays, both pressurized and hand-pumped, can be used when the area to be treated is relatively small such as crack and crevice treatments for cockroaches. Aerosols are very convenient but are expensive on a per application basis.

Dusts must be kept dry but exhibit very good residual activity (how long they remain effective). Dust formulations can be used for cockroach and ant control as well as bed bug and firebrat control. Dust formulations are preferred because they are relatively inexpensive, easy to apply and exhibit excellent residual activity.

The most important change in recent years has been that botanical insecticides are now available as wettable powders. Wettable powders are finely ground powders that can be mixed with water and applied with some type of pump sprayer. They are much less expensive per application than aerosols and exhibit the good residual activity of a dust. They are also economical because you can mix up only the amount of spray that you need.

Where to purchase natural insecticides

See "Organic & Natural Pest Control" at, one of our affiliates, for a wide variety of botanical and other natural insecticides in all three formulations. They also provide downloadable product labels for all of the products they sell, an important distinction in my view.

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