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Botanical Insecticides

- Use these plant oils in place of conventional insecticides -

Summary: New, natural, plant-based botanical insecticides offer an effective, low toxicity, and environmentally friendly alternative to conventional pesticides. A variety of formulations are now available including dusts, aerosols and wettable powders.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)

Plant-based (botanical) pesticides

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 plant chemicals are nicotine (Nicotiana plants), plant sterols (drug precursors), urushiol (poison oak and ivy oil), as well as pyrethrum and rotenone (natural insecticides).

Some plants also produce essential oils in specialized gland cells. 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 also combined with natural pyrethrins, are effective and very low toxicity insecticides.

Botanical (essential oil) insecticides are safer

I don't normally suggest that you use insecticides indoors. With a few exceptions, conventional 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 insecticides.

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.

As an effective alternative to conventional insecticides the "botanicals" are available in a variety of formulations for a variety of pest control situations. 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.

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.

Types (formulations) of pesticides

Aerosol (A) sprays** 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 (D) must be kept dry but exhibit very good residual activity. Dust formulations can be used for cockroach and ant control as well as bed bug and firebrat control.

The most important change in recent years has been that botanical insecticides are now available as wettable powders (WP). Wettable powders are 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.

**While I generally don't recommend aerosol insecticides because they are expensive and the spray can be a disposal problem, the aerosol jet formulation of EcoPCO Jet (below) has obvious advantages when dealing with an angry wasp nest because it allows you to treat the nest from a safe distance.

Commercial plant oil insecticides

Several companies market pesticides made from natural plant oils as low toxicity alternatives to conventional pesticides. I am particularly interested in EcoPCO Jet aerosol as an alternative for treating wasp nests and EcoPCO WP-X wettable powder because it can be applied with a small garden sprayer both indoors and outdoors for problems as diverse as bed bugs, black vine weevils, boxelder bugs and carpenter bees. The following product links connect to DoMyOwnPestControl where these and other "botanicals" can be found.


A "contact insecticide" aerosol spray (intended to be applied directly to pest). Very low toxicity but also little residual activity. Good for spot treating sensitive areas.


More residual activity than EcoPCO ACU in an aerosol spray. Very easy to use but relatively expensive when compared EcoPCO WP-X on a per application basis.


For use indoors such as crack and crevice (bed bugs), under appliances (cockroaches) and so forth. Excellent residual activity. Contains pyrethrins + plant oils; can be combined with borate insecticide to extend residual activity even longer.


For use indoors/outdoors, good residual activity. Contains pyrethrins + plant oils; intended for application by small sprayer; a good alternative to pyrethroids for a variety of household pests.

EcoPCO Jet A

Treating yellowjacket and paper wasp nests. Sprays a stream of insecticide so you can treat nests from a safe distance. See Treating Wasp Nests for more information.

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Jack DeAngelis, PhD,  , email:  [email protected]

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