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Friday, July 17, 2009

Nature's Mosquito Control

Nature's Mosquito Control:
Designing Against Mosquitoes, Malaria and the West Nile Virus

By Scott A. Meister

One thing that can always dampen a good summer day is an itchy bite from a mosquito. In some places, a bite from a mosquito can transmit diseases and even end your life. Recent outbreaks of mosquitoes in Texas have caused concern about West Nile Virus. However, Malaria is a global concern. Malaria is the leading cause of death and illness in Rwanda ( According to the Roll Back Malaria website, There are at least 300 million acute cases of malaria each year globally, resulting in more than a million deaths. Around 90% of these deaths occur in Africa alone, and mostly in young children

In fact, the vast Majority of Malaria deaths occur in Africa where it has been estimated to cost more than US $12 billion every year in lost GDP. It’s interesting to note, that Malaria could be controlled for just a small part of that sum.

There are two basic approaches to fixing natural problems such as this. The first (and most costly) is the Capitalistic/Industrial approach and the second (more reasonable) is to use a more holistic and natural approach.

The usual capitalistic and industrial approach to fighting this illness is to spend lots of money and other valuable resources on things that can be manufactured and sold to treat the problem. If humans can capitalise on a problem by making money, that is usually considered the most obvious course of action. In the over-developed world, this is almost always the first course of action. PR firms are the first to broadcast man-made chemical solutions to problems. Commercials posing as news, scream, “…only DEET will do.” Fortunately the logical fallacy of T.I.N.A. (There Is No Alternative)…is just that…a fallacy, and there are numerous other, more ecological approaches to mosquito management. Furthermore, the energy intensive nature of this process and the resource consumption involved makes this an un-sustainable option.

The first, commercial/industrial approach mentioned above, involves using potentially harmful insecticides that kill indiscriminately and destroy the web of life without regard to long-term consequences to health and the ecosystem. Interestingly, pesticides are now known to contribute further down the line to other more costly, and difficult to treat, illnesses such as cancer. Secondly, millions of dollars and resources are spent researching, developing, testing and manufacturing drugs to cure ill patients (again, with largely unknown consequences). Thirdly, chemical repellents are manufactured, shipped and sold. The repellents are often lotions or sprays which are put into contact with the skin. Putting these chemicals on the skin puts people at risk of CSS (Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome) a.k.a. TI (Toxic Injury) which has become a growing and serious problem in the industrial era. Exposure to chemicals has been shown to play a significant role in problems such as “premature birth; male genital defects; learning, attention, and emotional disturbances; early puberty; obesity; and low sperm quality.” (-quoted from (

To make matters worse large amounts of fossil fuels (limited and disappearing resources) are being used to manufacture and ship these items across the globe. Unfortunately for most, especially in the communities that suffer from malaria such as in Africa…money is not available to pay for the manufacture and shipment of pesticides, medicine and potentially harmful chemical repellents. The Texan “newly rich” from the oil and chemical business, can afford to pay for DEET (in the short term while resources last) but the earth, and the rest of the world can’t.

Fortunately, for the lesser fortunate people on earth, there is a cheaper, simpler, sustainable and eco-friendly approach to managing and controlling both mosquito’s, Malaria and West Nile Virus. It can be practiced anywhere...even in your own back yard, regardless of whether malaria or West Nile Virus is an immediate threat to you or not. It is a natural answer to a natural problem, costs very little, and once implemented...continues to produce long-term results requiring very little energy or money to maintain. It’s a gift that keeps on giving...a gift of nature.

Nature has evolved over millions of years to produce the checks and balances necessary to keep each of its element in control. Humans, with their “free-will” have been able to mess a bit of that up. We are the “loose-cannons” in the eco-system, so to speak. When humans run into a threat from nature, they often believe they have a right to “pull rank” and come up with some man-made piece of technology to address the threat. This technology usually wreaks more havoc, causing more, newer threats requiring further technological fixes that wreak even more havoc…and on and on.

The smarter solution is to observe nature, answer natural problems with nature’s own solutions whenever and wherever possible. It shows more intelligence in man if we can cooperate with nature, and help manage what it has already given us. We’re a part of nature, but our technology isn’t.

In a healthy, ecosystem, pests and diseases don’t run amok. This is because nature’s design uses biodiversity and various tricks such as plants with a certain scent, aroma or color and predators, natural barriers and limits, etc to keep everything in check. There are no mono-cultures in nature, there are no “lawns.”

By mimicking nature’s bio-diverse design in our own landscape, we can come up with a way to protect ourselves from the pesky mosquito and the viruses they carry. Sustainable solutions to natural problems such as malaria follow the following formula. Natural Repellent/Barrier, Predator (and predator attractant/habitat), Natural Herbal Antidote. Let's examine each.

Natural Mosquito Repellents/Barriers (Plant it…and they will NOT come):

Mosquitoes are often repelled by scent. The scent that has proven most effective in repelling mosquitoes comes from Citronella macronata, which is a tree that can be planted as a hedge. This serves two purposes, first by exuding the scent which repels mosquitoes, and by providing a habitat and food for birds that eat mosquitoes. The Citronella plant attracts birds with berries, while also providing both nesting for them and cover from it’s own predators. Mosquito repellent and predator attractant and habitat are provided all in one tree. Two hits for the price of one..and once planted, they continue growing, and can give free cuttings/seed to be spread to other areas to grow. Did I say free? Yes, and I’d say that’s a rather cheap solution.

The citronella compound has also been bred into the “lemon geranium” which exudes the same scent, and is being used to repel mosquitoes at the herb layer. Lemon geraniums can be planted under or around windows, or can flank the sides of doorways to repel mosquitoes while providing beautiful flowers and a pleasant lemon scent to any shelter where humans spend time and sleep.

Catnip is another common herb that contains an oil that is supposedly 10 times better at repelling mosquitoes than using the expensive, resource-consumptive chemical DEET. Catnip can also be used as a (mildly stimulating) tea for human consumption.

The popular culinary herb, Rosemary, also has an oil that is effective in repelling mosquitoes. Because it’s a tropical plant, and thus not very cold-hardy, it should be planted in pots in cold climates and taken inside for winter. However, if you’re in Africa, it can be planted in window boxes, hung in pots around windows, or planted with lemon geraniums around doorways. It could even be planted and kept indoors near windows that have a lot of light as an interior repellent.

Citronella grass is a tropical grass that grows to be 6-feet tall, and happens to be where companies get the citronella oil that they put in candles and lanterns that can be burned to repel mosquitoes. While not very practical for the dreaded suburban lawn due to it’s height, it could be planted as a decorative grass to flank windows and doors to help repel mosquitoes.

Another grass that has potential in fighting mosquitoes and malaria is the Vetiver grass, which is a clumping grass helpful in fighting erosion and soil stabilization. Vetiver grass roots are aromatic and have been used to weave screens that can be used on windows and ventilation areas for homes. Spraying these screens with a mist of water, helps to cool air flowing through them while simultaneously enhancing the aroma, and thus repellent power of the screens.

-Mosquito Predators, Attractant and Habitat -
“Can’t beat ‘em? Then build it or plant it, and they will come and eat’m’”

photo by Richard Seaman

If we wish to get malaria under control, we need to focus on controlling the mosquito population. We can do this most efficiently and effectively not by using ever-repeating applications of poison (which can backfire on us and our immune systems), but by attracting and providing habitat for the mosquitoes natural predators. Some of the more famous of these predators are Bats, Birds, Dragonfly and a fish so adept to eating mosquitoes that it’s taken on the suiting name Mosquito Fish (Gambusia affins).

By providing the proper habitat for these creatures, we can have them manage the mosquito population for us.

To invite the dragonfly in to help, we can plant Bullrush and Cattail, two plants that attract this mosquito devouring insect that can eat thousands of mosquitoes. Bullrush and Cattail should be planted around ponds, and these ponds can be used to control mosquito larvae by stocking them with the Mosquito Fish (Gambusia affins) and guppies. These fish can eat thousands of mosquito larvae, helping to reduce the adult mosquito population. If stocking ponds with these fish, care should be taken to also stock the ponds with water plants, as Gambusia also require plants to eat, and to provide breeding cover. The population of larvae that survives to become adult, can be eaten by dragonflies and birds nearby.

Last, but certainly NOT the least, when it comes to mosquito population management, is our champion mosquio predator, the bat. A healthy bat population can devour millions of mosquitos in an evening. To insure that they help clear our surrounding areas of malaria carrying pests…we can build and install bat-houses in a nearby area. Perhaps, a bat-house could be placed on a high post between the pond and living abodes. An extra added benefit to building and installing bat-houses…is that bats also provide a valuable fertilizer in the form of guano. This guano can be harvested from below bat-houses and be used in the garden.

Proven Home-Grown Antidote Herbal Remedies:
“Nature’s doorstep pharmacy”

The Chinese have been using Artemisia annua (a.k.a. sweet wormwood) to cure fevers for centuries. Recent scientific studies have found that the substance artemisinin is high enough in the blood after ingesting Artemisia tea to cure malaria. Thousands of plants can be grown from a single cutting, and the leaves can be harvested, dried and stored without too much intensive labor…making for a cheap and easy to produce remedy on the doorstep of any home, village or hospital.

“The daily adult dose of anti-malaria tea requires mixing just 5g of dried A-3 [Artemisia annua-ed.] leaves in 1L of water. This tincture is split into four parts and taken once every six hours. This is repeated for seven days. Given that each plant yields 200g dry weight, 1000 shrubs can cure malaria in 5700 adults…. Even after three years, dried leaves retain practically 100 percent of their artemisinin content, suggesting that under proper conditions Artemisia medicines can be stored for a long time.”

Douglas Barnes pointed out to me recently that if there is an area in need of a medicinal security hedge, the plant Latakaranja (Caesalpinia crista) is considered to be one of the best medicines to cure malaria. However, care should be taken when handling the plant due to the prickliness of it’s branches and fruit, but this makes it a potentially valuable species to use as a security barrier or hedge for a property. Also, compared to Artemisia, this plant requires more processing time, energy and knowledge to successfully make a form of ingestible medicine. Taking that into consideration, it is also worthy to note that this plant is a common mangrove tree climber, and could be made use of in salt-water marsh areas where some plant species might be difficult to cultivate.
To use this plant (famed for use in Ayurvedic medicine all over India for centuries) the website suggests...
…“The combination of its roasted seeds powder, pippali (1:1) is given with honey, approximately 0.5 gm., three times a day for 3-4 days duration. Another combination recommended for malaria is the powders of marica and latakaranja (Sakra vati). The splenic enlargement due to malaria, responds well to latakarnja. The leaves fried in ghee, eliminate vata and relieve constipation, hence valuable in piles.”


Diagram by Douglas Barnes of EcoEdge Design Ltd.

To fit this all into a design is relatively simple. Structures for human use should be built with screens on windows, doors and vents made from vetiver grass (which can be grown and hand-woven on site), herbs such as lemon (citronella) geraniums, rosemary and catnip should be planted below windows (ideally in window boxes) flanked by 6-foot citronella grass on both sides and by doorways. Walking paths can be lined with these same herbs and grasses. Around the structure, a wind-break (if necessary), or security hedge can be planted with the aromatic bird habitat of Citronella Macronata…as an understory to the Citronella tree, we should plant Artemisia annua. By getting into the habit of planting these species together, people can be educated to know that an antidote for malaria is nearby whenever they smell the fragrance of the Citronella tree.

Beyond the hedge on the opposite side from the structure we can construct ponds stocked with guppies, Gambusia affins, cattail, bullrush and other aquatic plants. Between the pond and the mosquito barrier hedge, we can place high posts with bat-houses on top.

With all these things working in concert, we can make a huge dent in the mosquito and malaria problem. By designing our human habitats wisely by mimicking nature’s bio-diverse system of checks and balances, we can also avoid waste of valuable resources (financial and otherwise). The long term benefits of managing nature to our advantage can save us time, money resources and lives.


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kate said...


The wormwood you describe (Artemisia) is not being used as a homeopathic, it's being used as herbal medicine. There is a BIG difference, and calling it homeopathic does damage to the credibility of the rest of the article I'm afraid.

DJEB said...

I put Scott onto your comment, Kate. I would say 5g of anything per 1 litre of water is not homeopathic. Homeopathic preparations are extremely diluted and if there is any research showing they are effective beyond the placebo effect, I am not aware of it. That said, let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. I happen to know, for instance, that the info on Caesalpinia crista is solid.

Scott A. Meister said...

agreed...thanks for finding that for me Kate. Will make the right correction...but to make the right point...I'm not just referring to the method of use of Artemisia...there are many other methods of using plants medicinally and out there that could be used as homeopathic/herbal remedies which make more sense sustainably than to go out and buy expensive manufactured medicines from pharmaceutical companies. Regarding your comment on be so harsh as to judge the credibility of the whole article on the mis-use of one word is neither wise. This is a piece about sustainable design...not a medical paper on homeopathy or herbalism. I am a sustainable lifestyle designer presenting a plan to help people. I'm not a doctor. However, thanks to you...I will be more careful in the future regarding such cases.

Scott A. Meister said...

Correction has been made...

and DJEB...the info on Artemisia annua is solid too...I just used the wrong word to introduce the method of using it.

*note...the Artemisia annua in question is also not to be confused with Artemisia absinthium...or other artemisia)

DJEB said...

I am sure the Artemisia info is solid. I can understand Kate's point, though. Thanks Kate.

Scott A. Meister said...

Indeed...thanks Kate.

DJEB said...

The final trials for a malaria vaccine are currently underway, but we are about 5 years out from it becoming available. I've taken Malarone as a preventative measure for malaria, but among its potential side effects are the same sort of symptoms one would see for heat exhaustion, which is rather dangerous as one needs to know if the heat is affecting them. Oh, and it can make all your hair fall out in rare cases, too.

the little travelers said...

so helpful! thanks so much for posting this!!

Ronny said...

Great article. thanks. by the way, you mentioned "Citronella macronata" which I could find no information on. Did you mean "Citronella mucronata"?

Ronny said...

What about adding "Callicarpa americana" to the list?

DJEB said...

Great suggestion, Ronny!

mosquito prevention said...

Mosquito prevention is as much about education as it is anything else. With 12 billion in net GDP loss every year these countries would be better served by buying mosquito traps or nets for their entire country.

Scott A. Meister said...

mosquito prevention.

This is a blog about sustainability, and I'm afraid that option would not be sustainable. When considering sustainability, there are more important things to consider than GDP. For details on this, please see our definition of sustainability as presented in the following article.

Anonymous said...

Blackthorn said...

Excellent article. "Mosquito prevention" has missed the point of what Permaculture is all about. Nature doesn't use man-made mosquito traps, and it has successfully controlled mosquitos for millions of years because a healthy balanced ecosystem does just that. When humans throw the system out of balance, you get "mosquito problems". Your article was very informative and pointed out that not only do plants naturally repel mosquitos, but many insects and fish consume them too.

I studied under Bill Mollison, permaculture founder, and he told us that in Africa he observed the malaria problem form pooling domestic waste water. His solution was to dig long deep gravel pits in front of the houses, and run the wastewater into these. They were planted up with many kinds of food plants, such as bananas, appropriate to the location. The end result was there was no more stagnant water in the villages for the mosquitos to breed, and the villagers also now had a source of food they didn't have befiore, which even produced a surplus which they could sell. Now, that's the spirit of Permaculture. Why are we going to waste precious resources manafacturing traps when we can do it bnaturally for free!!!

Deep Green Permaculture, Australia

lester said...

Mosquito- born disease is a disease transmitted by mosquito to human. Disease can be from animal or human. Every year, mosquito kills more than 1 million people worldwide and everyday there is people died of mosquito’s disease. Research stated that only few species of mosquitoes are able to transmit disease such as ‘Anopheles’ and ‘Aedes’ mosquito.

Lester Wong said...

Mosquito- born disease is a disease transmitted by mosquito to human. Disease can be from animal or human. Every year, mosquito kills more than 1 million people worldwide and everyday there is people died of mosquito’s disease. Research stated that only few species of mosquitoes are able to transmit disease such as ‘Anopheles’ and ‘Aedes’ mosquito.

Anonymous said...

The citronella tree is /citronella mucronata/ not /macronata/. It is native to Chile (temperate climate), and I was not able to find much information about it having mosquito repellent properties.
As TFA stated, the citronella oil that is marketed as a natural repellent (and put in candles, etc) comes from the unrelated citronella grass.

Anonymous said...

Really cool stuff! Just to keep things straight though for people who think that nature has kept mosquitoes in check for centuries... not really. Mosquitoes historically have given many many people malaria and killed many of them, by evidence of the sickle cell gene that is common in people of African descent. That gene arose because people with only one version of the gene were able to resist malarial infection. So, nature when left alone does not protect you. Nature's best ideas used wisely might!

Anonymous said...

That picture is of a Damselfly, not a Dragonfly. Though they do both share a similar diet (mosquitos among others), the Damselfly's wings rest upright, while the Dragonfly's rest straight out. The dragonfly also has a larger body.

DJEB said...

Thanks, anon. There are two shots there, one of a damselfly the other a dragonfly.

Maurise Gelman said...

Having a lot of mosquitoes in your backyard means miles of itchy skin once you’re bitten. It’s better to engage in the natural way of controlling the mosquito population so that your health will not be put at risk. I was happy to know that Rosemary helps in eliminating the mosquitoes ‘cause I have one planted here at home I’m planning to plant a lot more to control mosquitoes. That’s a great idea, right? :)

[ Maurise Gelman ]

Drew Slinger said...

I have been really wanting to find the best kind of mosquito control in Chicago. What works the best? I really don't want my little boy to be affected by them.

heather said...

Over the past 8 months, we have put in a 1000 gallon stock tank and have stocked it with catfish, brim and goldfish, and a few plants. It has a slow filter, so the water doesn't move much. We also have a few 35 gallon buckets with small plants and white cloud fish (my husband knows their name, but I think that's what he calls them). Our yard now has dragon flies, damsel flies, and tree frogs, which are all new this year. Last year at this time, we were going through the thermacell mosquito controls like crazy. This year, since the ponds, we have been able to sit outside long past dark with NO mosquito bites. There is only one area in the yard I am getting bitten and that is the area furthest away from our ponds and abutting our neighbor (who has an empty, algae pool in her yard). We are about to put in another pond in that area and stock it with coy and gold fish, using 1/2 the area for plants so we don't need the filter. I am hoping this will eliminate the bugs completely from our yard. Or, perhaps we are experiencing a fluke season.

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Matt Thomson from Canberra said...

Wow, misinformation and lack of understanding such as this is why people are so reluctant to follow permaculture.

Many of those plants do not repel mosquitoes unless you crush the foliage. Mosquitoes will gladly sit on and feed off the foliage of many othe those plants.

Gambusia do not eat many mosquito wrigglers, but they will eat frogs and other things that do eat them thus making the problem worse.

Sorry to use the 's; word but a little science may have prevented you from writing such misinformation.

Douglas Barnes said...

Thanks, Matt. A bit of an old article, this one. After trying some of these approaches out, they seem to do bugger all, even if you crush the leaves.

Here in Canada, mosquitoes (and blackflies) are just an unavoidable season.