CHICAGO -- Catnip, the stuff that drives cats wild, also appears to drive mosquitoes away, research suggests.
Laboratory experiments at Iowa State University suggest that the oil in the catnip plant is about 10 times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET, the chemical in many commercial insect repellents.
The research is preliminary and catnip has yet to be tested on humans as a mosquito repellent.
Catnip would probably work only at short-range, like DEET, said Joel Coats of Iowa State University. "If you sat near a cat, you might generate more interest than usual. They might want to play," he said.
Ulrich Bernier, a U.S. Agriculture Department chemist who studies mosquitoes, said that while DEET is generally safe, some people prefer natural alternatives. But he said just because catnip worked better in the lab does not mean the same thing would happen if the oil were put on human skin.
Catnip is a mint-related plant that grows wild in much of the United States, and used in pet toys and teas.