One Teaspoon of Protection

Artist David Horton is always prepared when we go fishing. His multiple tackle boxes are neatly sorted and organized. All fishing equipment is well maintained, clean, and ready. And he always has his vanilla.

Wait a second – “vanilla,” you say?!

“There are many reports of using many different types of plant extracts as insect repellants. I have heard of vanilla being used and it certainly must be more pleasant to use than garlic or sage,” says Dr. Russ Wright, an Oklahoma State University Entomologist.

Surprisingly, my friend Dave did not learn this trick on a fishing trip.

“During the first day of a golf tournament, the buffalo gnats were so bad that we had to wear towels over our heads,” he said. Unaffected by the swam were a couple of old guys watching on a golf cart who, when questioned later, suggested wearing vanilla. Although at the time, Dave wondered if they might be pulling his leg, he applied vanilla and was not disturbed by flying insects on the final day of the tournament.

Dave now just uses imitation vanilla extract whenever we go fishing. “It is not sticky,” he says. “I just make a little slit in the foil top and splash it on. Works great on mosquitoes too.”

However, the effectiveness of a plant repellant varies with each person, according to Dr. Wright. “Because of differences in the types of odors that different people may emit in combination with CO2, which we all emit, some plant extract odors may mask the attractive odors better for some folks.”

Studies indicate that it is still tough to beat DEET-containing bug sprays for repelling biting insects, adds Dr. Wright.

Nevertheless, vanilla might work for you.

The only downside is that it mysteriously seems to attract other anglers in search of baked goods.

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Andy Whitcomb

Andy Whitcomb

Andy is an outdoor writer ( and stressed-out Dad has contributed over 380 blogs to since 2011. Born in Florida, but raised on banks of Oklahoma farm ponds, he now chases pike, smallmouth bass, and steelhead in Pennsylvania. After earning a B.S. in Zoology from OSU, he worked in fish hatcheries and as a fisheries research technician at OSU, Iowa State, and Michigan State.