bee forage

Peppermint won’t repel bees, but it may attract them

Peppermint flowers and peppermint oil are extremely attractive to bees.

Some people say peppermint and spearmint repel bees while beekeepers say they attract bees. Learn the truth about mint plants and honey bees.

Inside: It’s a mystery why people can’t decide if bees like mint-family plants or not.

While surfing my news feed one day, I saw an article about how to use peppermint to keep bees away from your yard. Peppermint? They were kidding, right?

But no. Once I started searching for things like “how to repel bees” and “how to keep bees away from me,” I found dozens—more like hundreds—of references about using peppermint plants or peppermint oil to keep bees away. According to many articles, spearmint (a close relative of peppermint) works just as well because both are “natural bee deterrents.” Several authors suggested dabbing the oil on yourself like perfume.

My way-back peppermint experiment

One autumn day when I was young and naive about such things, I did an experiment to see which essential oils would make the best bee attractant. I wanted something to attract honey bees to their sugar syrup feeders because sometimes it seemed like they had trouble finding them.

I had many hives at the time, so I set up four buckets with sugar syrup and spaced them about fifty feet from each other. Each bucket received a few drops of a different essential oil: peppermint, anise, tea tree, and wintergreen. Then I just waited. We were in the midst of a nectar death, so I figured it wouldn’t take long. It didn’t. By the end of the day, all the buckets were empty.

The hands-down winner was anise oil. It seemed like all the bees went there first and scraped the bottom clean before moving on to—wait for it—peppermint! When the peppermint was gone, the bees split up, going about equally to tea tree and wintergreen.

Since then, I’ve used a drop of anise oil for sugar feeders if I have some. If not, I use peppermint and it seems to work just as well. Does that sound like a “natural bee repellent”?

Honey-B-Healthy contains what?

The product Honey-B-Healthy is designed as a feeding stimulant for honey bee colonies. It is a safe and effective mixture that many beekeepers wouldn’t be without. It’s based on two essential oils: lemongrass and spearmint.

I have used Honey-B-Healthy as have many other beekeepers because it seems to help bees not only find their syrup but also store it. My question is, “Why would it work for thousands of beekeepers if spearmint is a ‘natural bee repellent’”?

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Candy canes for wayward bees

Several years ago there was hoopla in Utah over a beekeeper who was open-feeding candy canes to his honey bees. He just put the red peppermint sticks outside near his apiary and let the bees decide if they wanted them or not. Guess what? They just couldn’t get enough of that great peppermint flavor. A problem arose later when local beekeepers began finding “red honey” in their hives. That’s a separate issue, but does peppermint sound like a “natural bee repellent?”

After the holidays, I had some red peppermint candies that I decided to try on my bees, just to see what they would do. I put them outside on their landing board on the first balmy day of spring. When I went to check, I couldn’t see the candies beneath the ball of bees.

Mint in bloom: bees love the small pink flowers.
Mint in bloom: bees love the small pink flowers.

Where does the nonsense come from?

So, what I’ve found by reading all this nonsense on the internet is that most beekeepers know that honey bees love peppermint and spearmint. The advice about planting it in your garden or dabbing it on your neck to repel bees comes from people who know nothing about bees, but don’t have any qualms about giving advice about what bees like or don’t like. There are, however, those who claim to be beekeepers who give the same peppermint advice, so be careful who you listen to.

I did some digging and learned that some insects do, indeed, dislike mint-family plants. These may include ants, spiders, aphids, beetles, caterpillars, flies, and fleas. However, I refuse to verify any of this because the University of California lists pests of peppermint and includes aphids, leafhoppers, spider mites, some caterpillars, root borers, and thrips.

Another theory for the misinformation about peppermint may arise from the idea that overly fragrant plants, such as citronella, repel insects. In any case, the peppermint-as-a-bee-repellant advice seems to be the result of someone writing about something they don’t understand and everyone else copying it. Then, after dozens of bloggers have repeated it, you think, “Everybody says it, so it must be right.”

Honey Poisoning

From the archives: A rare case of honey intoxication in Seattle.

A pollination syndrome that attracts bees and flies

A pollination syndrome is a group of characteristics that a plant has evolved in order to attract its most effective pollinators. The mint family of plants has certain markers that shout, “Come on over!” to all the bees in the neighborhood.

For example, peppermint has light-colored flowers with scent, nectar, and pollen. The flowers are the right size and shape for bees to feed on and they bloom at a time when bees are actively seeking pollen. Wasps and flower flies are also attracted.

According to 100 Plants to Feed the Bees by the Xerces Society, peppermint (Mentha x piperita) along with spearmint (M. spicata) are great bee plants. Regarding peppermint, it says, “Surplus honey production approaching 200 pounds per colony has been documented near commercial mint fields. The honey is amber in color and easily granulates with very small crystals.”

Xerces doesn’t give a link, so I don’t know the source of this information. Other references say that honey crops from peppermint are unusual, but the scent of the peppermint fields can attract bees to other nearby crops that have better nectar yields.

If you want to stay clear of bees

My advice to those who want to stay clear of the bees is simple: Do not plant mint family plants and do not wear mint oil like perfume. It will only make things worse.

Honey Bee Suite

Bee with me . . .

When I was new to the Willamette Valley in Oregon, I was riding with a cycling club just outside of Corvallis. It was a cold, rainy, foggy morning and we were pedaling on a seemingly endless stretch of highway. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with the scent of peppermint. Since I didn’t know anything about where I was and could only see about six feet in front of me, I imagined a big factory churning out conveyor belts loaded with buttermints.

When the fog lifted, the secret was revealed: acres upon acres of peppermint, as far as I could see. Turns out, Washington and Oregon are top producers of the nation’s peppermint, and I was in the thick of it. By the way, all those peppermint plants haven’t repelled any bees. The Willamette Valley is full of bees of all shapes and sizes.

About Me

I backed my love of bee science with a bachelor’s degree in Agronomic Crops and a master’s in Environmental Studies. I write extensively about bees, including a current column in American Bee Journal and past columns in Two Million Blossoms and Bee Craft. I’ve endured multiple courses in melittology and made extensive identifications of North American bees for iNaturalist and other organizations. My master beekeeper certificate issued from U Montana. I’m also an English nerd. More here.


  • Bees like spearmint, peppermint, catnip. Can confirm. And also, who could have imagined that other people would be stating untrue things on the internet.

  • Hey Rusty, great blog as ever. Totally anecdotal, but I do notice that if I crush fresh mint from a nearby plant in my hands before going in the bees barehanded as I used to, they’d retreat and refuse to investigate, sting or walk on my hands which ordinarily they do – perhaps my natural pheromone just smells too much like bear and the mint masks it, but there’s a consistent difference I noticed, from my own bees anyway – I think the species was just bog standard garden mint.

  • Rusty,

    What have you seen on peppermint patties being used as a deterrent for small hive beetles? I recently saw a blog/article on this. Have bought a bag of hard peppermint candies, but have not tried putting them into any of my hives. Just wondering.

    • Don,

      I haven’t heard anything about it, but your bees will love the peppermint candies, so no loss there. However, don’t feed peppermint candies when your bees are storing honey that you will harvest. It will end up tasting/smelling like peppermint.

  • Tut tut, you didn’t have a bucket with just plain syrup also? A fifth bucket would have been interesting to rank in this experiment. As a complete aside to this, in New Zealand having even only one bucket out in the open is a major ‘no-no’, any kind of open feeding results in a drunken brawl that can then roll around the district destroying even strong and healthy colonies. Whether it is an accidental spill or intentional open feeding it can take up to 2 weeks for this to settle back down. So, on the one hand YouTube is full of USA video of open feeding and in NZL it is a disaster to feed outside of the hive.

    Can you give any suggestions as to why or how this would be so? All I have to note is that NZ has no native honey bee population and all the native plants have developed around the native birds. So, nectar has evolved for birds and most native floral species only seem to flower for a couple of weeks, which is relatively short, but extremely intense. However, the bees are the same and the sugar is the same, I’ve never got my head around how this could be so different.

    • Chris,

      As I said in the post, I was “young and naive” when I did this experiment, hence no control.

      We don’t have any native honey bee populations either, but I suspect that over the years, the genetics in each continent has shifted so that colonies are now showing differences in temperament. The environmental conditions and types of competition could have a huge influence on how the bees change over time.

    • Hello, I have been trying to find something that will deter bees from my swimming pool. Yes I have been told to spray a peppermint oil and it does not work. Please advise. Much appreciated.

      • Kathy,

        Are they honey bees? Your bees or do they belong to someone else? Usually the best way to deter honey bees is to attract them to a different source, but that’s easier done by the beekeeper (although it’s still not easy). Once a colony of bees latches on to a watering hole, they are very reluctant to give it up. The beekeeper could set up a small pool with similar-tasting water nearer to the hive that may work over time.

        This is a difficult situation.

        • Thank you for your reply. I am not aware of any bee keepers near me. After looking at pictures of bees in Illinois I think most of the bees in my pool are sweat bees. When they land in the water they turn over with their stingers pointed up. When they sting it is surprisingly painful for a few minutes. I swim with a little bug net and get 50 to 100 bees per day. My granddaughter is afraid to swim at our house.

          • Kathy,

            Sweat bees can sting, but their sting is usually quit minor, although there are differences between species. They could also be wasps, which tend to be more common at the end of summer and beginning of fall. It’s often tricky to distinguish bees from wasps. Since you’ve got a net, maybe you can try taking a close up photograph and emailing it to me. But only if you want to.

  • This reminded me of a beekeeping company (Humble Bee) that keeps some hives on the rooftop of a wonderful old building in an old industrial park in Hamilton, Ontario. The honey from these hives had a distinct root beer flavour (and was later marketed as “root beer honey”). The beekeepers found out that, during a dearth, their bees were making their way into a shop that makes soft drinks and were sampling the root beer syrup. Yummm!

  • I put peppermint oil on my hands when I work on my bees. They usually stay away from my hands. But it’s probably because the smell is too strong. After all, concentrated peppermint oil does not exist naturally …

  • Do you have any suggestions on deterring bees? All I seemed to find online was exactly what you mentioned was wrong. We have a back deck and pool area. No flowers near at all. The bumble bees and wasps seem to like going underneath the wood seating that goes around the deck. With a 4 year old I get nervous ( wasps ) and I also have a phobia of things buzzing around me ( embarrassing I know ). I was literally about to use the spearmint oil concoction tonight. lol

    • Hi Sabrina,

      It is difficult to deter bees and wasps, which is one reason people try all the weird concoctions, most of which don’t work. You say no flowers, and that helps especially with bees. Wasps like meat and other human food, so sandwiches, soda pop, beer, or anything edible can attract them. Water is also a big attractant, both for bees and wasps, and they adore pools. The chlorine in pools seems to attract bees once they associate the smell of it with a source of water.

      As a general rule, wasps can be more aggressive to humans than most bees, especially wasps that live in large colonies. Bumble bees seldom sting a human unless you accidentally step on one or grab ahold of one that’s sitting on a doorknob or car door handle. But if that happens, bumbles have a nasty sting.

      I don’t have a clear picture of your setup, but if water is splashing from the pool and then dripping down below the deck, that could be very attractive because the bees can drink without fear of drowning. Most people, including kids, get over a sting very quickly, but it’s scary if someone has never been stung because you don’t know how they will react. At least statistically, most people get over a sting pretty easily, although most people swell up pretty good at the site of the sting and sometimes quite a distance from it. Mainly, watch carefully if it’s a first-time sting. A dangerous allergic reaction is characterized by trouble breathing (about 4% of the population).

      Other things to avoid are fragrant personal products: soap, shampoo, hair spray, deodorant, makeup — anything with a floral odor may attract bees. They’re not trying to attack the odor, but they are curious about whether is it something to eat or collect. Then, if the person panics and flays his arms or whatever, then the bee might sting. It’s best to just calmly walk away without waving around (which can be hard to do, I know. Even after 30 years of beekeeping, I still have my flailing moments.)

      I know this isn’t very helpful because it’s really hard to keep all stinging insects away. Teach your 4-year-old to walk away quietly without flailing, and that could really help. Kids can do these things easier than adults, so it’s worth a try.

  • Do you have any suggestions for people who work as gardeners during the summer to avoid getting stung? Is dark green uniform attractive/repelling to stinging insects? Thanks

    • Jemma,

      I’m really skeptical about color for attracting/repelling insects. I have both white and dark green camo bee suits, and I can’t see any difference in whether they attract or repel any particular species.

      I think bees are much more attracted or repelled by scent. So, I would avoid wearing anything with a floral odor, say perfume, shampoo, deodorant, hand cream, etc. I read a study recently that said mosquitos are more likely to bite individuals who secrete certain chemical odors, which is why some people (like my sister) get bitten by anything that flies while others (like me) are rarely bothered. If this is the case with bees, perhaps you can’t do much other than wear protective clothing. Some people like light-weight coverups like Bug Bafflers, to keep away bees in the garden.

  • How do I keep my dogs safe from bees? They are all over my front and backyard. All I have is grass and weeds.

    • Denise,

      Are the these bees actually bothering the dogs? Many beekeepers have dogs, but dogs seldom get stung, especially if the bees are out in the flowers foraging for nectar and pollen. If the dog is actually attacking a hive, the bees may sting, but it’s highly unlikely out in the field. The bees don’t want a confrontation, they just want to keep away from threats.

      Sometimes, stings result from stupid behavior. My own dog used to catch bees in mid air and eat them like peanuts. But after a few stings in the mouth, he stopped trying to eat them and there has been no subsequent problem. Your dog is probably smarter than mine, so I wouldn’t be too worried.

  • I’ve been worried about the bees that used to be in my front garden: 3 to each of 70 bee balm flowers, more all over the strawberries, tickseed, echinacea, hostas etc.

    This year? Not one. They’ve all been in bloom for weeks. I even caught several bees down in the clover and carried them up, but away they went. At first I figured it was the neighbors possibly burning citronella, but the bees were on the thyme even closer to their yard. So I looked at a university page claiming mint kept bees away. Awww — all my beautiful mint that made such wonderful tea! Spent all morning digging it up. Then I saw your post. Waaaaa!

    Oddly, though, suddenly there are bees, but on the Echinacea, NOT the bee balm?

    I did also move a potted bayberry bush I had been raising for a few years that suddenly took off this year.
    What could be making my bee balm unattractive for the bees?

    • A.G.,

      Whether bees visit a certain plants depends on what else is in bloom at the same time. This can change from year to year with fluctuations in weather and plantings made by various people and organizations. Maybe something you can’t even see—something a mile or two away—is calling to them this year. You can’t expect foraging patterns to be the same every year, especially with honey bees because they can travel great distances to something that intrigues them.

  • I own 2 shaved ice stands in Missouri and the honey bees start coming around in mid-July. I found this blog today while looking for a safe repellant. What can I try instead of peppermint oil? Little kids love shaved ice, but they don’t enjoy having a bee buzzing around while they eat it. Thanks in advance for any advice!

    • Don,

      Just guessing here, but the insects bothering your ice stands are probably wasps, not bees. Wasps are notorious for hanging around food stands in the summer, so I would assume they are wasps. As such, you can hang yellowjacket traps near to (but not right on) the ice stands. Use several. They attract the wasps through the use of pheromones, which are insect-specific hormones. Also, see this post:

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