Essential Oils as Snake Repellents

by David Stewart, PhD

“Snake Oil” is a term coined during pioneer days in the United States that became a synonym for fraud. Actually, “snake oil,” was a legitimate product sold by traveling salesmen throughout the frontier West as a first aid remedy for rattlesnake bites. Applying the oil on the site of the bite would react chemically with the venom and render it harmless. It worked. The essential oil was Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternafolia).

Unfortunately, not all salesmen were honest and some were selling just any old cheap oil in a bottle and calling it “snake oil.” When people discovered that it did not work, all snake oil salesmen were branded as untrustworthy. In the late 1900s and early 20th century, when it became known that some essential oils promoted as effective snake bite remedies did not work and had been sold by deception, drug companies spread another fraud, saying that natural remedies, in general, were unscientific and did not work, while the synthetic potions they manufactured were scientific and better.

Hence, even to this day those of us who promote natural remedies are sometimes called “snake oil salesmen” as a putdown for our practice and our products. You can read more about this in a past issue of the Raindrop Messenger, Vol 1, No 5, May-June 2003. All back issues of the Raindrop Messenger are archived at

This article, however, is about another application of essential oils to deal with poisonous snakes. Research has shown that cinnamon oil, and clove oil are effective snake repellents. Snakes will retreat when sprayed directly with these oils and will exit confined spaces when these oils are introduced to the area.

The deadly “brown tree snake” of the tropics does not reside in the United States (so far). However, there is a danger of live snakes being inadvertently imported into the country as uninvited stowaways in shipments to the U.S. from those countries. Snake-sniffing dogs have been used to detect their unwanted presence in cargo, but actually finding and removing them before shipment was still a challenge.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) have found that spraying or diffusing Cinnamon and/or Clove oil into a container will repel snakes and drive them out. It does not kill them, but just makes it unpleasant enough to force them to leave. Applying the oils in advance does not prevent snakes from crawling over those surfaces and entering hiding places that could pose hazards to humans. The oils must be applied directly to or in the vicinity of the snakes, themselves.

In the past, the USDA and APHIS had used various chemicals to drive the snakes out of cargo areas, chemicals such as toxic insecticides, fungicides, and rodenticides. But now they can get as good or better results with non-toxic essential oils like cinnamon or clove. When a brown snake emerges from a shipment, they can control its movements and facilitate its exodus by simply aiming a stream of spray from a bottle containing a mixture of 1% clove or cinnamon oil, with 1% sodium lauryl sulphate (as an emulsifier), and 98% water. The stream must hit the snake in the head to trigger escape behavior and effectively control its movements.

The APHIS brochure containing instructions to USDA agents for repelling snakes with oils says that “any commercially available brand” will do, but the cinnamon or clove oil must be at least 98% food grade to be effective. Apparently they don’t have to be “therapeutic grade.” The government brochure recommends several modes of application, including fumigation of closed spaces by blowing hot air over a saturated rag to volatilize the oil. The brochure cautions, “Use only unadulterated oils.”

So now even the U.S. Government applies a variety of “snake oils” for special purposes.

Editor’s Note: We want to thank Robert Krone for bringing this government publication to our attention. Bob is a Young Living Distributor living in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. He is a producer of films and DVDs.


Reprinted from The Raindrop Messenger, a FREE e-newsletter. To subscribe, visit the web site:

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