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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Azadirachta indica, Horticultural oil, Laurus nobilis, Insect pests--Control

I have some insects on my bay laurel, which we use for seasoning. Someone told me to spray it with horticultural oil. I wondered, though, if it would still be safe to use the leaves in cooking. Is horticultural oil petroleum based?


As you suspected, horticultural oil is petroleum-based. U.C.Davis provides information on Integrated Pest Management for the plant I am assuming you mean, the usual source of culinary bay leaves, sometimes called sweetbay, or Laurus nobilis. (Just to be clear, I don't think you are referring to the plant known as California bay laurel, Umbellularia californica, which has leaves that are aromatic and reportedly edible, but not commonly used for seasoning.) They also note that horticultural oils are "...specially refined petroleum products, often called narrow-range, superior, or supreme oils. Some botanical (plant-derived) oils are also available."

When referring to plant-derived oils, I believe they are referring to Neem oil, as described in this information from U.C. Davis Integrated Pest Management. Additional information from the Cornell University Resource Guide for Organic Inesct and Disease Management about Neem and human health is excerpted here:

Studies of azadirachtin mutagenicity and acute toxicity have shown that it likely does not pose a significant risk to human health. However, some people have exhibited skin and mucous membrane irritation from neem seed dust (Weinzierl and Henn 1991). Note that most studies have been done on azadirachtin, and may not show the effects of a whole neem product. Neem is used in some commercial human hygiene products.

Another long excerpt on horticultural oil from Colorado State University Extension suggests the following:

Essentially all commercially available horticultural oils [...] are refined petroleum products also known as mineral oils. Impurities in the oil that are associated with plant injury, such as aromatic compounds and compounds containing sulfur, nitrogen or oxygen, are removed. Filtration, distillation and dewaxing complete the production of the finished base oil. Final formulations of horticultural oils are normally combined with an emulsifying agent that allows the oil to mix with water. This mixture usually is used at about a 2 percent dilution.

Vegetable oils also can be used as insecticides, although the type of oil can greatly affect its activity. Cottonseed oil is generally considered the most insecticidal of the vegetable oils. Soybean oil, the most commonly available vegetable oil used in cooking, has often provided fair to good control of some insects and mites.

Extracts from seeds of the neem tree, Azadirachta indica, have recently attracted attention as a source of pest management products. Several neem-derived insecticides have been developed. A number of compounds found in neem seeds, notably azadirachtin, have proven useful as insecticides. However, the oil fraction of neem seed extracts, which is mostly free of azadirachtin and related terpenoid compounds, also has demonstrated effects as a fungicide and insecticide. At least one product currently on the market, TrilogyR, consists of a largely azadirachtin-free oil fraction of neem seed extracts. It is formulated with an emulsifier and mixed with water at a concentration similar to horticultural oils (0.5 to 2.0 percent). Many over-the-counter products sold in nurseries that mention neem contain the oils of neem seed extracts.

If you know the insect on your bay tree, Peaceful Valley Farm Supply is one commercial supplier which carries less toxic, of not organic, products to control specific pests. That does not necessarily mean they are safe enough to spray on leaves which will be harvested for cooking.

Date 2017-05-26
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May 31 2018 13:14:08