book excerpt: make your own herbal flea powder!

The folks at Chronicle Books were kind enough to let us post this ‘lil excerpt from the book Eco Dog: Healthy Living for Your Pet. It’s written by Corbett Marshall and Jim Deskevich, the talents behind Variegated textiles, and must-visit store in Catskill, NY.

There are many flea products on the market that are made from chemicals intended to kill the pests in your pet’s coat. This may seem like an easy and effective option, but remember that chemicals toxic enough to kill fleas are not going to be healthy for your pet. Putting these chemicals directly on your dog’s coat — the easiest place for him to ingest them — just doesn’t make sense. We offer an alternative, in the form of powdered herbs meant to repel the fleas, while being harmless to your dog.

Eucalyptus, Rosemary, Lavender, Fennel, Yellow Dock, Pennyroyal

How To
One: Combine as many of the powdered herbs you can find.
Two: Mix together equal parts of each herb in a shaker-top jar.
Three: Brush your pet’s coat backward with your hand or a comb while sprinkling the powder onto the base of the hairs. Apply sparingly, paying special attention to the neck, back, and belly.
Four: Put your pet outside for a little while afterward, so his pets escape into your yard, not our carpet.

For more great eco-friendly pet tips, pick up a copy of Eco Dog. You’ll even find a few craft ideas (like tote bags) in their for you, too.!

photo by Aimee Herring

From our partners
Mary T

Okay, who’s tried this? I lived through a flea infestation in the mid-90s that I’d rather not think about. I did every kind of natural (and a couple unnatural) things i could think of, until finally I boarded the cats at the vet for treatment, vacated the place, and brought in the big guns (an exterminator). I discovered horrible things:
– fleas can live in hardwood floors (I had no rugs at the time)
– fleas can make your cats anemic if not treated
– fleas will WAKE YOU UP in the morning if they’re trapped under the sheet of your bed and jumping, trying to find a way out
– fleas like light colors, like your clothing

As you can see, I was traumatized! I’m all for all-natural, but really curious about how this works. : )


That is exactly what I was thinking: does this work? I would think that it would be a preventative measure, before there was a problem. After infestation, one must use chemicals. But how good is it at prevention, in this hot, steamy, sure-to-be-flea-ridden summer? I want testimonials!

Angela M.

Next time I see those Variegated fellows in Catskill, I’ll ask them!


According to our holistic vet and a multitude of sources, pennyroyal is toxic to pets even in low doses.

Thanks for your comments. To clear up any mis-conceptions, the natural flea powders and recipes in the book are not meant to treat a major infestation, and this is clearly stated within the pages of the book. If you are experiencing a bad outbreak, it is important to consult your Vet to determine the best, and safest, course of action for you and your pets. We also state within the book, that you should always consult your Vet, preferably one that is knowledgeable about holistic care as well as conventional methods, before starting any health program.

Regarding Penny Royal. According to holistic vets we have consulted in the past, as well as several months of reseplace, all have said that Penny Royal OIL is toxic for pets if used undiluted, so it should always be well diluted if you plan to use it in shampoos or conditioners for your dog’s grooming routine. Our recipe is for powder not oil. The powder is safe to use, especially when mixed with other herbs and used in small amounts. If you do some seplaceing, most natural flea powders or alternatives include Penny Royal Powder or diluted solution as part of their ingredients list. If you feel concerned, however, you may simply omit it from the recipe.

Our testimonial, we used this recipe on our dogs, growing up in the hot steamy summers of NC, and they never had an adverse reaction, and it helped maintain their flea free status. Luckily, we only experienced a few outbreaks over the course of many years, which meant a visit to the Vet. The point of any natural treatment is that it needs to be used in a consistent and frequent manner, this is not a once a month treatment.

We hope this helps clear up any concerns! Have a fun and hopefully flea-free-summer!

Thanks for reading.

Jim + Corbett


I would think this is wishful thinking. And sending the pet outside so that the fleas can jump into the grass will not solve your problems, after all, that’s where they got them in the first place. Might make your pet smell better, but I would bet this does nothing for fleas…

Mary T.

Sorry to be a downer, Angela!! Just realized that’s how it might have come off — great, I’m trolling my own site! Not intentional. Just scarred from the Great Flea DIsaster of 1998. : )

Angela M.

No sweat, Mary. It’s a good point! I honestly don’t know — having an indoor cat that has never met a flea in his life. I can ask the authors when I see them next. They must have tried this on their dog, I’m sure. Also, the pennyroyal comment is a good one. It’s important to share concerns!


I also lived through a terrible infestation and the only thing that really worked was using a flea comb twice a day, washing all bedding daily, and washing floors daily. For the yard (if you think your pet is picking up fleas from your own yard – very likely if you have a flea problem) diatomaceous earth will kill the fleas by slicing up their exoskeletons.

I would consult an herbalist who works with animals before starting herb-based therapies. Pennyroyal can be very toxic to the liver in humans and animals.

Also notable: while most essential oils are fine for dogs, they can be deadly to cats.

Along with lots of vigilant cleaning and combing, pyrethrin shampoo was what helped us turn the corner.

Good luck to all who will battle fleas this summer!


I second folks questioning the effectiveness of this. We tried every natural remedy we could when we had a bad outbreak for our four (!!!) cats a few summers ago. Nothing worked. We had to have them all flea shampooed by a prefessional and then sprayed the whole house, vacuuming constantly. Then we washed all the fabric in the house.

I hate saying this, because I LOVE nontoxic solutions but fleas are WAY beyond these remedies.

Mary T

Hey, all — looks like the writer of the book weighed in — be sure to check out his post above.

Angela M.

Thanks for weighing in, Jim. Your book is gorgeous and full of great advice and ideas.

I will definitely mix a batch and give it to my Yorkies. We also tried an all natural tick (and I think flea) liquid that you put on their back and so far it has worked great. I like the idea of the powder as it won’t leave that greasy look on their coat. Since the pennyroyal is powdered and not oil is should be okay.

Will definitely check out their shop next time I go Pine Hill/Margaretville area.



I am a veterinarian and just thought I would weigh in. Not all natural remedies are safe and effective for pets. Pennyroyal can be toxic because it is a nonspecific toxin. Flea products are created to kill fleas specifically and have very little side effects for our mammals. Products sold by vets have been shown to be safe when dosed at large overdoses (20x recommended) even when ingested. If you are worried about chemicals on the pet’s coat use an oral medication like program. These products also help reduce environmental contamination with flea eggs and larvae thus producing a flea-free home and yard. The flea products out there now are amazing and have really helped reduce the number of pets and humans that are literally sick of fleas. Living in Seattle I used to see flea-anemic kittens and animals tearing up their skin because of fleas all the time. Since the new flea products this is a rare occurrence. While I am not against alternative medicine, natural does not always mean good. Hey fleas are “natural”.

shelterrific » Blog Archive » five things we learned last week

[…] 1. Killing fleas, whether done so with herbs or medicines, is no laughing matter. Brandi, a veterinarian from Seattle wrote in and said: “If you are worried about chemicals on the pet’s coat use an oral medication like program. These products also help reduce environmental contamination with flea eggs and larvae thus producing a flea-free home and yard. The flea products out there now are amazing and have really helped reduce the number of pets and humans that are literally sick of fleas.” See our post from the book Eco Dog on making your own natural flea powder here. […]

I use frontline or advantage on my kids. It works! I also found I can use advantage on my hairless dog! I totally agree with Brandi! I like natural for my pets too… My Briard will scratch herself silly though for weeks after one flea bite. Florida is full of fleas! My vote is keep them comfortable! Does anyone however know of a “natural” yard spray or powder of some sort for fleas that would be safe to use around horses pasture? Thanks!

Is this workable for cats, too?

I had no idea about the size and reproductive capabilities until my cat got a dose last year. Tried washing her in a special soap that did no good. We finally went to the vet where she applied a chemical on the upper-mid back. I guess the oil moves around the cat or maybe the fleas always pass that area (?). Either way – it worked. 1 year without fleas.


I have had absolutely no issues with using this recipe for my pets. This is for preventative measures and not for when your pet has already been severely infested.
I have had my doubts with pennyroyal in the past. After doing my own reseplace with trials, it is not toxic in very small amounts be it powder or a DILUTED essential oil.
For those I have made this powder for, I substituted peppermint or sage for the pennyroyal if that has been a concern. I will most certainly NOT use pennyroyal in any form on my cat due to their finicky grooming.


I am wondering if this can be sprinkled onto carpet; let set for 15 minutes; then, vacuumed up. If that would do anything to flea investation? I thought of mixing up the powders (I know where I can get herbal powders) and then sprinkling it into our carpeting. But, then, i am afraid the dogs will sniff if up their noses as they do around the house sniffing things, like they always do. I wonder if used this way would be a bad idea because of this. Just wondering how to get rid of them in the carpeting. I vacuum; but, the vacuum can’t get them all. And, what herb would be a suitable substitute for pennyroyal? How about cedar?

Carmen Needham

mix fragrant herbs with diatomaceous earth. It works. I have used it in apartment living to get rid of roaches and I have a friend that has used it to get rid of scorpions. It will get rid of insects as it cuts their skin and their blood doesn’t clot. It works as flea powder, make sure you seplace it out and get the right kind. It is inexpensive and it works. I just was seplaceing for some ideas of herbal mixes that would have a nice smell to add when I put this on my dog and cat. It is non toxic to dogs and cats and people, don’t breathe it in- it is a very fine powder.