This paper is the first of a series which will describe the development of a synthetic plant volatile-based attracticide for noctuid moths. It discusses potential sources of volatiles attractive to the cotton bollworm, Helicoverpa armigera (Hübner), and an approach to the combination of these volatiles in synthetic blends. We screened a number of known host and non-host (for larval development) plants for attractiveness to unmated male and female moths of this species, using a two-choice olfactometer system. Out of 38 plants tested, 33 were significantly attractive to both sexes. There was a strong correlation between attractiveness of plants to males and females. The Australian natives, Angophora floribunda and several Eucalyptus species were the most attractive plants. These plants have not been recorded either as larval or oviposition hosts of Helicoverpa spp., suggesting that attraction in the olfactometer might have been as nectar foraging rather than as oviposition sources. To identify potential compounds that might be useful in developing moth attractants, especially for females, collections of volatiles were made from plants that were attractive to moths in the olfactometer. Green leaf volatiles, floral volatiles, aromatic compounds, monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes were found. We propose an approach to developing synthetic attractants, here termed ‘super-blending’, in which compounds from all these classes, which are in common between attractive plants, might be combined in blends which do not mimic any particular attractive plant.