Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Bug Off!

Responding to the last post, Bex toyed with the idea of using basil plants to repel skeeters. With the West Nile virus carriers in the area, the need to protect is certainly of primary concern.

Curious my own self, I started Googling "insect repellent plants." There is a lot of valuable information on the subject -- and a lot of plants that will do the job. There are also certain plants that, though advertised as repellents, simply aren't.

More importantly, a plant just sitting there in a pot or in the flower bed is in no position to be of help to us. The leaves have to be crushed to release the oils that do the job -- and, like as not, we need to smear the stuff on our skin to fend off the buggy-wuggies. It's my understanding that certain plants do help keep an area free of some insects simply by their presence but we're talking about protection from skeeter bites here and that is more of a hands-on thing.

One caveat: there is such a thing as allergic reaction. Some folks can't handle certain plants so it's a good idea to proceed with caution if you have any doubts, okay? For instance, if you know you're allergic to ragweed, you might also get a reaction from chamomile.

I mention that because chamomile is my personal favorite in the mosquito repellent sweepstakes. The word is Greek and means "ground apple." Indeed, it has a wonderful, light, apple-like scent. Some folks think it smells like pineapple. The above picture, which I borrowed (with an attitude of gratitude) from the Gates & Croft Horticultural Design site, is labeled as Pineapple Weed but, around here, it's the variety of chamomile found growing wild. More of a ground cover than an upright plant and the blossom is more center and very little in the way of petals. Other varieties of chamomile look like a type of daisy. When in doubt, squeeze and sniff. The fruit scent will tell you when you hit paydirt.

Years ago, an issue of Prevention magazine described using chamomile as a mosquito repellent. It suggested steeping a handful of blossoms in hot water to make a tea that you dab on your skin, repeating the procedure every couple of hours. One camping weekend, when the kidlets were small, the skeeters were making the evening "sit" around the campfire anything but relaxing. We were slapping ourselves plumb silly. Then I remembered the article and immediately set out to gather blossoms from the chamomile plants that, fortunately, grew in abundance there.

It didn't take long to turn that handful into a couple of cups of dark amber tea. My Philistine family, meanwhile, was hooting and mocking my gullibility and refused to allow me to anoint them with my magic potion. Fine. More for me. So I dabbed and dabbed and inhaled the fragrance and went back to the campfire.

It was wonderful. George and the kids kept slapping. I sat there, relaxed (and smelling damn good), and watching with fascination as the skeeters kept hovering over my arms but never, NEVER landing. George couldn't bring himself to back down and use any of the tea but I noticed the kidlets slipping into the tent to avail themselves of Mother's Folly.

I can only personally vouch for the freshly gathered blossoms because that's all I've used. From what I read, though, there's no reason not to expect the same results from chamomile tea bags. Perhaps a box of them should always be packed with one's camping supplies -- or handy when having a marshmallow roast in the back yard.

While I wouldn't rule out the pots of basil or catnip or any of the other designated repellent plants, applying the active ingredient to one's skin seems the reasonable way to go. While the oils from these plants can be purchased, I have to say the tea (made from any of the repellent species) is a pleasant option. It feels fresh, smells great and is utterly non-sticky on your skin. And it works. There's something to be said for that.


CJA said...

We posted another alternative this week on Willy's diary. (He's 93 and I help him with his diary.) Good place to go for smiles and feel-good stories. Wilma http://www.opendiary.com/entryview.asp?authorcode=A108121&entry=20205&mode=

Dee said...

Wilma, thank you for that link! How like you to be so helpful for Willy. That is a neat site. Coffee Mates, please do check Willy out. You'll be glad. And the Listerine tip sounds fantastic. I've gotta try it!

Wendy, NC said...

Dee, thanks for the chamomile tip. That's one I wouldn't mind trying at all.

Bex said...

Well, thank you, ma'am. Those are some pretty darn useful tips you gave us. We have had a confirmation of the West Nile virus right here near our neighborhood, so I am a little nutty about going out for any long period of time.

Kate said...

Rosemary steeped & then sprayed on works pretty well too.

Me said...

Yes, what a great idea. You bet I will try it.

Willy is a winner. I donate when I can, but cja is the real winner in keeping the site going.

boxx9000 said...

Isn't there some skin so soft product from Avon that is supposed to be good at discouraging mosquitos?