INSECT REPELLENTS

2010

ELDER has insect-repellent properties, for it is said that people strike or whip fruit trees and vegetables with elder boughs (or better still, drape them over), so that the scent would kill off troublesome insects. Elder is described in Wiltshire as a “charm” against flies. Hampshire people recommended a wash made from elderberries steeped in hot water, to deter gnats from biting. If flies were troubling a horse, Lincolnshire carters would tie a branch of elder in leaf to the harness, and that would keep them away. And elders used to be grown by a dairy door, or by an outside privy, for exactly the same purpose. Elder twigs stuck in along the rows of broad beans will keep blackfly away, though judging from the state of elder blossom towards the end of their flowering period, blackfly are immune there. But they say that elder blossoms picked at full moon and stuck into fruit, drive away weevils. You can get rid of ants, too, by pouring a strong decoction of elder leaves over the nests. And you can actually keep fly off the turnip by making an elder-bush harrow to draw over young turnip crops. Of course, insect bites should be rubbed with an elder leaf. BLACK WALNUT leaves, too, will keep house-flies away, and a solution of WALNUT leaves and bark was used to keep greenfly at bay. The powdered rhizome of WHITE HELLEBORE (Veratrum album) can be sprinkled on currant and gooseberry bushes to protect them against insect pests. As the powder loses its toxic property after three or four days, it is safe to apply to ripening fruit. That powder is highly toxic to fleas and lice, too. AMERICAN WHITE HELLEBORE (Veratrum viride) is equally efficacious as an insecticide, and so is RED RATTLE (Pedicularis palustris).

MUGWORT keeps the flies away. You can either wear a sprig, or keep an infusion to sponge over the face and arms. The very name of the plant confirms it. Mugwort is OE muogwyrt, from a Germanic base meaning a fly or gnat. Midge is the same word. Mugwort’s relative, SOUTHERNWOOD relies on its smell to keep insects at bay. The French name for the plant is Garderobe; moths will not attack clothes in which Garderobe has been laid. GROUND CYPRESS has the same name in French, and is just as efficient at keeping moths from clothes. WORMWOOD and SEA WORMWOOD have the same effect. TANSY is another plant that keeps flies away. Rubbing the surface of raw meat with tansy leaves will protect it from flies, and bunches of it used to be hung in the windows of farm kitchens for the same purposes. Sprigs were put in bedding at one time, to discourage vermin. Or use PEPPERMINT to keep flies and midges away — rub the face and hands with the leaves. Mint (or parsley) grown in a window sill is also said to keep insects out of a kitchen. Bruise the leaves every now and then to release more odour. A sprig of SPEARMINT in the kitchen will keep the bluebottles out. An infusion of FEVERFEW, allowed to dry on the skin, is a good gnat or mosquito repellent. PARSLEY serves the same purpose; grow it on the kitchen window-sill, or make parsley baskets to hang up in a porch or window, to keep flies and other insects away. It does the same job in the garden, too — old gardeners used to plant it round the onion bed, to keep onion fly away, and it is grown among roses, too, not only to improve their scent, but also to keep greenfly at bay. In Mediterranean countries a pot of BASIL is kept on windowsills to keep flies out of the room, and a sprig in the wardrobe will keep moths and other insects away. People working in the Cambridgeshire harvest fields used to garland themselves with sprays of WHITE BRYONY to keep off flies, and leaves of it were put in the privy pits of Fen cottages as a deodorant in hot summer weather. A Devonshire way of keeping flies out of the house was to burn a handful of PLOUGHMAN’S SPIKENARD each day during the summer.

The leaves of Chinaberry Tree (Melia azedarach) can be used to drive off flies and fleas, and a traditional American usage is to put the seeds in with dry fruit to keep insects away. MALABAR NUT (Adhatoda vasica), an Indian plant long grown throughout the tropics, has the reputation of being insecticidal. The oil distilled from the leaves of CAJUPUT (Melaleuca leucadendron) is a good mosquito repellent. The juice of MEDITERRANEAN ALOE (Aloe vera) rubbed on the skin will protect from insect bites.