Folk remedy scientifically proven
to repel mosquitoes
By Julie Deardorff
Mosquitoes are formidable foes. Researchers have tried inducing
anorexia to starve them to death, creating genetically modified strains
catnip and tomato-based substances as repellants.
Now a traditional folk remedy best known among those in Mississippi's
northeast hill country has proven to be an effective way to repel the
pesky creatures, a welcome alternative to those who want to avoid the
Three chemicals found in berries and leaves of the American beautyberry
plant, Callicarpa amerciana, repulse mosquitoes known to transmit
yellow fever and malaria, according to a 12-month
study by scientists
at the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University
While mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus were not tested as part of
the study, the United States Department of Agriculture-Agriculture Research
Service has filed a patent application to use one of the chemicals in
the plant-callicarpenal-as an arthropod repellent.
The folk remedy piqued the interest of scientists after ARS botanist
Charles Bryson told his colleagues how his grandfather would use fresh,
leaves of American beautyberry to help keep biting mosquitoes away from
draft animals such as horses and mules. Placing the mashed leaves under
an animal's harness would produce a repellent oil.
For the last 40 years, Bryson has been anecodotal proof that crushing
handful of leaves on skin keeps away mosquitoes, deerflies and
horseflies. His colleagues at the ARS were able to confirm the natural
DEET, developed by ARS and the U.S. Army decades ago, is the most
commonly used insect repellent. But nepetalactone, the essential oil in
catnip plant, is about 10 times more effective at repelling mosquitoes
DEET, the compound used in most commercial products according
In addition, while the EPA has found normal use of DEET isn't a health
hazard, products using high concentrations shouldn't be used with
children. And researchers
at Duke University found that extensive use of
DEET caused brain-cell death and behavioral changes in animals.
The beautyberry, considered one of the best shrubs to grow in southern
Illinois according to the University of Illinois Extension, produces
white flowers in the summer. In the fall, the stems bear blue, white,
and pink clusters of little fruit. It blooms and fruits on new growth.
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