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Repelling Pests

After my son read aloud "Ant Killing System" on the label of the product I had bought to get rid of ants in the home, he remarked, "That's mean!" He has a point. Do you have any herbal suggestions for pest control? Whether it is ants attracted to the cat food bowl or yellow jackets threatening a summer barbeque, herbs can help repel pests without killing them. It is an age old problem with tried and true solutions, some ancient.

Artemisias, the pungent smelling, lacey leafed plants that look so pretty in our gardens, have a strong reputation for deterring flies, moths and even internal parasites. One that grows wild and can be found throughout the summer in Salt Lake City is the silvery Artemisia ludoviciana or western mugwort. Other, more familiar garden varieties are lemon scented southernwood (A. abrotanum), mugwort (A. vulgaris), and wormwood (A. absinthium). The large genus is named for Artemisia, a plant and medicine researcher who was the sister/wife of Greek/Persian King Mausolus and ruled after he died in 353 B.C. In the Saxon verse, "Lay of Nine Herbs," mugwort is mentioned first as "oldest of herbs?. potent against poison." The verse names other "pests" like worms and dragons that the nine herbs can be used against. Lesley Bremness in her book, "The Complete Book of Herbs," suggests this herb can be planted near a hen house to protect the fowl from lice, near cabbages and fruit trees to deter moths, and inside the home for the same reasons.

A few bay leaves stored with flours, rice, grains and bird seed will keep weevils out. Essential oil of mint sprinkled on cotton balls placed in strategic areas will discourage mice. Santolina, lavender and tansy bundles will keep moths away from clothing.

Essential oil or shavings of cedar, Juniperus sp., keeps all kinds of bugs from materials. I can attest to its effectiveness. I was able to identify the botanical parts of a 500-year-old Native American bundle (the Patterson bundle) because the entire contents of it had been exquisitely preserved by the great amounts of juniper bark that lined the pit in which it had been originally buried.

For flying pests, essential oils of citronella and/or lemongrass are often recommended. Add to a carrier oil or mix with distilled water in a spritzer for easy application. Unfortunately, they don't do as good a job of protecting against mosquitoes as repellants that contain DEET. There is, however, pyrethrum, a type of chrysanthemum that has very effective insect-repelling properties. It is not toxic but does repel insects on humans and in the garden. Many other products are available online so shop around to learn more.

Eating garlic for several days before an outdoor experience like a camping trip will help to keep mosquitoes from biting you. I find if I am pestered in the garden, I just wipe my skin and clothing down with any very aromatic, crushed herb, and I have less of a problem. Once, during an outdoor barbeque when I became desperate to rid the area of flies and yellow jackets, I lit the end of a large dried sage bundle, and as long as it smoldered and the fragrant smoke could waft through the company, we were no longer bothered. Now, I have learned to smudge the area in the same manner several times before guests arrive, and there seems to be an hour of reprieve before the problem begins again.

As for ants, the person who grows kava kava and turmeric for me in Hawaii has it from experience that ants will not cross a line of cinnamon sprinkled thickly on the ground. Essential oil of mint can be used the same way. Pennyroyal will help to keep fleas off pets. They need relief, too.

Merry Harrison is a clinical herbalist, teacher, author and wildcrafter.
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Reprinted with permission: Catalyst Magazine

Other articles for the garden...

Grow Your Own Herbs  •   Growing herbs From Seed  •   Acquiring Medicinal/Culinary Herbs  •   The Garden You Didn't Plant
Unusual Culinary Herbs  •   Exotic Garden Herbs  •   Harvesting Your Herbs  •   Mint  •   Fall Gardening Tips  •   Harvest Season

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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