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In Search of the Bug-Free Picnic

And since insects don't bring potato salad try using essential oils to keep them at bay. Most oils don’t offer the same degree of protection as a commercial repellent, such as DEET or Permethrin, but they are a safe alternative to those chemicals.

Andrea Candee, a master herbalist in upstate New York, recommends eucalyptus oil to repel mosquitoes and ticks. Citronella oil also works, she says, but some find its smell unpleasant. Fortunately, the bugs will too, so try burning citronella-scented candles at outdoor picnics. Mosquitoes also don't like basil; plant the herb outside windows to help keep them out of your home.

Studies support Ms. Candee's advice. The U.S. Agriculture Department found that a lemon-eucalyptus Chinese insect repellent deterred mosquitoes as well as DEET, though for a shorter time. In another study conducted in a Canadian forest, people who sat near citronella candles with nothing on their skin received far fewer bites than those without candles (Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association, 9/91, 6/96).

Suggested dose:
Always dilute eucalyptus and citronella oils to avoid skin irritation. To dilute, mix 1/4 tsp. of one or both oils with 2 ounces almond oil or vodka and apply to skin. For a sweeter-smelling repellent, herb expert Kathi Keville recommends adding 1/8 tsp. of either rose-geranium or cedar essential oils to the mixture (Herbs for Health and Healing, Rodale, 1996).

Never take these oils internally. You may need to reapply them more often than commercial products. It may be wise to stick with commercial repellents in areas where mosquito-borne illnesses, such as malaria or West Nile virus, are a concern.

Date Posted: 07/01/2002

Date Published: 06/30/2002
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