This time of year is my absolute favorite time to say the least. I love watching the colors start to change and noticing the things in our garden and around “Six Acres” that aren’t here the rest of the year. It’s the time we start planting our fall garden and sitting outside at night to watch the moon in the evenings, etc.
While mosquitoes are more often thought of during the spring and summer, I live in Texas and they still exist here at this time of year. This time of year brings a pretty berry that helps repel these pesky little flying insects though.
When I first moved to Texas in 1985, I met a friend who raised horses. He introduced me to a plant he called “Beauty Bush”. It wasn’t until much later that I came to know it’s real name “Callicarpa Americana” (kar-lee-KAR-pa a-mair-ee-KAY-na). Most people simply refer to it as Beauty Berry though.
My friend, used to cut the branches of the Beautyberry bush, with the leaves still on them. He would then crush the leaves and put the branches between the harness and the horse to keep mosquitoes and biting flies away. He swore by it and so did just about every other old timer I have ever asked.
I have known of natural remedies and medicines for a long time. Who hasn’t? All we have to do is study any of the Native American cultures or many other cultures around the world, and we can find countless all-natural remedies, etc. But my introduction to Beautyberry was my first experience with natural cures. Prior to Beautyberry, I always bought the latest and greatest bug spray to keep mosquitoes away.
A common chemical in bug spray is DEET. But DEET is bad for you in many ways. You need to wash it off after a few hours or you run the risk of skin allergies or worse. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists DEET as a Group D Carcinogen. Over use of DEET can have other lethal consequences as well. In addition, DEET is harmful to fish, birds and aquatic invertebrates. If you’re swimming in a lake, what is your use of DEET doing to the inhabitants of that lake? Once DEET absorbs into your skin, the mosquitoes will be back, requiring you to apply even more. Who wants to use such a thing as DEET? Not me!
Beautyberry is a fast growing native perennial shrub; growing five to eight feet tall and almost as wide with dropping branches. The elliptical to ovate shaped leaves have an opposite arrangement with saw toothed margins. The underside of the leaves may be covered with wooly like hairs. The stems are slender, gray to reddish brown, and terete or four sided. In late spring to early summer, inconspicuous flowers of blue, violet, pink or white are arranged in clusters on the stems between the leaves. In August or September, clusters of small purple to blue berries or drupes encircle the woody stems.
In 2004, scientists at the United States Department of Agriculture-Agriculture Research Service, housed at the University of Mississippi, have concluded that there is indeed scientific proof that compounds in Beautyberry do, in fact, repel insects such as mosquitoes and flies.
To use as a repellent on humans, simply pick a few leaves; crush them and rub on your skin. The mosquitoes and flying pests will stay away much longer than if you used bug spray and you won’t have to worry about the harmful side effects of DEET.
Beautyberries are also edible. I should probably qualify that statement a bit… some people say they have gotten an upset stomach, etc. when they eat Beautyberries. I’ve eaten them. I didn’t get sick. I didn’t care much for the medicinal taste of the berries, but they didn’t harm me either.
In addition to the insect repellent aspects of Beautyberry, I just find it enjoyable to forage and learn what other plants can do for us.
It’s amazing to me, that the prevailing attitude in America is, “If I didn’t buy it, it can’t be good for anything.” I will say this much… big chemical companies have sure done a wonderful job of marketing their products and convincing Americans that our ancestors had it all wrong.
Vern Six is a freelance computer programmer and entrepreneur. He is a United States Army certified survival expert and former Christian missionary. Vern has been a hobby blogger for nearly five years and now has his “According to Vern” blog published in numerous newspapers around the world. You can learn more about Vern by visiting his website at http://AccordingToVern.com