Itching to get some relief from swarms of mosquitoes? Scientists have found a new compound that helps to repel those pesky insects. But it turns out, it's really not so new. Sweetgrass has been shown in laboratory tests to deter insects as well as or better than most commercially available bug sprays. And Native Americans have known about it for centuries.
Scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released their findings at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston. USDA chemist Charles Cantrell explained that when they went in search of new mosquito repellents, they decided to look at what has worked in the past. "We found that in our search for new insect repellents, folk remedies have provided good leads," said Cantrell in a news release from the American Chemical Society.
Native Americans have used sweetgrass oils to combat insects for centuries. They were known to cover themselves and their homes in sweetgrass to keep bugs away. And now scientists finally understand what it is about the plant that causes it to deter bugs.
In laboratory tests, researchers found that two compounds in sweetgrass are as effective at repelling mosquitoes as the synthetic compound DEET. The chemicals phytol and coumarin — both found in sweetgrass — were shown to repel insects, even when tantalizing fake blood samples were used.
If coumarin sounds familiar, you're probably friends with an Avon lady or two. Have you ever used Avon's Skin So Soft as as a bug spray? The moisturizing product was never intended to repel insects, but it's been common knowledge for decades that it does a good job of it. And guess what it contains? Coumarin.
It's nice that science could catch up with centuries old knowledge on repelling mosquitoes. I wonder what else researchers could "discover" with a closer look at natural products that have been used for years.