If you’ve ever been camping in the deep woods and forgot your bug spray, you know what a miserable experience it can be once the mosquitos find you. Interestingly, while bug spray, as we know it, is a relatively recent invention from the 1900s, our ancestors found multiple ways to keep bugs at bay throughout human history.
How many of these methods would you be willing to try to keep from being bitten?
Wearing mud is one of the oldest and most basic forms of protection against biting insects. It was also one of the most universal--not surprising, since mud is easy to find on almost every continent.
There are multiple historical references (from the 400s BC to the early 20th century) to Egyptians who would use fine nets for fishing by day and gnat protection at night. Similarly, in Asia, Punjabi fisherman would also sleep under nets, and it’s theorized that British colonists in the 19th century followed their example. Mosquito nets became widely popular in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1867) because they offered protection and breathability.
Along with nets, ancient Egyptians in marshy regions would sleep up in the towers of their buildings. At that height, the wind currents were too strong for gnats to fly and reach them. Once it was time to get up and go about their day, these Egyptians would apply castor oil to their bodies as an insect repellent.
Plant- and Animal-Based Oils
Botanical insect repellents have been used by numerous cultures worldwide for centuries. Jatropha curcas is a plant used in African and Indian folk remedies, and its seed oil has proven mosquito repellent properties. On the other side of the globe, Cherokee Native Americans would combine mashed golden seal (Hydrastis canadensis) root with bear fat to create an anti-bug “body butter.”
Native Americans discovered one of nature’s best-kept secrets when it comes to keeping bugs away: Hierochloe odorata, commonly known as sweetgrass. They fashioned this medicinal plant into clothes, necklaces, and home ornaments to keep away biting insects, especially mosquitoes. To give you some idea of how effective this plant can be, a scientific study revealed that sweetgrass matches the repellent potency of DEET, an active ingredient in many contemporary bug sprays.
One of the oldest examples of pest repellent has been found in South Africa, where archaeologist Lyn Wadley discovered the remains of 77,000-year-old bedding made from layers ash, leaves, and sedges (a grass-like plant). The beds belonged to early Homo sapiens.
It appears the beds were about one foot deep and that the humans routinely burned them, likely at the end of each night, to make more ash for the following night. The leaves in the bed belonged to the Cryptocarya woodii tree, which is pleasantly aromatic and contains insecticidal compounds. Wadley theorizes that these early humans discovered this plant’s insecticidal properties and likely used it for medicinal purposes as well.
At Horizon Pest Control, we take pride in offering effective, responsible pest control solutions for homes and businesses. To learn more about how we can help you, please don’t hesitate to give us a call at (201) 365-9886 or contact us online.