- Michele Spence
Two Must Haves for the Summer
I’m a believer in plant medicine. If I can find something from nature that works as well or better than something manmade, I’ll take the natural remedy every time. Better yet, if I can make it myself and control what is put in it, fabulous! Two plants that I’m a big fan of are Callicarpa Americana and Jewelweed, read on to find out why.
I get eaten alive during the summer. I can’t go out to an asphalt parking lot at noon without bug repellent on. I used to spray my clothes with Deet when I left the house daily. I hate Deet, it’s greasy, super toxic, and one day I had come in from working outside and hung my shirt on my bedpost. A few hours later I came back in and went to throw it in the hamper when I realized it had melted the varnish off of my wooden post, that’s when I became determined to find something different. I tried Picardin, which isn’t as toxic but still pretty bad. I tried essential oils, armbands, etc. and still walked around covered in quarter-sized welts. One day I was reading online about how Mississippi farmers used to take leaves from a plant called Callicarpa Americana and place them under the harnesses of their mules to deter biting flies. I started digging and found stories of the Cherokee Indians using this same plant to ward off biting insects, I was onto something.
Callicarpa Americana or American Beautyberry is a plant native to the southeastern United States. Science Daily has this to say about the American Beauty Berry, “Swatting mosquitoes and dodging other biting bugs is nearly a year-round chore in the Southeast, but such pests are swarming across the country with the advent of summer weather. A traditional folk remedy, known among people in Mississippi's hill country for at least a century, may provide some relief without all the worries of DEET and other harsh chemicals.” Additionally, the USDA has a patent on the active ingredient Callicarpenal. For more on the study, click here.
I immediately went searching for Callicarpa Americana at every nursery around, I finally found some plants and got to work creating an infusion that I could use instead of toxic sprays and my Bugs Away spray was born. The stuff works, it’s all I use to repel mosquitoes and ticks. Customers have written to me and told me that my spray also works on chiggers, fleas, and sand fleas. To date, I have twelve plants and will make more from cuttings this summer. I make my Bugs Away spray from freshly harvested plant material which is infused for over 24 hours and kicked it up a notch with some essential oils that are supposed to deter those pesky biters.
In addition to the spray, I plan on creating a rollerball and maybe a topical balm in the future.
I’m a person that sweats, I don’t glisten, I sweat, therefore I can sweat off my bug spray while gardening and end up with a bite or two that swell to the size of a quarter. I also get into poison ivy from time to time and boy does that make a person crazy with itching. Once again I was faced with the dilemma of finding a plant that would fix my itching, and I did, it’s called Jewelweed.
A member of the Impatiens family, Jewelweed blooms May through October in the eastern part of North America from Southern Canada to the northern part of Florida. Native Americans, including the tribes of the Cherokee, Iroquois, Mohegan’s, and Ojibwas used Jewelweed to heal poison ivy/oak rashes, nettle stings, hives, burns, and even the measles. The plant contains several chemicals that have strong anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and anti-itching properties. It also takes away the swelling and itching associated with mosquito bites, horsefly bites, rashes, eczema and more.
Each year, I drive up to the North Georgia Mountains to sustainably harvest Jewelweed. It is an amazing plant, and for me, it works better than topical diphenhydramine HCI or Benadryl. I infuse the plant material in either oil or vodka depending on what I’m making and make soap, rollerballs, sprays, and salves from this amazing plant.
"The Results of a Clinical Study, in which a 1:4 jewelweed preparation was compared for its effectiveness with other standard poison ivy dermatitis treatments was published in 1958 (Annals of Allerty 1958;16:526-527). Of 115 patients treated with jewelweed, 108 responded ‘most dramatically to the topical application of this medication and were entirely relieved of their symptoms within 2 or 3 days after the institution of treatment.' It was concluded that jewelweed is an excellent substitute for ACTH and the corticosteroids in the treatment of poison ivy dermatitis. The active principle in the plant responsible for this activity remains unidentified." by Varro Tyler, PhD in his book HERBS OF CHOICE
Callicarpa Americana Information