Keeping Bugs at Bay – The Shoestring Herbalist

old fashioned brooms

Summer is a buggy time. I love the ones outside. Dragonflies, bees, spiders and butterflies are eye catching beauties. I also like the ones other people disdain – ants, soldier flies, wasps and moths. Many is the time I have discovered a critter that I never noticed before and run to my bug book to identify it.

The inside bugs are a different matter. Indian meal moths, fruit flies and fleas are considered prime pests. I have, over the years, devised ways to dispose of them. They are on my insect mafia hit list.

The fleas were the first to go. I figured out a formula to keep them off my cats after a few tries. I had a cat that was highly allergic to fleas. He was my inspiration.

The fruit flies I left to my husband. He is the mighty fruit fly hunter. He enjoys making little fruit fly traps with funnels and canning jars, vinegar and aged bananas. He freezes the traps occasionally. Some day I expect to see a mounted fruit fly trophy encased in bronze on my wall.

That leaves the Indian meal moths. Tiny moths that are easy to kill and leave a dusty smear behind after the attack. They lay eggs in dry goods to ruin your favorite granola, raisins or flour. They leave sticky webbing to protect the wiggly larva. Nasty stuff.

This is a difficult cycle to break. The attack is on many fronts. I use bay leaves as a preventative measure. I change the leaves every year about this time. My bay tree is a heavy producer of leaves. It is in a dry area so the tree makes very fragrant leaves. The bugs hate the smell of it.

Fresh Yarrow
Fresh Yarrow

The scent that they despise is cineol. This is a compound that is also in eucalyptus leaves. Along with Indian meal moths, cineol is hated by roaches and ants. I use California bay because it grows so well in my area. It is a bit more oily than Turkish Bay leaf.

This time of year, the dust settles and the house heats up. I boil up a quart of strong yarrow and bay leaf tea in the morning. I let it sit to cool, covered, on the stove all day. As the evening air settles in, I strain the tea into a mop bucket, add more warm water and off I go.

First, I sweep. Then I mop the corners, top to bottom of my house with the tea mixture. I leave long wet streaks of spicy scented mop water in the hall. I wipe down the stair rails. I slop tea water behind the toilet and half-heartedly wipe it up. My point is not to sterilize the house, it is to give the bugs a firm message: “Go play outside!”

After I am done, I rinse out the mop and rest a bit on the couch. The house smells wonderful. the flowery scent of the yarrow mixed with the spicy scent of the bay is relaxing to bone. It is a delightful reward to good night’s work.

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