Yesterday we went for a stroll on the 1.75 mile boardwalk through the Three Holes Swamp in the Francis Beidler Forest, a bird and wildlife sanctuary in South Carolina. Swamps are not the dark, dismal, miasmal, mosquito infested hell holes they are sometimes thought to be. The water is not stagnant, but flows continuously as you can see.
We didn’t see any alligators but did observe and hear warblers in abundance, night herons, squirrels, turtles and a couple of water snakes. We observed bright blue damselflies flitting about and a bright red crawfish scurrying backwards into its hole at water’s edge.
The cypress and tupelo knees protruding out of the water reminded me of gnomes.
Our romp through the swamp was a very pleasant and interesting experience. Ok, it was anything but a “romp.” I just liked the way that sounded. We weren’t boisterous at all and were very much aware that, for the most serious birding enthusiasts, birdwatching is akin to a religion. So, as guests in the Holy Of Holies bird sanctuary, we behaved with appropriate reverence, observing the surroundings quietly with as much respect for the enjoyment of other’s as for our own.
The few people we encountered lugged cameras with humongous lenses the size of blunderbusses, bazookas and Cannons. They waited patiently by their tripods hoping to capture on film glorious images of swamp denizens willing to reveal themselves. We were content snapping a few fairly good photos on our iPhones.
None of this is meant to denigrate the birding community or nature lovers in general. I am a lover of nature as much as anyone, proven by having spent 3 1/2 years of my youth totally immersed in nature living in the desert mountain wilderness of the American Southwest.
I was raised an avid birdwatcher in a birdwatching family growing up in India, so I have intimate knowledge of these things. My interest in birds waned slightly after moving back to the United States where the birds, in comparison to the exotic and colorful birds of India, seemed rather dull and a bit boring.
There were some mosquitos on our swamp walk but no more than in any other outdoor location this time of year. They were merely a minor irritation, but a reminder of a project I had begun more than 6 months ago. I had read somewhere that the herb yarrow is a natural DEET-free mosquito repellent.
There used to be a couple patches of yarrow growing on our property but they failed to come up the last couple of years. Luckily I discovered some yarrow on an excursion into the wilds and harvested a bagful of the feathery foliage last fall. I made sure the roots were left undisturbed to continue growing for years to come.
I muddled the filigreed leaves in 50%+ alcohol and left them to steep over the last 6 months or so.
After straining out some of the liquid I poured it into a spritzer bottle. I was curious how effective it would be repelling mosquitos and also how it would smell after being sprayed onto skin and clothing.
Immediately after being sprayed it had an herby odor not unlike a field of freshly mown hay, not exactly fragrant but not terribly obnoxious. After a few minutes the smell was undetectable to my nose. That could be a result of olfactory fatigue, otherwise known as “nose blindness,” where the olfactories become accustomed to a smell and cease to be offended by it.
As to effectiveness, I really cannot say yet. I didn’t hear buzzing in my ears on any of my forays out into the garden today. Weather reports used to indicate the amount of mosquito activity for the times of the day and they also reported on the times fish were most likely to be biting. There was no mention of the mosquito index let alone a fishing forecast on the local weather reports I saw or heard today. Perhaps expectations have been lowered even further for an industry which has never suffered repercussions for failure to predict meteorological events in the immediate future yet are revered for their absolutely certainty of cataclysmic events in the distant future.
If tincture of yarrow proves to be effective or not as a mosquito repellent I will be sure to report and let you know. At this point I cannot say. Yarrow tincture has other medicinal uses so there is no loss either way.