Beating the bugs, naturally

in Contributors/Pets by

By Tracie Korol

As summer settles in and the rains come every afternoon, the biting-sucking insects seem to become more prevalent, fierce and relentless. I have never been a fan of industrial, aerosol neurotoxins for me or for my dog friends. They smell funky, taste terrible if you happen to inhale while spraying, and the warning labels give me the willies.

Instead, I mix up my own essential oil spray, the main ingredient being Neem.

Neem is all-natural, nontoxic ammunition that stops molesting mosquitoes and ticks in their tracks. It’s the single most important thing you can keep on hand all summer, for your dog’s well-being and your own.

Neem, botanical name Azadirachta indica, is a slow-growing evergreen tree in the mahogany family that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for 5,000 years. Neem is native to southern India and northern Myanmar and is cultivated worldwide. The Sanskrit word for neem is nimba, meaning good health.

Ancient Sanskrit writings mention neem as veterinary treatment to be administered in feed or applied as liniments, oils, powders or liquids, using all parts of the plant.

Western medicine and technology ignored neem until 1928, when two Indian scientists published a report of neem used as a pesticide during a locust infestation. That same year, colonial administrators introduced the neem tree to Nigeria from Ghana, where neem was planted beginning in 1917. Neem was planted in Sudan for wood, firewood, shade and oil for lamps in 1916. By the 1960s, neem plantations were thriving in Africa and neem pesticides were studied for Western agriculture. In 1992, W.R. Grace, a chemical corporation based in Florida, was granted a U.S. patent for Neemix, a neem-based pesticide stabilized by a proprietary process.

So, it’s legit. You can find neem, in it’s pure form — which is what you want for you and your dog — in those upscale grocery emporiums and locally at Terra Cotta. Through the summer months, I keep a spray bottle of my neem-based concoction on the kitchen windowsill to arm my dog friends and myself against the mosquito menace.  (My current bug juice recipe includes neem, citronella, lemon-eucalyptus and a dash of peppermint in a neutral carrier oil.) Neem is a biopesticide applied topically, it repels mosquitoes (and fleas, too), it also kills them — naturally. It has absolutely no harmful side effects. To protect my dog friends, I dab spots on top of their heads, behind their ears, on their shoulders and flanks, and on their tails. During mosquito season, I do this every two to three days. I also suggest to their owners one capsule of neem “supercritical extract” supplement, mixed with their food twice weekly, to arm them from the inside out. I take the capsules, too and also spray on exposed skin, on each wrist, behind my knees, and on my knee pits (a popular mosquito target) when I go for walks.

Now, if you are in the company of folks who prefer their dogs to smell like hyacinths or “spring rain” or any other synthetic, artificial smell, then neem’s aroma may be a bit of a challenge. To me, it smells like mild roasted garlic, not at all offensive in light of its efficacy at bug management. It’s aroma can be mitigated with other, lighter, equally insect-repelling essential oils — rose geranium, peppermint, citronella, eucalyptus, palmarosa.  You can mix up your own personal blend.  A good double-whammy mixer, Opopanax myrrh, the myrrh of ancient Egypt (also available at Terra Cotta) has been shown to repel adults of the African brown ear, deer tick, black-footed, lone star and the good old American dog tick.

If you have a green thumb, know that neem is also prized by horticulturists for its efficacy at keeping pests away from prized plantings, so there’s no need to use poison in the garden, either!