Natural Insect Repellents
There are midges all over Europe, but the midge that lives in the Scottish Highlands (Culicoides impunctatus) is particularly ferocious. The female midge is the one that bites, as she requires a meal of blood before laying her eggs, between June and September.
Midges love warm humid weather, still water or wet ground and the indirect sunlight of dawn and dusk (or in the shade).
Midges dislike wind and strong sunlight, therefore standing on top of a hill in the mid-day sun is a very natural form of midge repellent. But for those of us who do not live on the top of a windy hill there are a number of natural things we can do to minimise the nuisance.
Certain types of clothing are recommended as deterrents: a midge hood (a fine mesh covering the head and face) may be worn to physically prevent the midges onto your skin; long sleeves and trouser legs will also help; dark coloured clothing is preferred by midges, therefore wear light coloured clothing.
Thiamine / Vitamin B1
Research has shown that biting insects (such as mosquitoes, midges and flies) hate vitamin B1. People who had consumed quantities of food containing it were much less likely to be bitten. When there is too much vitamin B1 (also known as thiamine) in the body for its needs it is naturally excreted in the sweat, urine and breath; this has protective effects, keeping the midges at bay.
Its odour and flavour are similar to those of yeast. 50-100mg a day is recommended for use as an insect repellent, this may be as taken as part of a B-complex.
1.5mg is required to prevent signs of deficiency. Foods high in B1 include wheatgerm and bran, the outer portion (husk) of rice and grains, brewer's yeast, black molasses. Oats, spinach, nuts, sunflower seeds, avocado (although only about 0.13mg in an average avocado). Vitamin B1 is depleted in the body by the use of sugar, coffee, tannin in black tea, nicotine and alcohol.
Smokers may use the fact that the cigarette smoke keeps midges away for a while as a good reason to smoke, however the nicotine in the cigarette will reduce the amount of vitamin B1 in the body, reducing the longer term deterrent effects.
Garlic is another food item that is suggested to be useful, apparently it is not only vampires who do not like the smell of it on your breath and skin.
Essential Oils and Perfumes
Many people have their own favourite midge repellent recipe, I have been told about favourite after-shaves, Eau de Colognes or perfumes which never fail. These would have been the favourite midge repellent 30 years ago. Since then there have been a number of theories as to which is the best scent to repel midges and other insects. It was suggested that a number of scents were superior over all others in repelling insects, in particular Citronella was used in most natural insect repellents. Then people preferred to use plants native to the local area: Lavender in the Mediterranean, Neem in India and Bog Myrtle in Scotland. The most recent opinion is that many different strong smells will work, the traditional plants used as insects repellents varied between countries because different smelly plants were available, therefore you can use which ever one, or mix, you want!
Bog Myrtle a plant native to Scotland, Bog Myrtle seems to have had the strongest traditional use as a repellent against the Scottish midge. As the name implies it grows in damp, boggy, ground; very handy as that is where the midges like to hang around. You may ask why do the midges live in areas where bog myrtle grows if it is an effective repellent? Because you have to crush the plant to release its scent.
Citronella is an exotic lemony smelling plant, related to Lemongrass. It has been used for many years as an insect repellent. Citronella essential oil is added to many oils, creams and sprays to apply on the skin, and added to candles for burning.
Lavender has many qualities. I personally like it as an insect repellent for 2 reasons: it can be used neat on adult skin (most essential oils have to be diluted), meaning I only have to carry a 10ml bottle around with me; and it is also useful to apply on the insect bites, yet again reducing the amount I have to carry. You don't have to use the essential oil though, rubbing the flowers between the hands will release the aroma, or use a lavender eau de cologne.
Rosemary and Catnip are 2 more Mediterranean plants which have insect repelling qualities. But be careful that no cats find you if you have sprayed yourself with Catnip perfume (they will follow you everywhere!).
Neem oil is used in India as an insect repellent (as well as for many other reasons). It has a pungent odour, smelling yeasty, almost Marmite like, so it is often mixed with other scents to make it more palatable.
Eucalyptus oil, in particular a variety called lemon eucalyptus, has been shown to be effective in keeping Australian biting insects at bay, so could be used for insects in other parts of the world.
Avon's Skin So Soft Currently one of the best known natural insect repellents is a moisturising cream made by Avon. It is said to work because of the essential oils it contains.
Treatments for Bites
There are many natural remedies for insect bites. The main symptom that you need to treat is the itch, if the skin becomes broken though you may also have to use something that is antiseptic.
Lavender is anti-itch and antiseptic. An Eau de Cologne made with lavender will be particularly good as an anti-itch remedy as the evaporation of the alcohol will cool the bite.
Chamomile can be used to reduce the redness (inflammation) and itch from the bites. A cool chamomile tea applied to the skin will be very soothing.
Tea Tree essential oil is a very popular natural antiseptic, many people also find it useful to reduce the itch out of bites.
Vinegar and Bicarbonate of Soda are both useful kitchen remedies for insect bites. Apply vinegar directly to the bites as a cooling antiseptic, or make a paste with the bicarbonate of soda (with a little water) and apply to the bites to cool the itch.
Natural Antihistamines are all around the fields and gardens during the summer. Nettles and plantain are weeds that grow all over Scotland, both have a natural anti-histamine action, useful when you have been bitten a number of times. Both may be taken as a herbal tea, nettles may be eaten as a soup, or you could rub the juice of the plants onto the skin.