Medical herbalist Nicola Parker explains the uses of the Indian herb Neem as a pest repellant.

This herb is powerfully antimicrobial and carries a smell pungent enough to keep flying biters at bay during this hot weather.

Friday, 5th June 2020, 7:00 am

Insect bites can be a downside to the hot weather, a bane of summer for those of us that like to spend a lot of time outdoors. My worst encounter with bites was at the age of 18, faced with the horror that is the highland midge while on a trip to Scotland. While some of my companions didn’t get bitten at all, I had been used as a banquet by the little beasties.

People asking for a more natural solution to insect bites come in two groups. Those that have been bitten, looking for a way to quickly ease the itch and those that were bitten to bits previously and are seeking some form of prevention.

For preventing bites, the standard advise is to use insect repellent. Some formulas smell unpleasant and not everyone is comfortable rubbing some of the stronger chemicals onto their skin, possibly due to allergies, sensitivity or skin problems. In these cases, I have a singular answer – neem.

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Insect bites

Neem is an Indian herb that is powerfully antimicrobial and carries a smell pungent enough to keep flying biters at bay. You probably don’t want to rub yourself in pure neem oil though, as you may keep some of your friends and family away too. Neem has a strong, garlic like smell but luckily, small insects are more sensitive to it than we are.

This means that we can use very little neem in each preparation and still have an insect repellent that will be effective. To double its efficacy, I blend neem with citronella oil, another natural insect repellent that gives most scented repellents that lemony scent.

For indoor use or around campsites, candles made with citronella oil are sold and marketed for they insect deterring properties. While these are great for indoor use, I have found them less effective outdoors as the breeze can prevent the scent from lingering, so using a repellent on the skin is recommended.

My own insect repellent is the perfect balance between pleasant scent and effective herbs making it ideal for people looking for a more natural, option.

Nicola Parker

Neem is used topically on the skin to moisturise, relieve redness, dryness or itching. For people with sensitive skin, who find other repellents too irritating, neem based repellents like this can provide an ideal solution.

As well as being perfect for prevention, neem is also my chosen herb for treating insect bites.

Insect bites itch and swell because a small immune reaction occurs at the site of infection. The saliva of the insect is recognised as foreign, so the body produces histamine at the site, to send signals to immune cells,

like a red flag or intruder alert.

The anti itch and anti inflammatory properties of neem can help to bring the redness down, easing some of the discomfort. As an antimicrobial herb, it can also help to fight of any bacteria in the area, offering some protection from infection that could worsen or prolong the bite.

I carry a neem cream as well as my neem and citronella insect repellent on outdoor trips because both make especially handy additions to my first aid kit. Yet there are also stories of people using remedies by mouth, to make their blood smell less appetising.

The jury is still out on this as we have no solid evidence that this is the case, but I do hear reports from my clients that vitamin B1 keeps them bite free every holiday.

If you’ve heard the old wives tale about eating Marmite to keep insects at bay, it’s because Marmite is rich in vitamin B1. It’s also very high in salt, so for health reasons, I don’t advise eating copious amounts of it, as there are healthier ways of encouraging the bugs to stay away.

You can use a vitamin B1 supplement since it is cheap and safe to take, this is the one most of my clients use. If you choose to use B1 supplements, I’d still recommend taking your insect repellent for added protection, as while some people swear by it, other have had less luck with B1 alone.

l For more information, contact Nicola at her clinic on 01524 413733.