American beautyberry

I read it and didn’t believe it.  An article claiming American Beautyberry (Callicarpa Americana) is an effective mosquito repellent.  Along with being a skeptic, I’m not one to go out of my way to try anything new but I happened to be working on a property with a big ol’ bush so I grabbed a couple leaves, smashed them around in my hands and rubbed them on my exposed skin.  The area I was clearing was the perfect test site.  A shady, overgrown mess, wet from all the recent rain.

American Beautyberry

My experiment was all the proof I needed but I was curious so I Googled around a bit.  Sometimes I think I live under a rock and am the last one to know things that others find common knowledge.  Science Daily say’s this remedy has been around forever, well… at least a century.

 “Scientists Confirm Folk Remedy Repels Mosquitos” : “My grandfather would cut branches with the leaves still on them and crush the leaves, then he and his brothers would stick the branches between the harness and the horse to keep deer flies, horseflies and mosquitoes away,” said Charles T. Bryson, an ARS botanist in Stoneville, Miss. “I was a small child, maybe 7 or 8 years old, when he told me about the plant the first time. For almost 40 years, I’ve grabbed a handful of leaves, crushed them and rubbed them on my skin with the same results.”

During a twelve month study, scientists identified three naturally occurring chemicals in Beautyberry leaves.  Callicarpenal, intermedeol and spathulenol. All three chemicals repulse mosquitoes known to transmit yellow fever and malaria. Mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus were not tested, but the USDA-ARS has filed a patent application to use callicarpenal as an anthropod repellent.  Callicarpenal and other compounds isolated from the plant also repelled fire ants and ticks.

So I say… keep the DEET where it belongs… on the supermarket shelves!  Mosquito repellents have got to be big money and I would imagine the manufacturers of all those sprays, candles and that little contraptions you hook on your belt loop, don’t want it out there that you can grow your own mosquito repellent.

It easy to grow your own  

Callicarpa americana is a native deciduous perennial.  Because the seeds and berries are an important food source for birds, Beautyberry is a wonderful choice for an understory shrub in your wildlife garden.  The yellow-green foliage will add contrast in your landscape and when the berries turn purple, it makes a show.

In the wild, you can find Beautyberry in woodlands, coastal plains, bottomlands, moist thickets, wet slopes, and at the edges of swamps. It gets “leggy” looking, so in a landscape setting where you want a nice full bush, you can prune it back.  I usually prune mine when it starts to lose its foliage.

Beautyberry is commercially available but you can also start it from cuttings, or seed.  I have a bush in a container.  I was working on a property where a bunch of it was growing.  I was able to get a division off one of the large clumps.

There are about 140 species of Callicarpa and as always, I suggest searching for the native variety (C. americana).  About the easiest way to spot the difference is to look at how the berries grow.  In the image above, you can see the berries form a tight cluster around a branch, not growing from a stem forming off of a branch such as C. dichotoma.

For all you low maintenance plant lovers, you can’t go wrong with Beautyberry. Another great aspect of the plant is I’ve never had a problem with pests. Maybe it’s all those chemicals in the foliage.

I havent tried this but here is a recipe I found on another blog that looks interesting and might be worth a try…

Eat the Weeds:  “I chopped up a plant(leaves and stems) and boiled it in a pot and let it cool and strained the brown liquid into my blender, about 1 1/2 cups. In a separate pot I warmed some organic neem oil (1 cup) with 1 ounce of beeswax until melted. Then you turn the blender on and pour in the oil mixture very slowly and it becomes a cream.”

Plant profile:  Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

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