Along the Grapevine


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Introducing Herb Robert

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You’ve maybe come across Herb Robert before, otherwise known as geranium robertarium.¬†He can grow just about anywhere, is shade tolerant but is just as happy in full sun. I usually find him in my flower beds, lodged in amongst rocks, and I recently saw him in abundance while walking in the woods. A delicate plant with lacy leaves and dainty pink flowers, too pretty to pull out, but too invasive to just ignore.

I only recently started to find out more about this plant which has a long history of medicinal uses, most notably the leaves taken as a tea to boost the immune system. If you are interested in reading more about this remarkable little weed, its history and uses you can read here. I was most interested in the fact that it is considered a natural insect repellent. It has what is considered a ‘foxy’ odour which rabbits and deer stay clear of, but is not that strong to humans. I have followed some advice I read and planted bits of it around my cabbages and cauliflowers to deter bunnies. So far, it seems to be working!

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It flowers from spring through late summer or fall and spreads its seeds on a regular basis.

When walking in the woods, I decided to try it as an insect repellent to defend myself against the hoards of mosquitoes. I rubbed the leaves and smeared them on my skin. I noticed some difference, but was not ‘out of the woods’ exactly. Then a fellow joined me, and I noticed all the mosquitoes attacked him, so it must have made some difference.

I decided to try an insect repellent that could be applied more easily and evenly than the leaf-rubbing method. After all, the heat and sun are nothing when gardening compared to the discomfort of the mosquitoes.

I put two parts herb Robert leaves and flowers, one part mint and one part lavender flowers and pressed them down with a plate or lid which would fit inside the pot. I barely covered that with water, brought it to a boil, turned off the heat. Then I left it to cool covered with another lid to keep the essential oils from escaping.

Strain off the liquid and mix with equal parts of rubbing alcohol. Apply it liberally all over.

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In the late morning, I headed out with my pitchfork to do some heavy mulching and see if my concoction worked and if so, how long it would be effective. I lasted a whole hour with very little trouble from mosquitoes. I finally gave up because now the heat and sun were my biggest problems.

I’m not sure what its shelf life is, but it can be easily replenished and costs next to nothing. It has a lovely fragrance, and I expect I will go through it rather quickly to help me through the season.