by Erin Scottberg
A grandpa’s sage advice may be the biggest breakthrough in bug repellent since DEET. Scientists with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have isolated two insect‑repelling compounds from leaves of the American beautyberry plant (Callicarpa americana), a shrub native to much of the southeastern United States.
The research began in 2004 after ARS botanist Charles Bryson told colleagues that his Mississippian grandfather used crushed beautyberry leaves to keep insects off his horses – a trick some people used on themselves. Tests show that callicarpenal, one of the isolated compounds, is just as effective against mosquitoes and black‑legged ticks (the main carrier of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease in humans) as DEET.
Although other homespun cures have been put to the test, they don’t often lead to any big discovery. “There is some validity to the folk remedy in this case,” says ARS chemist and lead researcher Charles Cantrell. Moral of the story? Scrub behind your ears, eat your vegetables, and always listen to your elders.