Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Sleepless Night in the North Woods

August 22, 02

After the last farm report on mosquitoes and West Nile Virus, I received word from a colleague at the Research Foundation, that the newest and best mosquito repellent is catnip oil. She claimed that she had heard that it works even better than repellents containing DEET.

I checked on the Internet, and sure enough, last year at the American Chemical Society meeting, some investigators from Iowa State University had found that nepetalactone, the oil in catnip that gives it a distinctive odor, is a highly effective mosquito repellent. They put 20 mosquitoes in a two-foot-long tube, half of which was treated with catnip oil. After 10 minutes, only four remained on the treated side. In a similar test with DEET, almost half remained on the treated side.

Well, you just don't plant a seed like that and expect it not to grow in curious soil. I thought to myself, "Heck, I have a small stand of catnip in the corner of our garden, and I spent 20 years in research extracting lipids from tissues. I have got to give this a try.

So I went to my wife's herbal books to see how people normally go about extracting essential oils from herbs at home. The advice: Don't even think about it. It takes a ton of material and specialized chemical apparatus like retorts and condensers and specialized stills.

Baaah! I figured that I could just find some way to modify the old Folch chloroform/methanol extraction procedure that I used to use every day. The problem was that I don't have access to chloroform any more, so I had to try to find another suitable nonpolar solvent that is adequately volatile to be air evaporated. How about WD40? It seems to either volatilize or soak in pretty rapidly. I decided to try that.

Next, I needed more catnip than I had in the corner of our garden. So I rounded up all of our old catnip-filled cat toys and emptied them out.

WD40 and a small pile of chopped up fresh and dried catnip, when mixed together make: ......a mess.

OK. Plan B. First I needed to find more catnip. I weent to Rhinelander to the Foster & Smith outlet store to either buy a bunch of cheap cat toys, or ask if they sold bulk catnip. And, lo and behold, as I was browsing the aisles, I ran across a bottle of "Doctors Foster & Smith High Potency Catnip Mist". The label read, "Pure catnip extract ... formulated by our veterinarians ... made by extracting the essence of catnip from the highest quality leaves. These leaves come from the finest catnip Nepeta cataria grown in the world. ... harvested at the peak of their potency and freshness, then air dried and crushed in the extracting process. This produces the most aromatic catnip scent available without synthetics."

Well, hot dang! Ready made. So I bought it.

Now for the experiment.

Last week, my daughter and her boyfriend came for a visit and to announce that they are getting married. Putting my new-to-be son-in-law to the test, I decided that we would all spray one arm with the magic mist and leave the other arm as a control. Then we sat outside in the pasture as the sun set, and remained there well into the darkening hours. Sure enough, the sprayed arm remained unbitten, while the unsprayed arm developed itchy welts. Eureka! Maybe I can try it on the horses and camel.

The only problem? One adverse side reaction.

None of us slept very well that night because our three house cats would not stop jumping on us in bed and using our sprayed arms as scratching posts. The cat that chose to attack me was our black cat with the white chin and bib. My wife named it Bibs because of its white chest patch. From now on, though, I call it Bibs because it comes on like a Biblical Plague.

I don't know which is worse: Mosquito bites... or cat scratches from persistent pestering cats... or a daughter who is madder than a wet hen for giving her new fiance second thoughts.


  1. OMG!!! Skeeter bites are the worst! Just don't put alcohol on the cat scratches!

  2. I am thinking worse things with this cat nip like you would be like the pied piper with cats following you around you property. What a site that would be. But I am going to get some of that stuff next time I am at the pet store. We can use it camping. I just hope it does not pull in a mountain lion or bobcat...