Food Safety

Study Looks At Herbal Housefly Repellents

New research from Uganda will not revolutionize the way we fight houseflies but it does strengthen science’s understanding of how (and why) certain plants are used to protect food from the nasty little insects.

For this study, researchers asked 372 people in 9 villages in Budondo Subcounty about the use of herbs as fly repellent. Fewer than a quarter, or around 24.5%, had any knowledge of such use at all. But those who did offered up a variety of solutions.

Photo of Eucalyptus globulus by Forest Starr & Kim Starr

Eucalyptus globulus is one of the plants burned to create a natural fly repellent in parts of Uganda.

In all, 8 plants were mentioned, most of them repeatedly. They were:

  • Cupressus sempervirens, or Mediterranean cypress
  • Lantana camara, or tickberry
  • Eucalyptus globulus, or bluegum
  • Carica papaya, or papaya
  • Cymbopogon citratus, or lemongrass
  • Mentha × piperita, or peppermint
  • Azadirachta indica, or neem
  • Ocimum kilimandscharicum, or camphor basil

The most common were Mediterranean cypress, mentioned by nearly 17% of herb-knowledgeable participants, and tickberry, which was mentioned by just over 16% of them.

For all the fly repelling plants, the leaves were the most often used part. Burning to create smoke was the preferred application method.

Mediterranean cypress, as used to replu houseflies.

Cupressus sempervirens, or Mediterranean cypress, is the most commonly cited natural fly repellent in this study.

Why This Study Is Important

This research is important for two reasons, say its authors, because it gives deeper insight into how people use plants to protect their food from fly-borne pathogens and it gives researchers a place to start when it comes to understanding the potential health risks associated with burning certain plants or bringing certain plants into direct contact with food.

These flies do not bite but they are capable of causing or spreading more than 100 diseases to humans. Those diseases come from bacteria, viruses, protozoa and helminths. Worldwide, six million cases of childhood blindness are caused every year by pathogens spread by flies.

Tickweed, or Lantana camara, is another African herb used to drive away flies.

Photo of Lantana camara, commonly called tickweed, by Fan Wen.

The use of repellents is especially important in developing nations like Uganda, say these researchers, because sanitation is poor and accessing medical care can be difficult. “Natural” fly repellents like the ones identified in this study are cheaper, more widely available and, possibly, safer than chemical sprays.

The study was published last week at the website for Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine.

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Photo Credits: Forest Starr & Kim Starr, [Unknown], Fan Wen

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Categories: Food Safety

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