Planting catnip won't repel mosquitoes

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY

the leaves must be crushed

September 22, 2002|By Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon,Special to the Sun

Q. I read the article about using catnip as a mosquito repellent. Will merely planting catnip around the house ward off mosquitoes? Or is it necessary to crush the leaves, releasing the plants' oils?

Given the situation with West Nile virus, it would be wonderful if using catnip as a foliage planting could create a safer zone around our homes.

A. The ingredient in catnip that appears to have mosquito-repellent properties is nepetalactone. To activate the compound you have to crush the leaves and release the volatile oil. Just planting catnip around your house is unlikely to afford any protection from mosquitoes.

Q. We are tea drinkers -- no coffee -- and usually buy whatever is on sale. We change flavors occasionally, but drink black tea hot or cold.

Recently we read that some teas are healthier than others. "Brisk" tea was recommended for all sorts of things. How does this differ from, say, Earl Grey or English Breakfast tea? We aren't into green tea, but could you enlighten us on black tea?

A. Black tea is just as rich in antioxidant compounds called flavonoids as green tea is. The exact ingredients and their balance vary from green to black tea, however, and even from one brand to another.

A recent analysis showed a relatively low level of these compounds in Twinings Earl Grey black tea, for example, while Bigelow brand Darjeeling tea had three times more antioxidant components.

Black tea has been touted for everything from protecting people from heart attacks to warding off cavities, strengthening bones and reducing the risk of Parkinson's disease. Most claims are based on observing populations and need to be confirmed with clinical trials.

Even though you switch brands of tea according to affordability, as long as you drink two or more cups of tea daily you are likely to reap some benefits. You could brew English Breakfast, Darjeeling or most other black tea blends to be "brisk," which is strong without being bitter.

Q. I keep reading that the herb ephedra can be dangerous for the heart. Does this also apply to pseudoephedrine found in decongestants?

A. There are some chemical similarities between ephedrine (the active chemical in ephedra) and pseudoephedrine found in so many allergy and cold remedies. While safe for most people, this oral decongestant is not appropriate for people with heart disease or high blood pressure.

King Features Syndicate

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