Repel the mosquitos
If you live on the Thai countryside there is no need to buy an insect repellent. To begin with, there are hardly any mosquitos at all, not compared to my home country Sweden. Secondly, the disgusting diseases such as dengue fever reside in the human population, the mosquitos are just vectors (vehicles between humans). That means it is more likely to get dengue fever at a downtown Chiang Mai bar (more people) than in the jungle. Thirdly, if you live on the Thai countryside, you can always grow citronella leaves (Cymbopogon nardus, Poaceae) and harvest a leaf, crush it and rub it against your skin, if ever needed.
For town people without a garden, it is different. Which repellent would you select? For fun I have tried a new product: Arun Thais insect repellent spray. It contains neem oil (Azadirachta indica, Meliaceae, a tree which grows at Dokmai Garden), lemon grass oil (Cymbopogon citratus, Poaceae which we grow too), cloves oil (Syzygium aromaticum, Myrtaceae, which we have too), sweet basil oil (Ocimum basilicum, Lamiaceae which we have too) and citronella oil (Citronella nardus, Poaceae, which we grow too).
The nice thing with such a product is that it does not contain synthetic chemicals. However, Bob Marley’s statement that ‘since all plants are created by God, no plant (cannabis) can be dangerous’ is not true. He must never have heard of strychnine (Strychnos nux-vomica, Loganiaceae) or upas (Antiaris toxicaria, Moraceae) which are real killers. Why are plants toxic? Like you and me, they do not want to get killed. They have no legs and so they can not run when attacked by insects, and therefore they are usually packed with poison, anti-enzymes or bitter compounds. ‘That can’t be true, lettuce is free from dangerous chemicals and tastes sweet’! Sure, a domesticated lettuce selected by man is sweet and impotent, but wild and free lettuce (Lactuca sp, Asteraceae) is a very bitter fighter and survivor. Man has domesticated (enslaved) plants which no longer object to being eaten. ‘But longan fruits (Dimocarpus longan, Sapindaceae) taste nice’! Sure, but here the plant offers sugary pulp to sugar-loving animals for the dispersal of their seeds. The cashew apple (Anacardium occidentale, Anacardiaceae) and even the strychnine pulp is gorgeous, but if you bite their babies (the seeds), well, see you at hospital! A plant chemical is not different from a synthetic chemical if it is the same compound, such as benzoic acid which is easy to manufacture and also occurs in lingon berries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea, Ericaceae). Same same, not different!
So what is so good with natural chemicals?
Natural chemicals often degrade quickly. That means that toxicity disappears quickly. Unnatural synthetic compounds may stay toxic and affect many organisms including yourself. Synthetic chemicals may prove extra lethal and seemingly effective just because nature has not encountered these before.
Does Arun Thai’s insect repellent work? Yes! The instructions are good, i.e. shake well, do not rub your eyes (I did, it is very painful) and apply repeated times (the effect declines after a while).
The plastic bottle with its spray function looks very luxurious and industrial to a mud monkey like me, and of course a plain repellent without a container would be the best choice, like a leaf in your garden. However, the transfer to a less toxic environment can only be done in small steps, and changing the content of the bottles is a good step forward. So, if you go to a bar I trust this is a good product to bring.