Villa Quetzal

Villa Quetzal

Thursday, November 3, 2011

November in Costa Rica… How to avoid Mosquito Madness

It is a beautiful time of the year because we have sunny mornings and cool-rainy evenings, and the occasional 24 hr. overcast day. This November 2011, has started on a very sunny note and the local meteorologist is predicting the beginning of the dry season in central Costa Rica by mid November.
The southern pacific always experiences a longer rainy season and is predicted to end on the first week of December.
Since November is the last month of rain,  the soil is already well saturated, grass has grown in all those neglected areas, foliage is abundant, everything is gorgeous green and wet and, of course, the perfect environment for mosquitoes and al their flying-biting relatives. Yeah! They are everywhere,
Many of us know that the most common way to avoid mosquito bites when outdoors is to use citronella candles, but… if you are in Costa Rica, you may not be able find them as easy as you do in other countries, besides, if you ask about citronella based products, you will get a very funny look, something like “what are you talking about?”
I have been on the receiving end of that look, so, I decided that I needed to do a little more research and find out why nobody seems to know much about citronella.

To my surprise, I found out that I had been living under a rock for the last 6 years since we came to Costa Rica.  If I had known that the other name of Citronella is Lemon Grass, I had been able to buy as many plants as I needed to plant around my house by the beach, creating a “NOT WELCOME” wall for the undesirable but very numerous mosquitoes and their relatives.
Citronella or Lemon Grass, which in Costa Rica is called Zacate Limon, is actually a tropic plant that grows to be around six feet tall, so it might not be practical in the average suburban backyard, but the average house in the Costa Rican Pacific Coast has enough room to grow it and a green natural wall blends perfectly with the tropical setting. As you can see in the picture, it is not the most handsome or exotic plant in Costa Rica, but it provides you with an incredible value allowing you to enjoy more your outdoor space.

A little bit of history:
Lemongrass is originally from Sri Lanka and it became popular all over the world in the 19th century. The lemongrass oil was known as Oleum Siree when it was exported for the first time to Europe. Sri Lanka was the main center of lemongrass oil production until 1890 when Java started production of this oil of better quality. In 1900s, lemongrass oil started to be exported to other countries, becoming very widely used.

In Costa Rica, unless you are in Central San Jose, it may not be so easy for you to find oil or any other lemon grass/citronella based products; for that reason you might want to bring it with you if you are coming for a short vacation, or if you are staying for an extended period of time or actually living in this tropical country, you might want to consider planting Lemon Grass (Zacate Limon) , Rosemary (Romero) and Mint (Menta) around your house, this combination will discourage mosquitoes from hanging around.
There are different schools of thought around the use of these plants.  Some say they do nothing to repel mosquitoes, while other swear by them; in my opinion, since those three plants are very easy to find and grow in Costa Rica, why not try them?”
Planting these plants that repel mosquitoes is a great choice for your yard.  They are not only an earth-friendly way of dealing with these pests, but they will add beauty to your garden, and more importantly, they will not jeopardize your health the way common insecticides might.
You can also prepare your own home made lemon grass (citronella) repellent buy following these simple steps:
Pack a glass jar with finely chopped lemon grass (Zacate Limón), then top it off with vodka or alcohol.
Make sure to seal it tightly.
Shake it one a day and store it in a dark place for a full week.
Then you are ready to use it as repellent.

Couple more natural tricks against the mosquitoes:

If you don’t mind smelling like a cookie, pure vanilla extract, believe it or not, actually repels mosquitoes. If you use imitation vanilla it won't work.  Mosquitoes are not the only bugs that don't like vanilla, so it's good to keep around. You can put vanilla on your pulse points to keep away the bugs.

Lavender is another great mosquito repellent and who does not like the smell of lavender, well, mosquitoes don’t, and that is why lavender is a natural insect repellent.  You can use the flower to rub on your skin or use the oil on your pulse points just as you would for perfume. This is proof that you don't have to smell like a chemical to keep away the bugs.
Finding lavender plants in Costa Rica may not be so easy, but if you are lucky enough to find them take good care of them and they will keep the mosquitoes away from you.
If the mosquitoes have succeeded and you are already carrying their bites, well, I know the feeling, so it is time to try Aloe Vera gel, it will help to calm the itch and will heal the affected area.  If you happen to have access to an Aloe Vera Plant (which in Costa Rica is called SABILA, or ZABILA), it will be even better, just cut the tip of a branch, open its skin like if it was a banana and use the jelly type pulp on the affected area, you will feel an instant relief.

So, as much as the mosquitoes might try to scare you away from this wonderful Tropical County, you can outsmart them and keep them away from you, in a very natural way.

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