Annie Berthold-Bond is the author of Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living and Clean & Green. She is also the creator of the betterbasics.com website.

Monday, 27 Sep 1999

Rhinebeck, N.Y.

The ticks are back. I noticed a bloated tick on the floor yesterday, fallen off our dog Samy. I got into bed last night and picked up my book to start reading, only to find a tick — a deer tick, the size of a poppy seed — walking across the page! Misery us. The only good thing about the devastating drought of the summer is that the ticks temporarily disappeared. In my chronic state of denial about what a true blight the ticks have now become in our lives here in Northern Dutchess County, N.Y., the center of the Lyme disease epidemic, I had hoped against hope they would never return. After all, they were never here before five years ago or so — couldn’t they just as suddenly disappear?

But here I am having to face up to dealing with the tick problem again. The rain from Hurricane Floyd brought them back in one fell swoop. I’ve had three cases of Lyme disease in the last three years, one case taking 18 months of antibiotics and boatloads of alternative remedies to throw off. And the ticks now carry a lot more than just Lyme disease; more than half of patients in my doctor’s office who have Lyme disease have other tick-borne illnesses, including a red blood cell parasite. Two of my tick bites were from ticks that the dogs brought into the house, one from a walk in the woods. I assume the tick on my book came from the dogs.

Okay. So it’s time to bring out the remedies again. Face up to this. I researched through the herbal lore for a long, hard number of months last spring for the essential oil to best repel ticks before I discovered rose geranium. One or two drops on the dog’s collar is enough to repel ticks for a week or so. Just make sure not to put too much oil on the collars; dogs are sensitive to smell. Health food stores are beginning to carry rose geranium. You can certainly order it. And also available in health food stores is an all-natural tick repellent spray that has rose geranium as a first ingredient. You can make your own tick repellent by adding 10 drops of pure rose geranium oil to two tablespoons of witch hazel or vegetable oil in a bottle. Cover and shake to blend. Put a few drops on your wrists before going in tick-infested areas. The smell is okay, slightly lemony.

Until the rose geranium works to remove all the ticks from our dogs (our dogs are black, and it is hard to see the ticks until they are engorged), we humans in the family are going to have hot, soapy showers every day, and check ourselves carefully morning and night.

A few weeks ago, I was on Gary Null’s radio show and he mentioned that putting diatomaceous earth (DE) on the lawn kills ticks. DE is made from the skeletons of prehistoric algae, and it works by dehydrating insects. Just make sure to buy natural DE, not the type sold for swimming pools. It is available in garden supply centers and from natural-pet catalogs. I’m going to try DE around our house, although our dogs run in the woods, and I can’t cover the woods with DE!

Tickweed, by the way, is the renowned repellent herb also known as American pennyroyal. Pregnant women should avoid this herb, but it is a worthwhile substitute if you can’t find rose geranium. I might try planting tickweed around our land next summer. Maybe that will help?

The stakes are high — Lyme disease — so I need to pay attention. The one thing I do know is that pesticides are not the answer. The alternatives I use work as well if not better, and pesticides cause many health and environmental problems. In fact, I suspect pesticides play a role in the ticks’ increase: ticks may be thriving because the ecosystem was thrown out of balance by all that gypsy moth spraying, or because the fumes released in the use and manufacturing of pesticides contribute to global warming, which makes our region more hospitable for the ticks.

So out comes the rose geranium bottle.