A couple of Ozarks tick and chigger repellants

Wes Franklin
Guest Columnist

Summertime is in all its burning glory, and one thing that means is ticks and chiggers. 

The critters ain’t new arrivals, and the old Ozarkers learned a thing or two about ‘em, even if some of what they passed down may not be altogether fact. But who am I to say what is true or not? I just share what I’ve read in recordings, such as those made by folklorist Vance Randolph. 

The Ozarkers used to say that dog fennel is a breeding ground for chiggers, but kills ticks. So that seems to sorta cancel itself out.

Another “chigger headquarters”, as phrased by Randolph, is milk weed. Don’t go near it unless you want to be swarmed, the old Ozarkers said. 

Pennyroyal was believed to be a chigger and tick repellant. I suppose one would either rub the flower over their legs or tie it to the same. 

The same goes for cedar, which was thought to be especially potent to seed ticks, according to Randolph. He said farmer boys would often brush their bare skin with cedar boughs to keep the tiny blood suckers off. Randolph said he never had any luck with that trick himself. 

When I was a kid we used lye soap pretty much exclusively, because my mom made batches of it for historical demonstrations and it had to get used anyway, once cured. I was always told it would help keep the ticks and chiggers off too. I couldn’t say how effective it was, but I usually never had more than the occasional tick as far as I can recall. I hear stories about people getting into nests of chiggers and having dozens of tormenting bites, but I don’t remember that ever happening to me as a kid, and I spent a lot of time roaming the woods and fields on and around our farm. 

So maybe there is something to lye soap as a tick and chigger repellant. As to the pennyroyal and cedar, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to try.