Moth be gone

July 06, 2003|by Dorry Baird Norris

Bountiful - abundant - teeming. Only superlatives can describe our 2003 herb garden.

Everything is flourishing. I cut huge bunches of fragrant lavender for winter arrangements and baskets of the golden pom-pom flowers from the santolina for tiny bouquets. But there is so much more. I wondered what else I could do to capture summer's fragrance when winter rolls around.

For an answer I turned to one of my favorite herb books - Rosetta Clarkson's "Magic Gardens." She had the answer. Moth bags! No smelly camphor mothballs for me but rather cheerful bags filled with the same fragrant herbs that our ancestors tucked in among their things to keep the moths at bay.

Clarkson quotes a recipe for protecting clothes from a May 1864 copy of "Godey's Lady's Book" that calls for: "Cloves in coarse powder, one ounce; cassia, one ounce; lavender flowers, one ounce; lemon peel, one ounce. Mix and put them into little bags and place them where the clothes are kept, or wrap the clothes around them. They will keep off insects." What an enchanting collection of scents to our human noses but apparently anathema to moths.


Many of the old herbalists checked in with their own valued ingredients to keep woolens safe, including santolina, rosemary, southernwood, sweet clover, thyme, wormwood, mint, tansy, lavender, roots of valerian and sweet flag, as well as cinnamon (the cassia from the recipe above) and cloves.

Nicholas Culpepper, who in 1654 created what has been described as an "astrological-physical discourse of the vulgar herbs of this nation (England)," thought that wormwood "laid away among cloaths will make a moth scorn to meddle with cloaths as much as a lion scorns to meddle with a mouse." Perhaps wormwood gave the moths, as it does me, asthma

Southernwood was so valued and popular in France for the protection of clothes that the French called it "garde robe." Our southernwood is still a bit puny so it would not be a candidate for trimming. Perhaps it will find its way into next year's bags.

What cuttings from my garden will find their way into my moth bags? Banke's Herbal (1525) advised placing rosemary "among thy clothes and Bookes and Moths shall not destroy them." The big rosemary by the front door has grown beyond my wildest dreams and might profit from being cut back. Santolina wins a place - for the scent is strong and the plants are in desperate need of trimming.

I can't imagine why anyone would add valerian root to the mix. The dried root has all the fragrance of an unwashed sweat sock. Instead, I think leaves of our prolific mountain mint - the broad-leafed one - would add a strong, clean mint scent to the mixture. Tansy will certainly make the mix. There is lots of it growing by the door to the garage and even though this year I remembered to stake the plant early, it is still tumbling all over its neighbors.

The leaves and flowers of rosemary, santolina, mountain mint and tansy are cut and laid out on a tobacco basket. Those herbs tied in bundles along with lavender will dry quickly in the hot garage.

To make the bags, cut gingham, calico or fine netting into 10-inch-by-7-inch strips, then fold the strip length-wise so the inside of the material is facing out. You'll have a 10-by-3 1/2-inch rectangle. Stitch a seam a half-inch from one side and at the end. Turn the bag right side out and fold two inches of the open top of the bag to the inside. This finishes the top.

Fill loosely with the dried herbs. Crush 10 cloves and one stick of cinnamon and add to each bag. Tie with a ribbon one inch from the top making a loop for hanging. Tuck among your woolens or hang in your closets and moths be gone!

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