Q. I worked at Mosquito Hill Nature Center in the middle of a swamp in Wisconsin. The mosquitoes there are bird size.

To eliminate the bump and itch of a mosquito bite, use saliva. You have to put it on immediately after the bite. I tell the students “swat then spit.” An enzyme in saliva neutralizes the mosquito poison.

A. With West Nile virus spreading in so many states, we think mosquito bite prevention is the first step. DEET is the recognized standard, but some new repellents also are effective. Look for the ingredients picaridin (Cutter Advanced, some Off! products, Natrapel) or oil of lemon eucalyptus (Off! Botanicals, Coleman Botanicals, Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus, Repel Lemon Eucalyptus).

Here is another natural approach from a reader: “Years ago, before going with friends on a backpacking trip in Michigan, I put a garlic bulb in a glass container and microwaved it for 45 seconds at 60 percent power. Then I put the garlic bulb in a bag and took it with me.

“Each day I ate a clove or two (delicious). The mosquitoes stayed away. My friends who tried it had the same result. Since garlic aroma is released through the skin, we theorized that the odor kept them away.”

Despite this and similar anecdotes, a scientific study did not find that eating garlic protected against mosquito bites (Medical and Veterinary Entomology, March 2005).


Q. What can you tell me about using magnesium as a sleep aid? I think I read about it in your newspaper column but could not find the information again. Do you have a guide you can send me?

A. Magnesium has been used to help control nighttime leg cramps that wake people up (American Family Physician, Aug. 15, 2012). One small study in an Italian nursing home found that magnesium supplements together with melatonin and zinc at bedtime improved sleep quality (Journal of the American Geriatric Society, January 2011).

To learn more about magnesium and other nondrug approaches to overcoming insomnia, you will find our Guide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep helpful. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (66 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. I-70, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website:

Another reader reported this experience:

“I have suffered from episodes of insomnia for years and have tried many remedies without relief. A friend suggested magnesium (250 mg) at bedtime. Magnesium has helped my insomnia more than anything else I’ve ever tried. There are still occasional nights when I don’t sleep well, but they are few and far between.”


Q. I started drinking organic sencha green tea to reduce the inflammation causing my arthritis pain. To my surprise, drinking three cups a day cleared up 90 percent of my psoriasis. I love the taste. When I told my dermatologist about this, he said drug companies are now experimenting with the compounds in green tea to make a medicine for psoriasis.

A. “Sencha” is the term for Japanese green tea made without grinding the leaves into powder, as is typical for “matcha” green tea. Green tea is rich in polyphenol compounds, and a study in mice found that these can reduce psoriasis-like skin lesions (Experimental Dermatology, August 2007).