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Sweet Smell Of Repellent

November 16, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 45

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I was interested to read “Sweetgrass Compounds Repel Mosquitoes,” which noted that coumarin in sweetgrass can act as a mosquito repellent (C&EN, Aug. 24, page 30). This should not come as a big surprise because it was common hundreds of years ago to stuff mattresses with lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum) plants to repel fleas (and presumably other insects).

According to G. verum’s Wikipedia page, “In the past, the dried plants were used to stuff mattresses, as the coumarin scent of the plants acts as a flea killer.” Coumarin is responsible for the sweet smell of many plants, including sweetgrass.

Richard Laursen

Oct. 26, page 2: A letter from G. David Mendenhall included inaccurate statements about a fatal tert-butyllithium fire at the University of California, Los Angeles. Whether Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji was ever given an appropriate written procedure for the experiment is unknown. Also, according to a fire department report, Sangji did not try to extinguish the fire with hexanes; rather, the hexanes spilled and also ignited.


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