Cinnamon, black pepper and a trail of ants
Sarah-Lou Morris, CEO of Alfresco, talks about what inspired her to invent a natural anti-bug fragrance
It all started 18 years ago in Chelsea with cinnamon, black pepper and a trail of ants. At the time, I was working as a volunteer in Chelsea Physic Garden, one of my favourite places in London. I really enjoyed speaking to visitors from all over the world who were interested in gardening. I love herbs and essential oils, and had taken an aromatherapy course to get a better understanding of their healing properties. During my time as a gardening volunteer, I used to spend most of my time in the Australian section of the garden. Following in the footsteps of a famous explorer I was fascinated by the work of Joseph Banks, a British explorer and naturalist who joined Captain Cook's expedition to the South Pacific in 1768. In Australia he collected thousands of plant specimens and brought them back to Chelsea Physic Garden, using carefully designed wooden boxes. Banks was an explorer. I've always admired that quality in people and love exploring myself. And it was at Chelsea Physic Garden that I was inspired to discover an insect repellent based on the natural properties of essential oils. Eaten alive by midges and sandflies I've always been a five star Michelin meal for bugs. I was married to a Scot so spent lots of time around Aberdeen and Montrose in the summer. During picnics by rivers, I was plagued by midges - bitten all over by the critters, particularly around my ankles. And I vividly remember one visit to Miami. Just before the flight, I'd been sitting on the beach and hadn't noticed the sandflies. The bites swelled during the flight and I had eight hours of terrible itching all the way back to Heathrow. I'd never been able to find an insect & mosquito repellent that suited me. I particularly dislike the sharp citrus smells that dominate so many bug repellents. I wanted to create natural mosquito repellent that kept the bugs away, felt good on my skin and smelt good too! Keeping the bugs at bay
"Perfume is memory," says Sarah-Lou, as she smells lavender oil created by monks in France.
So I started testing the effect of different essential oils on ants at Chelsea Physic Garden. It wasn't very scientific. I'd put a little drop of essential oil on the ground and watch to see if the ants went up to it or avoided it. But I immediately saw that certain oils had a definite effect. For example, the ants clearly weren't keen on the smell of cinnamon or black pepper. Back at home, I noticed that if I sprayed certain blends of oils, bugs or wasps would come into the room and hang out. But other blends would make them zoom off straight away. After several weeks, I'd identified my own special blend of 22 essential oils that insects avoided, so I took that information to a perfume laboratory. Together, we created Alfresco, a perfume based on essential oils that repelled bugs but had a delicious spicy, floral oriental scent. Creating a sweet-smelling insect repellent Then Alfresco was tested by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine for efficacy. The results were very interesting. Their scientists said that yes, it was effective, but they also said that because Alfresco smells so pleasant compared to other insect repellents, people would like to use it. And that's half the battle. Eighteen years later, Alfresco has gathered thousands of fans around the world. I've discovered I'm not alone in wanting an insect repellent that feels and smells good, but really keeps those bugs at bay. As a natural explorer, though, I'm always looking for new ideas. The latest is our Alfresco Yes! haircare range of bug-repelling shampoo and conditioner. And who knows what we'll discover next?