How Mosquitos Have Shaped What We Eat and Drink

‘The Mosquito’ author Timothy C. Winegard chronicles the history of ingestible repellents, from coffee to gin & tonics

Dr. Timothy C. Winegard
Elemental
Published in
5 min readAug 5, 2019

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A mosquito about to fly onto a person’s hand.
Credit: Stephen Dalton/Nature Picture Library/Getty Images

TThe mosquito is our deadliest predator. Researchers have suggested that the mosquito is responsible for the deaths of roughly half of the 108 billion people who have ever lived. With her (only females bite) catalogue of diseases including malaria, West Nile, Zika, dengue, and yellow fever, she has driven the course of human history by deciding the fates of empires and nations, crippling economies, and determining the outcome of pivotal wars including the American Revolution and Civil War. Last year she caused approximately 830,000 deaths, far outpacing any other animal as the most effective killer of humans. But the mosquito scratched her indelible mark on the modern world order in many other ways, including on our taste buds.

From our hominid ancestral evolution in Africa to the present day, we have experimented with a cornucopia of organic remedies to repel the mosquito’s merciless offensive and to neutralize her myriad diseases. As the malaria parasite survived the evolutionary jump from ape to human, so too did the knowledge of naturopathic treatments for its symptoms. Chimpanzees still chew the mululuza shrub, as did our ancestors, to…

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Dr. Timothy C. Winegard
Elemental

Dr. Timothy Winegard holds a PhD from the University of Oxford and is a professor of history and political science at Colorado Mesa University.