by Ellie Martin
Monarda, also known as Bee Balm, Wild Bergamot, Horsemint, Wild Oregano, Sweet Mint
Monarda is a perennial, and usually grows to around 4 feet tall. As with other members of the mint family, it has squared stems and opposite leaves. The color of its' flowers are the easiest way to tell the different varieties apart, with the M. fistulosa flowers being a pretty violet or deep purple. The flowers also have an unusual shape to them, and have been referred to as "firework flowers". Although many species of Monarda can be used similarly, the most common variety used is Monarda fistulosa, which is spicier and hotter in its actions than the common garden variety, Monarda didyma. For both culinary and medicinal use, harvest the aerial parts of the plant- preferably while in flower (from June to September). The leaves are most commonly used, but the flowers are also great tasting, spicy, and highly effective.
This plant is called Wild Oregano with good reason. It has very similar attributes and is just as strong as oregano. It can be found in gardens throughout the US and Canada, but also grows wild in these same areas. Matthew Wood says that it is one of the 'primary healing plants native to North America' and it has been used by many different Native American tribes, including the Blackfoot, Ojibwa, Winnebago, Hopi and Cherokee.
As a member of the mint family, Monarda is similar to plants such as Peppermint, Thyme, and Lavender. These plants have anti-bacterial, nervine, and anti-inflammatory properties, and have been traditionally used for infection, digestive disturbances, and an array of other ailments. It is reported to be an emmenogogue, meaning it is said to have been used to bring on delayed menses and to move circulation in the reproductive tract (great for helping ease painful cramps with menses). For this reason, it should not be used in tea or tincture during pregnancy, but can still be eaten as a food.
Monarda is a wonderful plant to have in your medicine cabinet. It is gentle enough to be used in your spice collection, but it also has constituents that are strong enough to fight tough infections. The tea can be used to freshen the breath, but has also been traditionally used to fight infections in the mouth and gums. It could be a good medicine for day-to-day upset stomach, gas, and nausea, but also for heavy-duty work against diarrhea, vomiting, respiratory infection, and was said to have been used for cholera (2).
It is also a stimulating diffusive, which means that it is cooling to the core, and that it brings circulation to the surface or periphery of the body - to the skin. This causes excess heat at the skin level and causes the body to sweat, and this is a reaction that can be highly effective during times of fever and chills. It is reportedly specific for fevers coupled with cool, clammy skin.
Monarda may be used during cold and flu season in a variety of ways. It has been infused into honey for a sore throat, made into a tea to fight infection and relieve fever, or inhaled as a steam in order to loosen phlegm and flush out congestion in the respiratory tract. Externally, it has been used as a poultice, wash, or in a salve for burns, scrapes or rashes. According to Kiva Rose, it is also Styptic, which means that it can help to stop the bleeding by contracting the surrounding tissues and blood vessels (3).
Preparations & Applications
Monarda can be used in many forms; as a tincture, tea, vinegar, syrup, or added to your dinner recipe. Matthew Wood says that it is best paired with Sweet Marjoram for culinary purposes. This plant can be used both fresh and dried. When making a tea, steep the plant for anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.
Simple honey syrup
To soothe and heal coughs, sore throat and lungs.
1 canning jar, quality raw honey (it's good to use raw and unpasteurized honey for its powerful antibiotic qualities), and fresh Monarda flowers.
• Place Monarda flowers in the jar, then cover them completely with honey. Stir with a chopstick or long handled spoon to remove air bubbles.
• Cover jar and set in a sunny window for 4 to 6 weeks. That's it!
• You can either strain the honey from the flowers and compost the plant matter, or else leave the flowers in the honey.
• Store in a cool place away from direct light.
• Add the syrup to tea or take it straight. (3)
Because of its blood-moving characteristics, this plant should not be taken by women who are pregnant.
1. The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood
2. Bee Balm Featured Herb for Sept. and Oct 2011 by Rosalee de la Foret; www.herbmentor.com
3. Monarda Article; Feb 6th 2007, bearmedicineherbals.com