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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Herb of The Week -- Bee Balm

The herb of the week this week is Bee Balm (monarda)
Monarda is a genus consisting of roughly 16 species of both annual and perennial plants also known as bee balm, horse mint or lemon mint (being, technically a member of the mint family), oswego tea, or bergamot.

Bee Balm is edible and medicinal, the entire plant above ground is edible used as a pot herb, and it is also used as a flavoring in cooked foods.

(pot·herb: A plant whose leaves, stems, or flowers are cooked and eaten or used as seasoning.)

This is a brand new addition to our garden this year. I had never grown it before, and had only heard of it briefly before last year.

I got our plant at a perennial swap this spring. A group of students from a botany class at the local high school grew several different plants and then brought them to the swap. Their mission, (or assignment, perhaps), was to educate people on the plants they had brought, then trade them for different plants, which they then had to take back to the school and study. So they didn't care what they traded for, as long as it was something they didn't already have.

I wish there had been such a fun class when I was in school, I may have paid attention more.

The plant that I have is reported to have bright red flowers, but it has not yet bloomed. Supposedly it blooms in June and July, if so, mine better hurry!

The variety with Red flowers is also called Oswego Tea. It was used by American colonists in place of English Tea after the Boston Tea Party, when they threw the English tea in the harbor to protest the high taxes imposed on it by the British.

Bee balm is considered a good plant to grow with tomatoes, as it is said to improve both health and flavor. It also is a good companion plant in general, attracting pollinators and some predatory/parasitic insects that hunt garden pests.

It can be grown from seeds or cuttings, and will grow quickly and if not kept in control, can become aggressive. Like most herbs, it prefers full sun to partial shade, and likes well drained, slightly alkali soil. It can be grown in clumps or masses for a nice effect as a background plant. Planting 18 inches apart would allow plenty of room.

Although not widely used as a culinary herb, largely because it is not really well known or understood, Bee Balm has a flavor slightly citrus and very slightly reminiscent of mint and oregano. It is good with fruit, in salads, in jellies, or with lamb, or wild game. It can also be used in teas or as a garnish. The flowers are edible and are often used with fruit compotes or as a garnish for desserts.
Our Bee Balm, right after it was planted

Medicinally, generally as a tea, it is reported to have beneficial properties that include improving general digestion, easing flatulence, improving appetite, relieving colic, reducing bloating, alleviating menstrual cramping, and reducing nausea and vomiting.

Externally, bee balm is a wonderful aromatherapy herb. Try placing a handful of fresh leaves in a cloth and positioning it under hot running bath water for a relaxing, lemony scented bath. Deeply breathing in the steam may also help relieve cold symptoms such as sore throat, fever, and congestion.

Bee Balm has also shown some merit as an antiseptic and antibacterial, and a clean cloth can be soaked in a tea and used as a compress, or an ointment can be made to help relieve pain and speed healing for minor wounds, insect stings, and for relief of eczema, psoriasis, cold sores, and clearing up acne.

There is some literature that suggests that Bee Balm should not be ingested if there is a history of thyroid problems, and of course, anyone who is pregnant or nursing should use care and seek advise of a professional before using any herb medicinally.

Although Bee Balm leaves can be rubbed directly on the skin as a mosquito repellent, on some people it may cause phototoxicity (sensitivity to the sun), so using undiluted is not recommended without first testing on a small area of skin.
A month after we planted it

Bee Balm uses in folklore and magic are surprisingly rather sketchy and hard to find.
It is ideal for purifying and relaxation spells, when leaves and flowers
are tied in a cloth and placed under hot running bathwater. Because of this, it is considered a good addition to spells or rituals concerning peace, happiness, contentment, restfulness, and ridding oneself of negative energies or hexes.

Bee Balm is bound to Air and Mercury, and due to the influence of both of these (Air for intellect and Mercury for success), it is believed to be a good herb for money and success in business-related spells. Carry a few leaves in your wallet to attract money, or rub leaves on the skin before a business meeting or job interview for success.

Of course, Bee balm is an excellent herb either alone or combined with other herbs for any spell or ritual that calls for a tea or infusion, and it tastes good too!

On that note, I think I'll go pick some, rub it on my hands for money, Make some delicious tea, for peace, happiness, contentment, and see if I can rid myself of any negative hexes that are hovering around. If you see any wild hexes flying away from me, please duck.

Our Bee Balm tonight

I just have to add, I had never tasted this plant, but when I went out to take this picture, I broke some off, so I brought it in and tasted it.

Wow! It really has a unique flavor. Kind of an "Italian herb, mixed with Lemon Balm" flavor. Now that I know what it tastes like, I see myself using this one a lot!

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I enjoyed your post. I grow this plant too and mine seems to be thriving even though it is not planted in an optimum setting. Too shady. But I say leave well enough alone! Maybe I will take cuttings and plant some in a better place. I could probably dig some roots right now. Anyway, I do always enjoy brushing my hands along the leaves and the scent on my skin. I didn't realize it was edible although I did know it could be used in herbal concoctions such as skin cream. Thanks for enlightening me.