Jun 272009
 

Monsoon season is a magical time in the Southwest. The air grows heavy, the clouds roll in and the thunder rumbles across the mountains. Within days of the arrival of the first storms, the golds and sages of the semi-arid woodlands, grasslands and meadows erupt into a riot of vibrant wildflowers and lush green growth. Although Summer is our busiest guest season, and I can’t keep caught up even with 13 hour work days, I simply can’t resist the siren call of the Canyon to come out and play.

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One of the most alluring of all the Canyon’s Summer plants, is the gorgeous Beebalm, known locally as Wild Oregano or Oregano de la Sierra, named for its strong, spicy flavor. Matthew Wood also notes that it has also been called Rose Balm by some authors, which of course is a name I like a great deal! While there are many varieties, both wild and ornamental, of Beebalm in North America, the most common spp. here is Monarda fistulosa var. menthaefolia, although we are also blessed with the presence of M. pectinata and M. punctata.

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Any of the spp. make a wonderful spice to use anywhere you would usually add Oregano, with which it has much in common. Our Beebalm tends to be spicier than Oregano, with a slightly buttery taste and an extra layer of lemon-tanged pungency that makes it excellent in beans, marinades, stews, chile, tomato sauces and many other dishes. The fresh flowers with their sweeter but still very spicy taste are wonderful in salsas, chutneys, many sauces and certainly as an infused honey!

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Each year, to gather our annual harvest of Beebalm for both medicine  and food, we head up a long winding arroyo that runs next to the mesa into the higher, moister mountains. Halfway up is a special place we call the FaeryGrounds, a rippling staircase of crystal-studded black and red rock. It’s here where the Beebalm grows the richest and thickest, bursting from crevices and and cliff-sides in a vivid display of pink and purple flower fireworks.

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There’s no doubt that Beebalm is a magical flower, and one that specifically helps us to see the enchantment of the everyday. Its spicy-sweet taste and extraordinary blossoms bring us back to the present and urges us to notice the beauty and sweetness of life. This is a plant of movement, and excels at shifting circulation and energy outward and up in the body while clearing stagnation and heat.

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As a nervine, Beebalm is lightening and opening, and promotes a strong sense of euphoria, joy and calm. It’s a wonderful remedy for those with depression, sadness or anxiety based in stagnant or old emotions and situations. Combine with Rose for feelings of self-doubt, nagging depression and a feeling of not being able to move on from deeply sustained pain.

It does have the potential to be too diffusive and upward moving for some individuals, especially those with a tendency to be ungrounded, spacey and are already too diffused and uncentered. I have seen more than one vata/airy type person nearly float away on butterfly wings upon simply breathing deeply of Beebalm’s scent. Perfect for those people who have forgotten we can fly but sometimes uncomfortable for those who have trouble staying rooted.

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Further up the wash, past the FaeryGrounds, above the Butterfly Pool and among higher elevation plants such as Mountainspray, Wild Valerian, Gooseberry and Oregon Grape Root are the gorgeous Castle Rocks (as seen as above). Yet no matter how high you climb, there’s even more Beebalm gracing the mountain sides.

Beebalm is prolific but it doesn’t give the impression of working hard to keep its foothold in this rugged terrain, it simply seems to explode out of rock ledges and gravel with the immense ease and grace of someone well acquainted with their power and abilities. Even after the most ferocious floods and during long term droughts, this wildflower insists upon expression and fruition, predictably bursting into bloom every June.

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The culmination of Beebalm’s profound moving powers and it’s spicy oils results in it being one of the most effective herbs I’ve ever used in nearly any case of infection. My years of alliance with this plant have resulted in literally dozens of case studies illustrating its effectiveness in the treatment of MRSA and many other antibiotic resistant infections in myriad manifestations. This all began with reading Matt Wood’s original reference to the plant’s use for UTIs and chronic yeast infections in his classic Book of Herbal Wisdom. Experience and extrapolation has taught me that Beebalm’s usefulness extends to almost any infection, whether chronic or acute. I especially like it combined with Alder for the additional lymphatic and metabolic support.

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This gorgeous flower is also an effective and multifaceted diaphoretic, the spicy tea works wonderfully in many cold/flu/fever blends. Likewise, it’s a prime digestive herb in many cases of stagnation, fermentation and general gut inflammation.

Keep in mind as well, that Beebalm also make a great poultice, especially for for burns. Tincture, fomentation, infused honey and vinegar also make a great burn soother, especially when combined with Rose and/or Evening Primrose.  I adore Beebalm flower honey just for its incredible taste, but it is phenomenal as a burn dressing (including burned tongues!), cough syrup or sweet addition to a hot diaphoretic tea.

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In the middle of the arroyo, very near the Faerygrounds grows a beautiful old Velvet Ash tree whose roots were left partially exposed by our last large flood. In the gnarled fingers of the tree have collected stones, crystals, leaves and bits of wood and plants. The result is a bit of enchantment bound together by the elements and certainly a gift to us humans who happen upon it.

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Back home again, fresh from the river where the arroyo finally empties out, with my arms full of the bounty of wild land.  To read even more about this special indigenous American herb, you can also read my monograph on the Medicine Woman site.

All pics (c) 2009 Kiva Rose, except the portrait of me at the end which is (c)2009 Jesse Wolf Hardin

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Additional Reading:

Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore

The Earthwise Herbal (New World Plants) by Matthew Wood

The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood

The Practice of Traditional Herbal Medicine by Matthew Wood

Personal correspondence with jim mcdonald

 

  9 Responses to “Flowers From the FaeryGrounds: The Enchantment of Beebalm”

  1. Thanks for the lovely post on monarda! I just harvested leaves this week on my one plant… hopefully I will find it in my mountains this summer. Funny, I had forgotten you had written a monograph on this when I asked you about this plant last week.

    On the monograph page, you talk about using it for yeast infections. In what form? Strong tea as a douche, or what?

  2. Hi Kristen! Tincture internally, 1/2 – 1 dropper every few hours until symptoms start to subside then tapering off and ceasing a couple days after symptoms are completely gone. If the yeast infections are chronic, I recommend using the beebalm with a good mucus membrane tonic (bidens is nice), and if there’s lymphatic stagnation, then add some Alder or Redroot (or other appropriate lymphatic).

    Strong beebalm tea can also work for this, but most people have a hard time drinking that much spicy tea for several days.

  3. I love this post. Informative and beautiful!

    I also especially love those tree roots.

  4. So 1/2 -1 dropper is considered a “safe” standard dosage? I have never heard of anyone using beebalm until I found your site. Fascinating! Did you also use it this strong of a dose when you were treating your tooth infection?

  5. Safe? Probably half an ounce would be technically safe of this particular herb, but anywhere from 2 drops to a dropperful is what a I consider an “effective” dose. 1/2 dropper isn’t a particularly strong dose at all if you compare to much of the herbal literature, and yes, that’s about the dose I’ve used personally for several different infections personally.

    Beebalm isn’t particular to me, it’s a well known herb used by indigenous and folk practitioners across North America, from Michael Moore to Matt Wood to David Winston.

  6. my family has been harvesting oregano de la sierra for generations here in new mexico. it’s value is like gold! we use it in cooking (posole is my fav!) & for healing. we use the whole plant- flowers, leaves, & stems (in tea). is there any part of the plant that is more powerful? i’m very drawn to the flower as a spiritual symbol. i feel that is where the plant’s magic is. we just harvested some last week up in the jemez mountains along with some beautiful wild onions & boletus mushrooms!

  7. Well, my experience is that the flowers are the most effective, especially for acute infections etc. I feel that the plant’s magic is throughout its entire being, but the flower is certainly very engaging and does tell us a lot about the herb.

    It certainly is delicious in posole, we use it in many many of our recipes, and use the flower honey for many sweets. A truly versatile herb!

  8. Is beebalm safe for use during pregnancy or while nursing?

    • Michael Moore says:
      CONTRAINDICATIONS: None, although the stimulation of uterine secretions may be inappropriate in a delicate pregnancy.

      —–
      This is my approach as well, it seems to be a very safe herbs as long as its taken in whole plant form in reasonable doses.

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