This time of year in southern New Mexico is dry and every breeze feels as if it’s been released through the open door of a furnace. The grass dries to a golden brown and the river slows to a trickle. Even here in the mountains the heat can make it hard to move, and it’s tempting to just lay in the river’s remaining current in the cool shade of the Alders. The monsoons will hopefully bring us abundant rains in only a few weeks, but in the meantime flowers are blooming in the cool crevices of the arroyos and shaded mountainsides. So just the other morning Rhiannon and I decided to hike up the big wash next to the mesa we live on here in the canyon. The wash is sheltered, and within it grows many plants usually only found at higher elevations.
Each year this wash is where we harvest our favorite (for medicinal purposes) species of Beebalm, Monarda fistulosa var. menthifolia. This particular species is especially spicy and buttery (as compared to the half a dozen other species growing in the Gila at least), leaving a numbing oil on the tongue when ingested. Locals call it Oregano de la Sierra in reference to its habit of growing only in the mountains and less in the lower elevations of the Southwest. As the name also suggests, this Monarda has distinctly Oregano like flavor and also has similar medicinal and culinary uses. I’ve written extensively about Beebalm already, but I can’t emphasize what an important and powerful plant this is!
Beebalm’s fiery diffusiveness is the perfect match to Alder’s sweet riparian coolness in an anti-infective formula where I frequently use 1 part Beebalm to 4 parts of Alder for internal use in even acute infections. The two together (alongside other situationally appropriate herbs) can frequently heal even the worst infections when dosed properly, from raging cellulitis to persistent systematic MRSA to painful UTIs. The plant has numerous other applications as well, but it’s power in regards to microbial infections is certainly worth noting.
While the wash was violently flooded during last Summer’s monsoons, and much of the plants has been buried under boulders, there was still a decent amount of Beebalm growing from the banks and walls of the wash, allowing Rhiannon and I to gather a basket full to process for food and medicine. Being such an annual event, I also have pictures from years past and had to stop to reminisce over how much Rhiannon has grown since we first began harvesting this aromatic plant each June… she’s gone from a tiny imp to a bewitching young woman who, I might add, still has plenty of imp even as a nearly grown girl.
We gathered until the sun was high and it was time to flee back down the wash to the waiting river. In the shade of a fallen Alder tree, we floated on the surface of the waning water, staring up at the lapis blue sky and listening to the breeze blow through the clattering leaves of the surrounding Cottonwoods. Wild Grapes (Vitis arizonica) dangled from the branches, tempting us with its still green fruit, while the scent of Datura wilting in the heat created a hypnotic counterpoint to the scent of wild mountain water flowing around us.
We took our basket of Beebalm home to separate leaves from flowers, creating honey elixir and tincture with the flowers while the leaves will be ground into pesto and dried to be used as a spice all year long. While we await the monsoons, we’ll savor the buttery heat of the Oregano de la Sierra, the taste of the land itself in Summer.