Sweet spicy Monarda (Monarda fistulosa and sp.) also known as Bee Balm, Sweet Leaf, Red Oswego (red monarda didyma) blooms late June through August, depending upon where you live. In my state, Kansas, early July is the perfect time of year for monarda to be in bloom, because I think the tubular flower appearance resembles firecrackers bursting. According to herbalist Matthew Wood, monarda is one of the primary healing plants native to North America and has long been used as a primary medicine by Native Americans. After The Boston Tea Rebellion, colonists blended home brews called “Liberty Teas” created from orchard fruits, native and garden plants such as monarda, goldenrod, chamomile, and spicebush. The different monarda varities have similar flower shapes, but vary a lot in color from vibrant pink to purple to scarlet red. In Kansas, our eastern half of the state has the lavender-purple colored monarda (Monarda fistulosa) , while the western half has the white flowered spotted Monarda punctata, sometimes known as horse mint.
Wild monarda is a drought tolerant perennial that inhabits prairie pastures, meadows, stream banks and roadsides. It will cultivate from seed in weeks or you can get plant starts. Fragrant blossoms of “bee balm” attract pollinators, especially bees and butterflies. I grow Monarda fistulosa and as blooms are in full peak and very aromatic, I harvest the flowering tops and leaves (upper 2/3 of plant). I make a jar of tincture/alcohol extract with them. I like to also make some monarda infused oil for topical uses. Flower and leaf infused honey, elixirs, vinegar or syrup are quite nice and aromatic for both healing and culinary uses. Finally, it works just fine hung upside down in bunches to dry for later use in teas or preparations. With a multitude of uses, the question is not so much what can I make with my monarda, but deciding where to begin!
All Mints (Lamiaceae/Labiatae family) including monarda have the benefit of having both stimulating and relaxing/sedating, as well as warming and cooling attributes. Think about how mint’s aromatics, due to the presence of volatile oils, can cool, tingle and refresh your mouth or open your airways. The smell of bee balm or rosemary can invigorate you when you feel tired and sluggish. All Mints awaken and stimulate. At the same time, mint members can calm, relax, and sedate, like sweet leaf, lavender or lemon balm. Likewise, mints have a dual warming or cooling effect, such as to break a sweat, lower a fever, or calm inflammation and ease pain.
Monarda is anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anesthetic, and anti-fungal . As topical applications, I use the fresh leaves and flowers to create infused oils or either fresh or dried for compresses and poultices. Monarda relieves swelling, eliminates infection, reduces irritation, and eases pain of wounds, sprains, bruises, burns, rashes. Infusing sweet leaf in witch hazel or rubbing alcohol makes a nice foot liniment to rub on sore,tired feet or to improve poor circulation. You can also make a foot soak by placing fresh or dried plant in a basin, pouring hot water over it, allowing it to steep, and then cooling it sufficiently before soaking feet.
To ease women’s menstrual cramps and discomforts, I recommend monarda infused (not essential) oil to rub on the lower abdomen. Herbalist Robin Rose Bennett suggests rubbing oil on the abdominal pelvic area in a circular motion : “my sister the moon sings her song to my womb.” Women are wombed-ones, we’moon and monarda can combine with other plant infused oils, such as moonwort/mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), to offer moontime comfort. Monarda as a tea or alcohol extract/tincture, was considered an excellent reproductive tonic and was given as a gift to young women to regulate and improve their cycles. It has also been employed traditionally to bring on delayed menses. Caution: Due to its stimulating effect on the uterus and its blood-moving characteristics, monarda should not be taken by women who are pregnant.
Matthew Wood considers sweet leaf/monarda a valuable remedy for taking internal heat from the body, including urinary tract infections with symptoms of severe burning and inflammation. Monarda will help cool the irritated membranes while also eliminating the infection.
Bee balm is excellent for treating systemic candida (yeast infections, thrush, impetigo) Especially if caught in the early stages, Monarda will keep the yeast infection from ever getting off the ground. Matthew Wood, Margi Flint and other herbalists have shared numerous experiences of employing sweet leaf as a yeast infection remedy. Matthew Wood encourages herb micro doses (1-3 drops, 1-3 times day) for many conditions. Suggested dose by Kiva Rose Hardin is 20-30 drops of the tincture every two hours for the first few days, and then taper off as symptoms disappear. You can also use an infusion of the dried leaves with similar results. Oil of Oregano is highly publicized for combating candida and various infections; the active constituent of Oil of Oregano is present in large amounts in our native monarda, and makes a less costly, abundant, sustainable substitute.
A gentle but effective nervine, sweet leaf acts upon the nervous system in a soothing way, and can be used as a calmitive and mood lifter for anxiety,restlessness, mild to seasonal depression, much like lemon balm. It is quite gentle and non-addictive, not acting as an outright sedative so much as a physical reminder to relax,smile and appreciate the beauty in life . Herbalist Matt Wood has successfully employed sweet leaf for nervous system related disorders such as Meniere’s disease and tinnitis.
Monarda’s anti-viral, antibacterial and diaphoretic (sweat inducing) properties make it beneficial for any cold or flu, especially those accompanied by coughing, sore throat, chest congestion and fever. Monarda may be used during cold and flu season in a variety of ways. It has been infused into honey to soothe sore throat, made into a tea (or as tincture) to fight infection and relieve fever, or inhaled as a steam in order to loosen phlegm and flush out congestion in the respiratory tract. In addition to tinctures,teas, I like to add monarda with elderberry or other herbs for winter ills into elixirs and oxymels.
Monarda (Bee Balm, Sweet Leaf) Preparations:
Fresh herbs are best for the tinctures and oils .
Making Tincture/alcohol Extract Herbs prepared in vodka, brandy, or other liquors, or vinegar, are called tinctures. Dosage: Tincture dosage is widely variable. Experiment with caution and consult references.
- Choose the peak monarda flowers/leaf top 1/3 of plant usually.
- Look through the plant material and discard any damaged parts.
- Do not wash any part of the plant (except when we tincture plant roots).
- Chop the plant –except flowers and delicate plants.
- Fill a jar nearly to the top with the plant material. Allow ½ inch space.
- Then fill the jar to the top with 100 proof vodka ( vinegar, or the spirit of your choice). Make sure the plant is covered with liquid—no floating parts above liquid.
- Cap the jar tightly.
- Label the jar with the name of the plant, the part of the plant used, the type of the spirit used, and the date. Example: Monarda fistulosa, aerial flower/leaf, 100 proof vodka, July 5,2017.
- Top up the liquid level the next day.if the plant is not covered.
- Allow plant and alcohol to mingle together for six weeks or more.
- Decant the tincture (strain the alcohol off and return plant to earth) and it is ready to use.
- Pick the peak monarda flowers and leaves on a dry, sunny day. Do not wash any part of the plant. Moisture can ruin your oil.
- Completely fill a clean, very dry jar with the flowers/leaves. Make sure you have enough monarda for the size jar you use. Don’t fill a jar half way .
- Slowly pour extra virgin olive oil into the jar, poking with a chopstick or knife to release air and make sure the oil penetrates into all layers of the plant. Add enough oil to thoroughly cover all the monarda and fill the jar near to the top, leaving no more than ½ inch air space.
Extra virgin olive oil tends to go rancid less than some oils, but some people like to include the contents of a Vit. E capsule or drops of E to also prevent oil spoilage. I’ve known others to use a pinch of slippery elm.
- Screw on a lid.
- Label the jar with the name of the plant, part used, the kind of oil used, and the date. Example: Monarda didyma leaf and flower, olive oil, July 7, 2017.
- Keep the jar of infused oil at normal room temperature. Do not put in the sun. Sun will cause the jar to sweat and the condensation moisture will lead to the monarda oil getting moldy, furry and spoil. Oils may ooze from the lid, so sit on a surface that will not be ruined by seeping oil. Keep in a place out of heat, sunlight. Do not refrigerate either….it can cause moisture as well.
- Decant the infused oil in six weeks. Oil held in the plant material after the decanting can be extracted. I usually strain oil through a sieve and then press plant with a flat side of a spoon. For your own use, you can sometimes pick up the plant and hand squeeze or wring out the oil.
- Store at cool normal room temperature in a cupboard.
For making salves, beeswax is usually added to thicken.
Place the flowers in a jar. Filling and packing the jar lightly.
Once the jar is full, pour apple cider vinegar over the plant. I use Braggs organic raw vinegar.
Place a lid on the jar. Use a plastic canning jar lid, as vinegar will corrode metal. If you use metal, place wax paper between the metal and the jar before screwing the lid on.
Label the jar, with the name, date and where gathered or how to use etc..
Place the jar in a dark place.
Strain in 4-6 weeks. Store in a dark place.
Blend with olive oil for salads, soak your feet in a diluted foot bath to clear up athlete’s feet, or see oxymel below. Multiple uses!
Monarda Honey (do not use honey for children under age 1)
Use: To soothe and heal coughs, sore throat and lungs. Support digestive health like other mints. Added to tea or water to drink to relieve swollen joint,inflammation,pain.
Select a glass jar,canning or etc.. washed and dried, size to fit your amount of monarda; quality raw honey (it’s good to use raw and unpasteurized honey for its powerful antibiotic qualities), and fresh Monarda flowers.
- Place peak bloom Monarda flowers in the jar, then cover them completely with honey. Stir with a chopstick or long handled spoon to remove air bubbles. Make sure all flowers are covered over tops with honey and jar is mostly full.
• Place lid on and sit it in a space outside of direct sunlight..kitchen cupboard or etc. 4 to 6 weeks.
• You can either strain the honey from the flowers and compost the plant matter, or else leave the flowers in the honey. To strain flowers off, warm gently: place the jar with the lid on in a pan of water. Heat the water until it’s steaming, then turn the heat down to low. Let the honey sit in this hot water for about 10-15 minutes until the honey is thin and pourable. Strain and enjoy!
- Store your monarda honey in a cool place away from direct light.
• You can add the syrup to tea or take it straight
Nice culinary uses too!
Monarda Honey: Next Step Elixir and/or Oxymels
As you make a monarda honey, you can always decide to create an elixir or oxymel too. An elixir is made with equal parts brandy—I prefer– (or vodka) and honey. An oxymel is made with equal parts apple cider vinegar and honey.
I chop my monarda flower and leaf up a bit, then fill a jar. Next, for an elixir, I pour honey over it then equal part of brandy. 1:1 ratio is a good start and then you can adjust according to your taste after that. The same preference goes for the apple cider vinegar to honey ratio in oxymels.
- Anytime you make a vinegar preparation..Use a plastic lid to cover the oxymel or use a metal lid but put wax paper in between the metal and the liquid. Vinegar will corrode metal and make your oxymel or product unusable.
Elixirs and oxymels both follow honey procedure of releasing air bubbles, cap, out of sun, sit for at least 3-4 weeks, and strain.
Due to its stimulating effect on the uterus and its blood-moving characteristics, monarda 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
4. Susun Weed www.susunweed.com
5. Robin Rose Bennett https://www.robinrosebennett.com