I just harvested the last of my abundant bee balm today. I planted bee balm seeds a couple of years ago and this summer they grew into a bush almost taller than me! It seemed quite fitting that it really blossomed out this year since it is our featured herb on HerbMentor.
Because I had such an abundance of it this year, I took the opportunity to make a variety of different herbal preparations with it. I adore it as a tea and it makes an incredibly delicious infused honey and a spicy vinegar to enjoy on salads.
Where I live up north, the seasons are changing and I am preparing for the cold and flu season. Past experience has shown me it is far better to have herbal preparations made in advance, rather than try to make them while sick.
That gave me the idea to make this into an oxymel preparation. What’s an oxymel? I’ll go into that in a bit. First let’s learn a little more about this spicy plant.
Move Over Thyme, North America Has its Own Powerful Native Spice
Bee balm is called by many names – sweet leaf, wild bergamot, horsemint, wild oregano, and oswego tea being a few examples – but all refer to the Monarda genus.
Endemic to North America and easily grown in the garden, this is one of our very own native culinary spices. Mostly spicy with a hint of sweetness, bee balm can be added to all sorts of dishes to give it a special local flavoring.
But don’t let the words “culinary spice” fool you. This is one of our most potent herbal remedies for all sorts of infections.
It can be used for bladder infections, yeast infections, topical fungal infections, as a steam for congested sinuses, as a mouth wash for gum infections and for a variety of symptomatic complaints of the cold and flu.
As an antimicrobial herb, it works wonderfully as a tea or infused honey on a sore and inflamed throat.
As a diaphoretic herb, it can support the fever process by increasing internal warmth while someone feels cold and is shivering. Bee balm is a diffusive herb. It brings heat from the core of the body to the periphery. If that sounds abstract to you, try drinking a cup of hot bee balm tea. You can literally feel the heat rise from the core of your body up to the skin and then dissipate. That’s diffusive!
Do you use oil of oregano for infections?
Before you reach for that expensive bottle of oil of oregano, think of bee balm!
Oil of Oregano is currently a popular item in alternative medicine for combating candida and various infections, but what most people do not know is that the active constituent of Oil of Oregano is present in large amounts in our own Monarda. For anything you might use Oil of Oregano for, you can substitute the prolific (and cheap) Monarda.
Oxymels are herbal preparations that date back as far as the ancient Greeks. They are made by combining herbs with both honey and vinegar.
These sweet and sour preparations are specific to the respiratory system and can be used for bronchial complaints, especially when there is a lot of mucous present – such as coughs that are thick with mucous.
I learned from herbalist Paul Bergner that William Cook, a Physiomedicalist of the 1800s, preferred vinegar as a menstruum for issues of the respiratory system. He felt that it concentrated the herb’s actions to the respiratory system.
Honey in itself offers us a wide range of benefits for coughs and sore throats. It’s anti-microbial, inhibiting the growth of pathogens as well as slightly expectorant. As most of us know, a spoonful of honey can soothe a sore throat.
What you’ll need…
- fresh or dried bee balm (bee balm is difficult to find in commerce; thyme, oregano or rosemary can be substituted in this recipe)
- organic apple cider vinegar
- local raw honey
You can use fresh herbs or dried herbs for this recipe. I harvested the leaves and flowers of my bee balm and then let it wilt for a couple of days.
Once it had lost some of its water content (wilted), I chopped it up and filled a jar 3/4 of the way full.
If you are using completely fresh herbs, you may want to fill the entire jar with herbs. If you are using dried herbs, I would start with filling it half full.
Now it’s time to add the honey and vinegar and there is some room to play here. I prefer my mixture to be less sweet, so I added about 1/3 of the jar full of honey…
…and the rest full of vinegar.
You can make this however you want and the more experimentation, the better. You could try half honey and half vinegar. Or even more honey than vinegar. Try making several batches in smaller jars to see what you like best.
Once you’ve got the honey and vinegar added, stir it well.
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 unusable.
I continue to stir mine for several days to make sure it’s all mixed together. After a bit of time, the honey and vinegar will mix together well, forming a consistent liquid.
Let this sit for at least two weeks, preferably for a month. Shake or stir it often during this time.
Once it’s infused for long enough (or when you get sick and need to use it!), you can strain off the herbal material OR you can leave it in. If you are using fresh herbs, it can be pleasant to leave them in. But sometimes dried herbs are better strained out.
How to Use Monarda Oxymel
This oxymel mixture can be used by the spoonful as needed for thick congested coughs, sore throats and general support during a cold or flu.
If you used fresh herbs, store this mixture in the fridge or a cool place. It should last for a year, possibly longer.
And if you are fortunate to not fall ill this year, try it in your own salad dressing mix or as part of a marinade on meats or vegetables.
Bee balm is safe for most people to use, but if you have special health conditions you may want to check with an herbalist before using it. It shouldn’t be used in large amounts by pregnant women.