Wild Bee Balm ~ Monarda fistulosa
The time is now around here as Wild Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa) waves in the heat of summer with full blooms and is beginning to initiate her petal fall season. This wild species continues to teach me after over 20 years of walking together, and even naming my first herbal business, Monarda Herbal Apothecary, in honor of the vast medicine that continues to be whispered from this beauty. In herbal school here we tease out the topic of 'What is medicine?' with those coming to learn in-person about our original plant medicine system. Often each student carries a vital piece to this complex topic and we all walk away deeper in thought and understanding of just exactly what medicine is. What might it be to you?
When it comes to Bee Balm, also called Monarda by many, the medicine is more than just physical. Yes this can be a challenging concept for some, but I know many of you comfortably speak this language with me and I'm grateful you're all here visiting my world a bit. May I explain a bit of what I've learned from Bee Balm in short form? Yes, a huge challenge for me, but I try anyway! I share the wild food recipe below for it's an outrageous meal changer every single time we whip some up.
Wild Bee Balm Medicine
Such a huge, gorgeous, and potent topic here and surely this was woven into the business aspect of my learning from Bee Balm, shared below. On the physical level Bee Balm is masterful with microbial boundaries. While not the first plant to think of for immune support, it is up there on the list for boosting the immune response while creating favorable internal environments for maintaining and repairing areas that have been hit hard. Bee Balm remains at the top of my list of plants to support recovery from surgeries and invasive medical procedures where tissues need antibiotic and anti-inflammatory actions to bring things back to our original or new baseline of function.
Honoring our unsaid 'NOs'
Here is where Bee Balm shines bright as a force to be reckoned with. Many who suffer from chronic candida often come around to the aspect of truth on harboring unsaid 'NO-s' somewhere in their life. It's a personal path to this negotiation table and one no healer can give or force on the one seeking healing. Each person gets there in their own time. Bee Balm often looks covered with a powdery mildew appearance late in the season that tells the story of it's medicine within the 'Doctrine of Signatures' to the strong anti-fungal properties it carries as well. Yes, consider Bee Balm if you are walking with chronic systemic or localized fungal recurrent candida infections. While not the total answer, Bee Balm supports all levels of walking towards re-calibration with this microbial imbalance.
Channeling Excess Fire
Have you ever felt the temple of a loved one who doesn't register a fever on a thermometer yet, but you instinctively know it's coming and can feel it brewing at the temples and see it in the eyes? We can hone these assessment skills with time while learning the fine art of managing fever. I LOVE teaching this topic to my herb students! So many people fear fever and the best way to quell the fear is to learn the art of managing and understanding it. Fever is such a masterful healing agent. Modern medicine is quite intent on squashing fever anytime it shows up though I have met a few docs that embrace the process as a healing phenomena and not a personal failure. Bee Balm helps to bring this fire to the surface and works so well for the person who even moves to high temperatures rapidly with reddened face and body, rigors (violent shaking to make temperatures rise high and fast), with no sweating. This internal heat or fire is looking for a way out and the body knows it will kill and drag the detritus with it. Bee Balm opens the channels, re-sets the person's thermostat to what I call a 'therapeutic bake', or supports a peak of high temperature for a few hours and then induces sweats for release, thus being called a diaphoretic. The general rule for fever is 'not too long and not too hot'.
Business Partner Plant Ally
The training of an Herbalist is different depending on where one studies. Partnering with one plant for an extended period is my training and while you learn of many plants, you go deep one plant at a time and sometimes for years with just one. Only then can one stand truly confident in the medicine the plant carries. Contrary to popular belief, it's not about knowing many with encyclopedic memory but knowing one's handful of plants deeply that makes one truly knowledgeable for each plant has so many areas of application for the artful practice of herbal healing.
I learned early to ask for an ally plant, one that would guide my practice of business along with the art of healing for my budding first herbal business that went on to thrive for 15 years as a community apothecary. This is part of how I teach my students 'the business of herbs' still who choose to enter any business aspect of herbalism. It works. Not all great herbalists are great at business and not all herbalists who are great at business are great at herbalism either. We work on both aspects needed to thrive and while I do not have all the answers, I walk candidly with my students through the many facets that unfurl in both areas.
So Bee Balm/Monarda stepped up for me. The details of why and how are shared with my current herb students with the understanding that it's not Bee Balm for all who head into business. It's about each calling in support from a plant and that it's different for each of us. Any plant can and will present itself should one call for such a relationship and it's completely dependent on the situation. What I can share is that each 5 year business plan manifested in 4 years and when a fork in the growth appeared which can present in many ways, such as do I attract more wholesale or retail, teaching, or consulting business, why am I frustrated with how things are happening and what solutions are available, and even financial decisions such as paying myself more even when it looked non-logical and it created a sort of vacuum effect that pulled more income forth. These leaps of faith and logical next steps were navigated by regular check-ins (engage intuition with meditations, dream, and journey work tools) with Monarda and remained my first course of action always. Each fork was navigated well and I believe were based on my true gifts being part of the equation versus molding a business from some outside force of what one thinks should happen. I believe it's coined today as 'creative, intuitive entrepreneurialism'. I would say for me that Bee Balm supported my walk to self-reliance through respectful partnering with many forces.
Wild Food for the Soul
Yes, and to support this I share the recipe below with you. Bringing wild foods to the table is such a loving act of kindness through supporting every level of who we are. Foraging feeds the ancient soul knowing in our bones as we travel to patches we know our ancestors or the ancestors of this land traveled to for nourishment. We all have a wild side that needs to be nourished and this is one way to coax it forth. Nutritionally packed with goodness means we don't need much in volume to bring the nourishment deep into the body. These are original foods and the body remembers, processes and assimilates these foods quickly and efficiently to build our multi-leveled strength. So yes, invite Bee Balm to your table.
Connection to the Ancestors of this Land
Being of Native decent is by no means a prerequisite to knowing the plants native to this land. While many of us are, knowing the native plants where you live is truly a key to connecting to Nature. Matt Woods, Herbalist, shares a beautiful teaching he received from his Native American teacher about how there are actually four sub species of Wild Bee Balm that they distinguish between depending on the medicine needed. Each is identifiable by taste differences that scientists still refuse to acknowledge and document as such. Listen closely to these teachings. They came about from a medicine person listening closely to Bee Balm and observing keenly how it works in the body (psst... scientists do this intuitive, 'I had a hunch' work too but many choose to take all the credit personally). Remember that the plants are evolving and changing just as we are and so it still remains our unfolding joy to step into this responsibility within the work to listen deeply. In deed it is how we've learn everything about these magnificent beings who walk along with us through time.
How about some Wild Bee Balm in your belly...
Chimichurri is the classic Argentinian condiment for grilled meat, but I serve with vegetables, on bread, or stirred into rice dishes, soups and stews too. It's typically made with parsley, oregano, garlic, oil, chili, vinegar, and a few other additions depending on who you ask. Being deeply partnered with Wild Bee Balm for years, I was playing one day with new ways to get my plant ally into my body and so added it to a favorite chimichurri recipe with a handful of onion grass leaves and loved it! It has oregano-ish hints to it's taste and is a wild edible too so the leap was easy.
‘Wild-ing’ your recipes as Nature provides is an ebb and flow practice. It’s a dance with the plants as they jump up and are with us. So if I want chimichurri sauce in winter I still make this but with available fresh or dried ingredients, and work with dried Wild Bee Balm (crumble and remove any stems). It freezes decently if you add a little lemon juice to help hold the color but it's always best made fresh and eaten straight away.
Seeing Wild Bee Balm waving on the breeze always inspires me to make a batch (or three). Condiments like this within a meal bring vital nutrients into the body and intense flavor bursts that not only spice up a simple meal but also stimulate our digestive enzyme production which begins in the mouth. Immune responses become sharp and efficient with this chimichurri in the belly too! Remember the immune system does our daily house cleaning of maintenance and repair, but also steps up fast for the intense calls to make deep or swift changes, some of which can take time. We choose our medicine in support of what the body is already trying to do. We just nursed grandpa back from a serious viral invasion by feeding him this each day once he arrived and near collapsed all pale, dizzy, coughing, and nauseated. First we put him to bed early with a healthy dose of homemade bitters and then started feeding him this in the morning with fresh bread, greens and eggs. He loved it, rallied fast, and went home well as if nothing happened.
THE RECIPE: Wild Bee Balm & Onion Chimichurri Sauce
Optional Additions: Sprinkle in the bee balm flower petals if available with the last stir and serve with fresh ones on top. Yes, Wild Bee Balm flowers are edible, easy to eat right in the field, and gorgeous in salads or as edible garnish.
Jennifer Costa, Herbalist, Teacher, BS, RN, CST, and Founder of ElderMoon School of Herbs & Earth Medicine