Monarda (Monarda fistula) and other species
Family - Lamiaceae or the mint family
Monarda or Sweet Leaf is common to the Black Hills of South Dakota. When I lived there I always looked forward to summer, when the sight of beautiful purple flowers covered gully bottoms and prairie flood plains. Without fail in July and early August, the hills were always filled with this fragrant and beautiful plant. And I gathered a lot of it, preferring the flowers for medicine. However, the leaves make a nice spice for cooking. Resembling oregano but with a bit more kick.
Sweet Leaf, Wild Oregano, Oswego, Horsemint, Bee Balm, Oregano De La Sierra.
Like most herbs, their common name depends on the area of the country and what book you read. In my area (South Dakota) it is called Sweet Leaf by the local herbalists. Michael Moore has it listed Oregano De La Sierra (4) and in the Northeast people call it Oswego (1). In Ohio, they called it Wild Oregano. In eclectic literature, Monarda is referred to as Horsemint. Horsemint is also a common name for a related species Monarda punctata (7). Monarda is called Wild Bergamot in the book “Plants of the Black Hills” (5). I always learned it as Monarda, some call it Bee Balm.
Truly this plant is a prime example for learning the botanical name. When you know the botanical name of a plant, you know a bit more about what your getting. Especially if your ordering it online.
A beautiful plant that fills the small valleys near my home in the southern black hills of South Dakota. Their honey and oregano fragrance fills the air when the light purple to blue puff ball blossoms appear from mid-July to sometime in August. (Depending on the weather). “Experts” say it can bloom until late September in warmer climates, but I’ve not ever seen it bloom that late (3). Monarda grows between 1 and 3 feet tall with feeble square stems, smooth, light green opposite leaves, with tips that curl up slightly. When in bloom the leaf veins turn somewhat purple (3)(7). A delightful plant.
The whole plant can be used. The areal parts picked at peak flower. I like to gather and use the flowers, they smell good and make great tea.
Medicinal Actions of Monarda
Monarda or Sweet Leaf is Carminative, Anti-fungal, Anti-Bacterial, Anti-viral, Diaphoretic, Nervine, Mucosal Vulnerary, Vulnerary, Febrifuge, Antipyretic, Anti-emetic, Antiseptic, Emmenagogue, Styptic
Medicinal Uses of Monarda
Monarda is considered generally safe for adult and pediatric use. (2)(3)(4) and has been used for a wide range of conditions. It has affinities to the respiratory, digestive, integumentary, and urinary systems. According to Matthew Wood its main personality trait is that it “Draws the fire out”. Being particularly useful when working with a heat or inflammatory conditions accompanied by cool clammy skin. (1)
It has been long used by the Native American Indians to lower fevers, decrease inflammation, headache and fever. (2). Monarda will draw the heat out of internal organs and tissue when used internally and as a compress. (1) It draws the fire out of the stomach, intestines, lungs, kidneys and blood. Relieving the pain, inflammation and heat of many conditions including bronchitis, hyperacidity, diarrhea and constipation, and cystitis. I have a friend in town who says she uses it as her main herb for everything with excellent results.
Specific Medicinal Uses for Monarda
Monarda is used for burns of all kinds. One source instructs says the herb should be mixed with saliva for the best results. Chew the herb, or otherwise mix the tincture with saliva and place it on the skin of the infected area. (1) In my experience, Monarda honey mixed with Saint John’s Wort and/or Lavender essential oil works well to cool the burn and reduce pain. Kiva Rose suggests making an acetate for sunburn with the fresh plant, then mixing equal parts with water. Spay or dab on the sunburn as often as needed to release the pain and discomfort. (4)(6) A good make ahead to keep in the first aid kit. Burning sensations of internal systems and organs are treated both internally and externally with Monarda.
Coughs and Respiratory Infections
Monarda is a go-to for all types or respiratory infections. It’s diaphoretic, anti-spasmodic and antiviral properties make it well suited for treating coughs and colds where there is heat and congestion or a feeling of pain and burning. Use it as a steam inhalation to relieve chest congestion, or inflammation and prevent secondary infection. (3)(4). It mixes well with Sage and Elderberry or as a simple honey for burning sore throats. (4). Use alone or in formula to treat whooping cough, bronchitis, fever, chest congestion, and sore throat. (2)(3)(4)(5). Monarda honey makes a lovey base for any cough or cold formula for kids.
Digestive and Gut Health
As an aromatic member of the mint family Monarda shares many digestive functions. It’s strong anti-bacterial, nervine, carminative, stomachic and anti-inflammatory actions help to sooth and upset stomach, sooth gastric upset, relieve heart burn and nausea. Helpful for both constipation and diarrhea. (1)(2)(3)(4) Monarda’s strong anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties makes it useful when dealing with fungal infection and bacterial overgrowth such as yeast infections, SIBO and Candidiasis. It sooths the mucus membranes and tones the pours of the gut lining helping the body repair leaky gut. (1)(2). The Native Americans historically used a tea taken internally with a compress on the belly to relieve abdominal pain and to treat Asiatic Cholera. (2)
Monarda is helpful for infections of the kidneys and bladder, especially so when accompanied by hot burning pain and mixes with Goldenrod for this purpose. (4) Its use should not be overlooked when working with chronic kidney or recurring urinary problems. It’s best to use higher care when faced with an acute kidney infection as they tend to progress quickly and can be dangerous. (1)
Monarda makes a fantastic salve for fungal infections of the skin. (1)(4) It contains Thymol oil similar to its cousin Oregano yet in in my opinion is more effective. (1)(2)(3)(4) I like to combine it with Chaparral and Black Walnut for an anti-fungal salve useful for athlete’s foot, warts and ringworm. A good wound healer, helpful as a wash, salve or oil to prevent infection, reduce inflammation, and stem excess bleeding. A wash made from tea of the leaves and flowers is used to as a wash for all sorts of bumps, bruises, skin eruptions and as a compress for the eyes. (2)(3)(4) Kiva rose uses the salve and oil for sprains, burns, rashes and external muscular pain. (4) I like it in mixture with Echinacea and Yarrow in tincture or wash I call “Anti-Infective”, used in much the same way.
As a Nervine
Monarda is calming to the nervous system with a similar uplifting feeling as Lemon Balm. Making a nice non-sedating remedy for children’s depression. (1)(4) It is a gentle nerve tonic to use for deep seated nerve issues. (1)
Monarda is considered generally safe for adults and children. However, caution should be used in pregnancy because of its emmenagogue actions.
- Standard infusion 1-4 oz. 3x per day or as a wash, compress or gargle (2)(3)
- Steam inhalation – Great for congestion and lung infections. Stay in the tent until you start to feel very warm. (3)(4)
- Fresh plant Tincture – 1:2 40%. 5-30 drops in warm water. (3) or 1-5 drop (1) 3 times per day.
- Dilute the fresh plant tincture 1:3 (3) or as needed for a wash or compress
- Honey – small sips 3-4 times per day or 1/4 tsp in water or tea several times throughout the day (3)
- Can be made into a glycerite fresh or dried. Take 10-30 drops 3x per day
- ACV – mix with honey or water and take 10-30 drops 3x per day. Or as a spray mixed with Water for a sunburn, bug bites and the like.
Monarda Honey – Stuff as many Fresh Monarda flowers as you can into a quart jar and fill with honey. Stir the honey and Monarda to be sure there are no air bubbles. Turn over daily for 2 to 6 weeks and strain. Can be taken alone as a cough or cold slurp. Mix with tea as a sweetener for all sorts of issues described above. Like to add the monarda honey when appropriate to syrups or other recipes when they call for honey.
Breathe Easy – useful for all types of coughs in adults and children. Equal parts Mullein leaf Verbascum thapsus, Grindelia Spp., Blue Vervain Verbina stricta, Usnea spp, Sweet Leaf Monarda fistulosa and Horehound Marrubium vulgare. For a child 3 years or older mix 1 oz. tincture above to 3 oz. honey (monarda honey if I have it). Add 1/2 tsp to 1/2 cup water and take 1 tsp doses or let the child sip slowly, with frequent small doses through the course of the day.
Anti-Infective Tincture – Equal parts Yarrow Achillea millifolium, Echinacea agustifolia and Monarda fistulosa. Dilute in clean water with a minimum of 3 parts water as a wound wash, or put in a spray bottle and spray on the area. Can be taken internally for infected wounds. We used it on a possible blood infection for a 10-year-old when no higher care was available. She had cut her hand. The wound was red and puffy and there was a blue line forming from her hand moving to her elbow. She took 1/2 dropperful (15-30 drops) in a little water 3 x per day. And made a compress with the diluted tincture in water. I instructed her parents to get it checked ASAP. The next day the hand was no longer inflamed and the blue had receded. She never when to higher care and is fine today. The child did get a tetanus shot the next week.
Anti-fungal Salve or oil – Equal parts dried herbs of Monarda, Chaparral and Black Walnut hulls. Cover with Olive oil and steep for 2-6 weeks. Strain. Add 1 part Bees wax to 7 parts oils to make the salve.
Yummy Monarda green tea – 3 parts green tea, 1 part monarda flowers and 1/2 part orange peel.
More Information about Monarda
- Wood, Matthew, The Book of Herbal Wisdom, Using Plants as Medicine, Berkley, California, North Atlantic Books, 1997
- Kindscher, Kelly, Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie, An Ethnobotanical Guild, Lawrence, KS, University Press of Kansas, 1992
- Moore, Michael, Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, Revised and Expanded Edition, Sante Fe, NM, Museum of New Mexico Press, 2003
- Larson, Gary E, and Johnson, James R, Plants of the Black Hills and Bear Lodge Mountains, Brookings, South Dakota, South Dakota State University, College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences, AgBio Communications, 2007
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