Bee Balm Oxymel, Tea and Honey
In Virginia, summer is the main time to make herbal medicines out of fresh plants. The St. John’s Wort I planted last year is finally blooming and I will be making more St. John’s Wort Oil and tincture. Learn how here. But my “wild” Bee Balm is blooming now and I’ve decided to make my first ever Wild Bee Balm Oxymel!
I say “wild” in quotes because I saved the seeds from wild Bee Balm and planted them in my new herb garden. According to herbalist Susun Weed, the wild Bee Balm, Monarda fistulosa, (also called wild Bergamot, Monarda, or wild mountain oregano) is more medicinal than the European Scarlet Bee Balm, Monarda didyma. I grow that, too, because it’s beautiful, easy to grow, makes a lovely tea, and is a wonderful hummingbird attractor! But all Bee Balm is medicinal, so use the Scarlet Bee Balm if that is what you have. I’m drying my Scarlet Bee Balm to have for tea this winter and will probably drink it if I’ve been around others who are sick.
It’s difficult to find wild bee balm in dried form, so you may want to plant your own. You can find seeds for wild bergamot/bee balm here.
What is an Oxymel?
An oxymel is a remedy used through the ages in which you infuse a medicinal herb into honey and vinegar. The honey and vinegar preserve the herb and also can help with the taste of a bad or strong-tasting herb.
Bee Balm is NOT a bad-tasting herb, though, and this oxymel is delicious. You could add it to a salad dressing if you end up not needing it for medicine this winter. It tastes so good!
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Bee Balm Oxymel Recipe
The recipe for an oxymel is very flexible. You can use the ratio that you’d like–using more honey or more vinegar. For mine, I used a 1:1:1 ratio by volume not weight–about equal amounts of fresh herb, raw honey, and raw apple cider vinegar. You can always add more honey or vinegar to it later if you’d like. Let the mixture sit for 2-4 weeks before straining the herb from the liquid.
You could probably keep this in the refrigerator after straining, but I will just keep it in the cupboard. Even though this is my first year making an oxymel, I can tell that the strong Monarda is keeping any mold or bacteria from growing in the mix. I’ll update here if I find it any different.
Uses for Bee Balm Oxymel
If you feel a cold or flu coming on, or if those around you are sick and you want to keep it away, you can take the Bee Balm Oxymel by the teaspoon full every few hours about 3 times a day or mix it into your herbal tea. I can tell by the smell and taste that my Bee Balm is very potent, so I will probably use less. If it’s a sore throat going around, I will add it to my own Sore Throat Healing Tea.
Bee Balm Tea or Oswego Tea Recipe
What is Oswego Tea? Used by the Native Americans of Oswego New York, this tea made from wild Bee Balm leaves was adopted by the American colonists as a substitute for their black tea from England. The red (Monarda didyma) and the purple (Monarda fistulosa) are used interchangeably as tea.
Make Oswego Tea as you would any other tea. Put about 2 teaspoons of dried herb in a tea strainer and pour boiling water over it. If you’re making it for medicinal purposes, steep for 15-20 minutes covered to extract more of the medicinal volatile oils. If you are just making it to drink for pleasure, steep for 3-5 minutes.
Bee Balm as Medicine
Which is stronger medicinally, red or purple Bee Balm / Monarda? The purple Monard fistulosa has much more thymol than the red Monarda didyma. While some herbalists use the various types of Monarda interchangeably, the purple Monarda fistulosa has 20,000 ppm (parts per million) of thymol** and Monarda didyma has only 50 ppm of thymol, according to http://www.naturalmedicinefacts.info/. The fistulosa is also much higher in most other medicinal compounds than the didyma, so the purple would be the one to choose to make your herbal medicine.
Use the tea or tincture for ringing in the ears or edema. It is used as an anti-fungal, for cold and flu symptoms, urinary tract infections, fevers, headaches, burns and other skin infections. It’s one of the best herbs to fight candida overgrowth or stubborn or systemic yeast and fungal infections–taken both internally and topically. Monarda is rich in thymol–a flavorful, aromatic, and healing compound also found in oregano, thyme, and rosemary–and it smells and tastes like it. Thymol accounts for the smell of Thyme and is a strong antimicrobial. Side note, Common Thyme, Thymus vulgaris, has 600,500 ppm of thymol, the most of any plant. (http://www.naturalmedicinefacts.info/)
How to Make Bee Balm Tincture
To make a tincture, simply fill a jar with the chopped fresh herb–leaves and flower heads–and cover the plant material completely with 80-100 proof vodka. Let it set in a dark, cool spot for at least six weeks, shaking once in a while, before straining out the herb. You can store the strained tincture in a glass jar in a dark, cool cabinet indefinitely.
Bee Balm Infused Honey
Herbalist Kiva Rose says that Bee Balm infused Honey is the best burn remedy for first and second-degree burns. And she keeps Bee Balm tincture with her wherever she goes along with wild rose elixir and elderberry tincture/elixir. Bee Balm Honey would also be a great addition most any medicinal tea to boost the antimicrobial effects.
To make Bee Balm Honey simply fill a jar with fresh, chopped Bee Balm leaf and flower and cover with honey (preferably raw, unpasteurized). Let this sit in a cool, dark place for two to three weeks. It may bubble a little and ferment. Then strain the herb from the honey and store the honey in a glass jar in a cool, dark cabinet. I haven’t had herbal honey go bad before I used them up, so I’m not sure of the shelf life. Both the herb and the honey are antimicrobial, so it shouldn’t grow mold. If you are concerned about it, you can store it in the refrigerator, but it will crystalize.
Bee Balm as Seasoning
So when I first discovered Bee Balm a few years ago and read about the colonists using it for tea, I was kind of surprised because to me it smelled more like it should be a flavoring for meat! And it’s true. Bee Balm is a great substitution for oregano or thyme when flavoring meat, pizza or pasta dishes! Just dry the leaves and crush them before using them.
Please let me know how you like to use Bee Balm in the comments below!
You might also enjoy my articles, Weeds You Should Let Grow in Your Garden, Why I Drink Nourishing Herbal Infusions, and Extensive Visual Guide to Common Edible Flower Blossoms
Want to learn more about wild edible and medicinal plants? I suggest The Lost Book of Remedies. Learn more by clicking the link.