In this series we’re discovering home remedies and herbal cures in the shapes of familiar wildflowers and plants you might have in your own back yard. This time we’ll devote our attention to bee balm, honeysuckle and calendula marigold.
Bee balm or bergamot is a member of the mint family. Its vivid red, purple and pink flowers dress up your garden and attract bees and butterflies. Bergamot herb is not related to the bergamot orange from which Earl Grey tea gets its distinctive flavor, but it has a similar fragrance.
Bee balm is best known medicinally for its antiseptic, antibiotic and aromatic properties. Native Americans use it as a poultice for infections. It’s also used in sweat lodge ceremonies and as a hair rinse. Use the leaves in infusions for stomach trouble, sore throat and menstrual cramps. Breathe the steam to clear your sinuses. Try some bee balm tea in the water in your carpet steam cleaner or spray vac. Use the dried leaves and flowers in salads, spaghetti sauce, soups and stews.
If you have a bee hive in your yard, plant bee balm around it. The leaves contain thyme oil, which repels the deadly varroa mite.
Honeysuckle grows wild in China, Europe and North America. Its sweet-smelling flowers are favored by bees and by butterflies, including some endangered species. It’s also been used for thousands of years by both Chinese and European herbalists to treat many illnesses.
Honeysuckle flowers and buds are used to relieve the symptoms of lung ailments including asthma. To make cough syrup, cook honeysuckle flowers and leaves with honey in water. Drink warm honeysuckle tea to relieve the symptoms of UTI and menstrual cramps. Try it as a face wash for acne.
Traditional Chinese medicine names honeysuckle as a cooling herb. It is often sold in Chinese groceries combined with equal amounts of forsythia blossoms for a tea that relieves cold and flu symptoms and stops diarrhea. Combined with chrysanthemum it is supposed to help expel toxins from the body. The stems are used in preparations for arthritis.
In the western world, doctors are experimenting with honeysuckle for its antibacterial and antiviral properties. It may some day become part of a cure for AIDS.
Calendula marigolds come from southern Europe and the Middle East but are grown just about everywhere now. An extremely hardy and versatile plant, they’re extremely easy to grow and are recommended for beginning gardeners.
Several plants are called marigold. When you think of marigolds you might imagine the small bedding plant with round orange and yellow flowers. The calendula flower looks more like a daisy, with a distinctive spicy scent that repels many garden pests. It can grow as tall as two feet high.
Calendula flowers are full of valuable nutrients. They’re used in acne and eczema treatments, sunburn ointments, baby lotions and soap. Scientists are testing calendula as a possible ingredient in a future cure for some types of cancer and AIDS.
The spicy leaves and petals make great seasoning. The petals can be used fresh or dried to make a relaxing tea that soothes stomach ailments and menstrual cramps. Use a decoction as a mouthwash for canker sores, a face wash for acne, and a poultice for injuries and insect stings. Some people are allergic to calendula, so try just a little at first.
If you don’t have these plants you can get bee balm and calendula marigold seeds and honeysuckle rootlings at any farm store or nursery.
You can also create honeysuckle rootlings by cutting a few vine ends from an existing plant. Make sure there are several leaves on each piece of vine you take. Strip the leaves off only near the cut end, leaving the rest of the leaves on the vine. Put the cut end in water and wait about two weeks, changing the water frequently. Roots should be an inch long or more before planting.