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Thursday, January 19, 2012

SCARLET BEE BALM - VALUED FOR ESSENTIAL OIL: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF BEE BALM


SCARLET BEE BALM, MONARDA DIDYMA 
There are several plants in the Monarda genus, but this one, didyma is the one used in tisanes for colds, flu, flatulence, menstrual problems, coughs, digestive problems and to combat loss of appetite. It is native to North America but has naturalized in parts of Europe and Asia and flourishes in Pakistan, where the petals are added to milk when butter and lhassi or ayran (a yoghurt drink) are being made. This gives both a distinctive red colour, and doubtless adds interest as well as health benefits. This particular bee balm has the highest concentration of bee balm oil in its leaves.
  This bee balm is sometimes called bergamot, but the oil it yields is not the bergamot oil from the citrus fruit the bergamot orange which is used to flavour Earl Grey tea; that is Citrus bergamia and not to be confused with this herb.
  However bee balm essential oil is used in aromatherapy to reduce stress and calm frazzled nerves. The oil is extracted from the leaves, which when dried are good with lavender in pot pourris. I always associate bee balm with lemon balm probably because in German the plant is called gold Melissa. It is actually a member of the mint family the Labiatae or Lamiaceae which includes peppermint, spearmint, thyme and oregano among other herbs.
  The Native Americans used bee balm as tea, and when the English put a tax on tea (the cause of the Boston tea party) the colonists used bee balm tea or Oswego tea instead of black tea. This was undoubtedly better for their general health as bee balm tisane or tea, prepared with 1 tablespoon of fresh leaves and flowers or 1 teaspoon of dried to one cup of boiling water, steeped for 10 minutes, assists oral hygiene and health and is also good for the health problems mentioned above as well as for mild fever and headaches.
  The plant flowers between June and September and the seeds ripen from August until October. It is best picked when the flowers are blooming and dried for later use, although you can simply harvest the leaves before the flowers bloom.
  As the tisane can stimulate menstruation it is best not used if pregnant and those with thyroid problems should also avoid it. It contains linalool and thymol which is anti-microbial, antibacterial, antifungal and antiseptic.
  The flowers are edible and can be used as garnishes for salads and fruit salad, while the leaves and young shoot tips may also be eaten either cooked or raw. If you add a couple of leaves to China tea, you will get a similar flavour to that of Earl Grey tea. The leaves can also be added as flavouring to jelly and if you put the flowers in it too it will look really attractive and guests will certainly find it a talking point.
  Native Americans used the crushed leaves in poultices to heal wounds and treat some skin problems. Today it is used in attempts to ward off shingles, chicken pox and other diseases.
  It is certainly an attractive herb for a garden and can be grown indoors too although it won’t reach the height of 150 centimetres which it can do outdoors. It has health benefits as well as being attractive and smells good too, although the flowers don’t have a perfume, this comes from the leaves.
  

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