Bee Balm Monarda didyma It's definitely the dog days of summer! I've been traveling, teaching, and enjoying experiencing t...

July Plant Walk


Bee Balm
Monarda didyma

It's definitely the dog days of summer! I've been traveling, teaching, and enjoying experiencing the similar and different flora (and fauna). This time of year, even in my line of work, I feel like I can't get outside enough. There's so much to do, so much to see, and so very much to harvest! I hope you're getting some time to wander and wildcraft (forage). 

The plants are in various phases of life at the moment. For many of them, it's rest time. It's so hot, that, just like we might feel like doing, they're taking a rest. They'll come back when it cools off a little, or they might have spent their energy already and be done for the year. Some are hanging in there, though. And with the rain that some of us have had, the mushrooms are having a field day (sorry, I love puns)! (More on mushrooms later.)

So, let's take a (virtual) plant walk. Hopefully, you'll have some of these growing near you. 
The gorgeous firework of red (above) is bee balm (Monarda didyma), in the mint family. It's closely related to what some folks call bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), with a purple flower. Some people call both species bergamot or bee balm, which gets confusing. That when it gets helpful to know the botanical names (you know I had to put in a little plug for Latin). This one is sometimes called "wild oregano". That's what I like to do with it, substitute for oregano. I'll add it into my wild zatar recipe. I also like to chop the fresh leaves and add them to salt, then let the flavors infuse the salt. That tastes fantastic as a seasoning on melons!

Prunella vulgaris

Next, we have another mint family plant, self-heal or heal-all (Prunella vulgaris), also in the mint family. It doesn't have a minty taste at all. The leaves make a nice mild green for salads. I'll harvest all the aerial, or aboveground, parts, and add them to an all-purpose salve, because it's so soothing to the skin. "Heal-all" does not seem an inappropriate name for this one. It's a great many purpose anti-viral and great for coughs, colds, and flus in teas and tincture. 

Wild Mint

Continuing on the mint train, there's many wild mints that fall into several different genera (the plural of "genus"). There's Pycnanthemum, the mountain mints; Blephilia, the wood mints; and Mentha, various wild mints. The tastes can vary widely. If you're sure you have a mint, you could go ahead and try it. This is the best time of the year for mint! I love putting a sprig in my water bottle, for an instant refresh every time I take a sip. Cold mint tea can be an awesome treat for a break, when company comes over, to freeze into popsicles. 

Remember how to tell if something is a mint?
  • square stem
  • opposite leaves (directly opposite on the stem, not alternating)
  • usually smells aromatic, but not necessarily minty

Solidago sp.

I've been surprised to see the goldenrod starting to bloom already! This sunny one is usually a sign of fall for me. I like making tea and tincture from the flowers and leaves and adding it to my allergy formula as an antihistamine. I've also had good results giving the tincture to people dealing with UTI's. 

Some St. John's Wort might still be blooming where you are. It's awfully beautiful! There are many many species of this plant, in the Hypericum genus. Hypericum perforatum, a European species, is the one usually considered medicinal. Where I am, there's a fair amount of Hypericum punctatum, a native species that I use. Some people say that a St. John's Wort species is medicinal if it has black dots (glands) on the leaves, and the buds exude a red liquid when the buds are rolled and gently squeezed. 

In some places, the plants are not very prolific, so make sure there's a big patch of them before harvesting. I mostly tincture the aerial parts as a mood lifter. It's not recommended if you're already on anti-depressants, though. I also like it in a nerve pain tincture internally and a topical oil infusion. It's really fun to watch the oil turn red as the herb is infusing.

Don't let the heat keep you inside! Early morning, or after the heat has lifted a little, are good times to get out and see the  plants and get in the harvest while you can. No regrets, and happy summer!

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1 comment:

  1. I love this! I can only see the monarda didyma photo though.