Bee Balm works for Insect Stings

comments (0) June 25th, 2018

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cookinwithherbs susan belsinger, contributor
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The leaves of Monarda fistulosa otherwise known as bee balm, wild bergamot and horsemint relieves my insect stings. Click on other pix to enlarge and read captions.
Large patch of monarda along the driveway started with just a few plants--remember it is a member of the mint family and will spread easily.
Ouch! Wasp stings do hurt and swell quite a bit. (of course if you are allergic, seek medical help immediately).
Making a poultice with bee balm leaves, chopped and wilted with just a little hot water.
I gently wrapped the site of the sting with monarda and soft gauze.
Bandana or muslin can be tied around the gauze to hold it in place and protect, so I can keep on working.
Buds and blooms--just beginning!
The monarda patch just opened the first blooms yesterday; it will soon be glorious with lavender-colored flowers and pollinators.
 
The leaves of Monarda fistulosa otherwise known as bee balm, wild bergamot and horsemint relieves my insect stings. Click on other pix to enlarge and read captions.Click To Enlarge

The leaves of Monarda fistulosa otherwise known as bee balm, wild bergamot and horsemint relieves my insect stings. Click on other pix to enlarge and read captions.

Photo: susan belsinger

Monarda fistulosa isn't just called bee balm because it attracts bees and other pollinators--it also helps to ease their stings. I can speak of this firsthand since I have been using the leaves of this healing plant as a poultice on bee and wasp stings for many years. Pretty much any of the monardas will relieve the pain and swelling of an insect sting, however the wild, native M. fistulosa is where I head first for first aid. I have also seen this plant referred to as wild bergamot and horsemint.

Recently, when I was cleaning the backporch and displaced a wasp nest, I got nailed on the side of the knee from a disturbed wasp. The searing burn at the site indicates the sting immediately--if you don't see it--you certainly feel it! So after my initial "EEEYOWL! I put down the broom and calmly headed across the driveway to my patch of monarda.

Now I must tell you--this is no ordinary patch of monarda--it is rather stupendous if I do say so myself. I transplanted a few plants of M. fistulosa to this sunny spot along the drive about six, maybe eight years ago. Since then, it has spread every year and right now I'd say it measures an area about 20+ feet long and 12 to 15 feet deep. As I write, the plants are fully budded and the first few flowers popped yesterday. Many more will open for the Full Buck Moon in the wee hours of this Thursday morning. Then for the next 6 to 8 weeks, I will have the pleasure of the lovely shaggy lavender-hued blooms--along with hundreds of pollinators. This patch will literally and physically be abuzz from dawn until dusk. It is thrilling.

Back to the sting. Now if I were in the field and had no kitchen nearby, I would take a small handful of leaves and tear them up into small pieces and then I'd chew them up to mix them with my saliva (this process was practiced by the Native American Kiowa tribe). With this plant, I'd be chewing as quickly as I possibly could because it is HOT; just a few seconds in my mouth and my tongue is burning! (This is due to the essential oil which is high in carvacrol, which is also found in hot, spicy oreganos, savory and some of the other wild monardas.) Then I would take this freshly chewed poultice and put it directly on the site of the sting and tie my trusty, ever-handy bandana around it to hold the poultice in place.

Otherwise, one can come inside and tear or chop the leaves into small pieces and put them in a bowl. Pour just the tiniest amount of near-boiling or hot water over the leaves, mix around and apply as directed, perhaps wrapping with a piece of gauze. You can use a bandana, large hanky, kitchen towel, or if you are like me, I have odd pieces of cotton muslin on hand for these purposes.

I find relief almost immediately. For me, the stinging pain decreases to almost none within 20 to 30 minutes. It takes a bit longer for the swelling to go away, sometimes a few hours or overnight depending on the severity and reaction to the sting. I reapply the poultice as needed.

According to Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs by Steven Foster and James A. Duke, "botanists describe several varieties, with chemists separating different chemotypes based on varied chemistry of essential oil." Native American Indian tribes noted and valued the different variations of M. fistulosa and even gave different names to them. They used this plant internally for everything from headaches, coughs, colds and fevers, gastric upsets, and for expelling worms. Externally, it was used for skin problems and pimples, as well as a personal perfume. It has anesthetic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

There are many other herbs in our yards that will soothe the sting of an insect from lemon balm and plantain to purslane (for caterpillar stings) and jewelweed, even our common culinary parsley! You need to be personally responsible for correctly identifying and using herbs (of course if you are allergic, seek medical help immediately). The aforementioned field guide (above) is a great resource to start with. What is your go-to herb for insect stings?

 

 


posted in: monarda fistulosa, bee stings, bee balm, horsemint, insect stings, wild bergamot