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Migratory bird populations have taken a nose dive in the past 40 years. But you can help bring their numbers back by creating beneficial, beautiful and fun habitats in your own backyard. Discover favorite plants and environments that shelter and feed colorful songbirds, as well as how to make them feel welcome by offering their preferred natural foods.

Grandma Pearl
(Connie Smith)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Bee Balm and its Uses

Monarda, or Bee Balm, is beloved by bees, butterflies and me!
by Grandma Pearl
When I was a kid, I remember a huge bed of red bee balm growing happily against the side of my grandparents' old garage.  It was perpetually filled with butterflies and happy honey bees and bumble bees.  You could always tell when they were 'working' the bee balm.  The lovely aroma filled the summer air.  To me it smelled like minty oregano, and it was wonderful.

Grandma would sometimes use the leaves when she roasted chicken.  It made the chicken taste exceptionally delicious.  Now I do the same thing in my cooking.  Whenever bee balm is in season, I grab a couple of fresh leaves and add them to the meat, or the cooking liquid, when I make chicken.  I let the meat cook on simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour.  By then the juices have concentrated and made a lovely brown thick sauce I use on mashed potatoes-YUM!  Be sure to remove the leaves before serving the sauce.
Deep Purple Bee Balm is beautiful against the dark green colors in my garden.
by Grandma Pearl

You can do the same thing, and I have, with fresh sage leaves and a couple of sprigs of thyme.  Don't go overboard, though.  Fresh herbs have a more concentrated herb flavor than dried herbs.  In this case, less is more.  When I cook 3 or 4 chicken breasts, after browning both sides in melted butter, I add one sage leaf and one sprig of thyme, and maybe the very top of a rosemary sprig to each piece of meat.  Also add salt and pepper to taste.  I just use plain water as the cooking liquid. . . about 1/2 to 3/4 cup.  Check after awhile to make sure the water has not totally evaporated.  You don't want to burn your chicken!  I cover it at first, and turn it on medium to get it going.

After 20 minutes or so, remove the cover and turn the chicken.  It won't hurt anything if the herbs end up in the bottom of the pan, they will just flavor the drippings.  At this point, I turn the heat down to low and keep the cover off.  Check in another 20 minutes or so to make sure there is still liquid in the pan.  If not, add more. . .about 1/4 cup at a time.  Also turn the chicken again.  Continue to cook until all the juices run clear when you poke the chicken with a fork.

Turn off the pan, remove from burner and cover.  Let sit for 10 minutes or so before serving.  This helps the juices to stabilize inside the chicken so that when you cut into it, they don't flow out and leave you with dry meat --UGH!

Pink Bee Balm from my garden,
by Grandma Pearl
Bee Balm has antiseptic qualities as well.  Did you know that the Native American Indians used it to make poultices?  If they had a skin infection or skin wound, they would treat the area with bee balm.  After crushing the leaves and adding them to boiling water, the resulting liquid could also be used for an antiseptic mouthwash to treat bad teeth or a sore throat.  Headaches and other aches and pains could be relieved with this bee balm infusion as well, according to wikipedia.com.

There are several different colors available, including a range of lavenders, pinks and reds.

My plants are growing in partial sun.  That is, they receive about 4 to 6 hours of sunlight a day.  The red bee balm is planted in an east side garden, which gets morning sun.  The others are on the north side, and do very well there.  All are visited by beautiful butterflies and bees that sip the nectar and pollinate the rest of my garden for me.  My plant hardiness zone is 5 here in the southern tier of New York State.  You might want to give these gorgeous flowers a try!
Grandma Pearl

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