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Respiratory Herbs: Bee Balm & Herbal Steam

devon 2 Comments

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Bee Balm (Monarda)

Respiratory Herbs: Bee Balm & Herbal Steam

Devon 2 Comments

Bee balm is a showy and fragrant wild herb with pronounced diffusive action. Excellent for complaints of congestion and stagnant tissue states.

Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa, other spp. such as didyma, media and punctata)

Energetics: diffusive herb, net cooling effect, net drying effect, stimulant/relaxant

Therapeutic Actions: antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, diaphoretic, diffussive, emmenagogue, nervine, relaxant, stimulant

Bee balm belongs to a group of herbs that seem contradictory in their actions.  How can an herb be simultaneously warming and cooling, stimulating and relaxing?  Stick with me here, and I will explain…

Beautiful, graceful, wild bee balm is an abundantly useful herb which I got to know well after exchanging a few herbs with a high desert dwelling herbalist friend.  This spicy herb is quickly becoming a favorite for its unique herbal actions.

Bee Balm (Monarda)
Picture courtesy of Darcey Blue

Bee Balm Medicinal Uses

Bee balm is what is known as a diffusive herb – one that breaks up stagnation and releases fluid from tissues. Diffusive herbs usually feel or taste quite warm at initial application or ingestion.  This stimulating warmth gets fluids moving, speeds blood flow to stagnant tissues, and brings visceral, inner body heat out to peripheral areas encouraging perspiration.  Once fluids are moving, congestion drains and dissipates, leaving affected tissues cleared, cooled and relaxed.

Due to this diffusive action, and its somewhat antiseptic constituent blend (including thymol, geraniol, linalool, carvacol, and 1, 8-cineole), bee balm is particularly useful for complaints of the respiratory system.  Stubborn sinus congestion, and thick, wet, and heavy coughs benefit greatly from use of this herb.  Monarda species herbs thin out thick mucus and facilitate drainage while also addressing low grade infection with its volatile oils. It is also a perfect herb when a low fever is accompanied by cold, clammy, boggy skin.   Additionally, bee balm addresses poor digestion and gas pains, as well as stimulating delayed menses and calming uterine cramping.  Applied topically, it is useful for burns and wounds, acting both to reduce infection and stimulate tissue health and healing.

Bee Balm Herbal Steam

Bee Balm Safety Considerations

Bee balm is a rather safe herb when used correctly. That said, due to its uniquely stimulating nature, bee balm is generally discouraged during pregnancy, especially the first term and when uterine irritability is a concern.

FDA Disclosure

I am a trained herbalist with a degree in Complementary and Alternative Medicine, I am not, however, a doctor. Posts in this blog are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Before using any herbs, check for appropriate dosage, drug interactions, and contraindications. Information contained herein is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prescribe. Please consult your primary care physician regarding your specific health concerns.

Bee Balm Identification

When in full bloom, bee balm is virtually unmistakable with its firework-like flowers.  Blooming in shades of red, pink, and lilac from summer to early fall, this herb is often found in well drained meadows and along the edges of forested areas throughout much of North America.  Showy and a favorite nectar source for butterflies and hummingbirds, bee balm is fairly popular as an ornamental plant in the landscape (it is also a great deer deterrent).  Its fragrant blue green foliage smell of oregano and thyme. The plant grows two to four feet in height depending on the particular species and variety.

Bee Balm (Monarda)
Picture courtesy of Darcey Blue

There are many species and varieties of this herb and common names include wild bergamot, oswego tea and wild oregano.

Bee Balm Herbal Respiratory Steam

Bee balm is an easy herb to use. With a flavor very similar to oregano, it can be used in Mediterranean inspired dishes and herbal blends.  For medicinal use, infused honeys or oxymels (infused vinegar/honey) are often employed to deliver its diffusive benefits. A simple tea or infusion is useful, although I’d suggest blending with other herbs to offset its rather strong savory flavor.  When family members or clients are experiencing stubborn congestion and sinus pressure, I like to use bee balm as an herbal “steam”.  As essential oils can sometimes be a bit strong and aggressive to sensitive, irritated tissues, herbal steams offer profound, yet gentle benefits instead.

Bee Balm Herbal Steam

I like to combine dried bee balm with dried eucalyptus in a wide, fairly shallow bowl, immersed in recently simmered water.  I then tent the head over the bowl with a large bath towel and encourage deep breathing in of the fragrant steam until congestion loosens.  It is not necessary to cover the bowl and head entirely (as I have discovered that I am really claustrophobic). I simply drape the bath towel over my head and bowl in a kind of A-frame configuration.  Take special care to ensure the bowl is on a stable surface to avoid burns.  For smaller children, I suggest filling a medium sized muslin “tea bag” (like this) with the herbs and using it in a warm bath instead of the tented bowl method.  This bee balm bath can provide relief for those experiencing fever, achy joints, and cold clammy skin.

Bee Balm (Monarda)
Picture courtesy of Darcey Blue

Interested in learning more about bee balm and 49 other common wild medicinal plants?  Check out my new book The Backyard Herbal Apothecary!

How to Make an Herbal Steam with Bee Balm

Bee Balm Respiratory Steam

This respiratory steam employs the diffusive actions of bee balm and eucalyptus to release congestion and sinus pressure.


  • .25 ounce dried bee balm leaves and flower
  • .25 ounce dried eucalyptus leaves
  • 4-6 cups hot water


  • Place dried herbs a a wide shallow bowl.  Pour hot water over herbs.  Move head over bowl and tent with a large bath towel.  Breath deeply, inhaling fragrant steam until congestion is loosened and sinus pressure is reduced.

Bee Balm Herbal Steam


Herbs with Rosalee.

The Medicine Woman’s Roots.

Perdue University.

Wildflower Center.

Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: the science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.

Wood, Matthew. (2016). The earthwise herbal repertory: the definitive practitioner’s guide. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.


Devon is a writer and author on subjects of holistic and sustainable living. She has a degree in Complementary and Alternative Medicine from the American College of Healthcare Sciences, and her first book, The Backyard Herbal Apothecary, will be published by Page Street Publishing in Spring 2019. Devon's work outside of can be seen at,,, and in the magazine The Backwoods Home. Devon's second book, as yet untitled will be published Fall 2019.

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