5 Pollinator Plants with Medicinal Properties

Stepping into a garden, there is an automatic hushed peace that comes with something that does not move or react as quickly as the constant paging through television channels or endless scrolling with which we have become accustomed. Instead, the growth of plants occurs at a diligent pace where our eyes are fooled into believing that there is no movement or change, only for us to wake up and be surprised by the beautiful magenta crowns of Bee balm. When you listen closely, you can hear the hum of productivity in the garden that comes from the whir of bees wings. Hearing a hummingbird for the first time in the season requires a moment of pause, as their powerful and quick wing strokes almost sound like a enormous wasp, only to be surprised by the glossy emerald or regal ruby throat of a tiny bird. In such a garden, where particular plants are selected for flowers that are elevated and easy to drink nectar or to gather golden puffs of pollen from, pollinators are healthy and abundant. Such plants are a boon for moths, butterflies, bees, bumblebees, and hummingbirds. While watching the expeditious work of the honeybee and the purposeful but lilting routine of the butterfly is certain reward enough for having such plants, the stalks and flowers that are in a pollinator garden often have hidden healing properties with a history that goes back to the early Americas when Native Americans would harness such properties. Today is the last day of National Pollinator Week, a time of being able to learn more about how to help our honeybees and butterflies, but we also wanted to provide you with information for five pollinator plants that also have medicinal properties.

MOUNTAIN MINT 
We will start with the unassuming, even meek mountain mint. Huddling together in clusters, the shy and small flowers of mountain start a light green and blossom into a linen white or soft lilac color. While delicate, even doily-like n appearance, these flowers were believed to have the power and strength to revive the dead. Their flowers and leaves are edible either raw or cooked and taste of an intense heat that comes with such a strong mint flavor, almost menthol-like in its strength. Tea can be created from it with analgesic, antiseptic, and tonic properties that can help with maladies from menstrual pain to coughs to colds to fevers. Even the worst case of chiggers will yield to the powerful aromatic qualities of this small plant. It easily helps fill your home with its minty aroma when dried and burned with incense or in a sage bundle. Mountain mint is a wonderful starter to any pollinator garden as it is easily grown, preferring to look towards the sun and enjoys a drier spot in the garden.

CARDINAL FLOWER

With stunning scarlet petals, the Cardinal flower stands as a crimson sentry over the other shrubs that may surround. Its regal appearance matches its namesake, which comes from the crimson cloaks of Roman Catholic priests. The Iroquois, Delaware, Cherokee, and Meskwaki tribes used this showy plant both ceremonially and medicinally. Its medicinal powers are either derived from its roots or its leaves. The roots have impressive antispasmodic properties, able to halt bronchial spasms when smoked at the first sign of discomfort. Furthermore, it has been used for treatment of epilepsy, syphilis, typhoid, stomachaches, cramps, and worms. Its leaves are long and thin, and when made into tea help treat croup, nosebleeds, colds, fevers, and headaches.

BEE BALM/WILD BERGAMOT

A number of pollinator friendly plants have stunning purple, red, and pink colors that make them so attractive to the senses of hummingbirds and bees. Bee balm is another flower to have easily accessible blossoms of such radiance. When making a salad on a summer day, you can include the edible flowers of bee balm as a festive garnish. A source of oil and thyme, bee balm is fragrant and an inspiring addition to aromatic and medicinal teas. This is truly the idel plant to grow in the Carolinas as it enjoys heavy clay soils, though it does require partial shade. If you are growing the red variety, it was known as Oswego tea and was used by colonists in place of English tea. Native Americans recognized that the four varieties of bee balm had different odors and was used as a sweat inducer for ceremonial sweat lodges as well as for its healing properties. The flowers and stems can be used for antiseptic, carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic, and stimulant properties and help with lowering fevers, soothing sore throats, treating colds, and helping with other inflammation related illnesses. It can also be used externally for infections.

ECHINACEA

As the author I want to interject that purple coneflower or Echinacea is truly my favorite of the pollinator plants that also have medicinal properties for humans. It looks hostile with its large, bristling cone with a skirt of fluorescent purple petals, but is a pillar to herbal healing. Its use dates back to Native Americans observing that when elk were wounded or sick, they would seek out and consume the Echinacea plant. Since then, Plains Indians used Echinacea to treat anthrax and snakebites, the Kiowa and Cheyenne tribes used the flower for coughs and sore throat, and the Sioux tribes used it as a painkiller. Scientific studies confirm that Echiancea actively boosts the immune system, reduces inflammation, and helps hormonal and viral disorders. Of all the plants to have in your herbal medicine cabinet, this is truly as close as you can get to a panacea. 

AMERICAN BEAUTYBERRY

As nature changes from its summer to autumnal wardrobe, the American Beautyberry is truly the statement piece with bold magenta berries that look like beads strung together to form necklaces and bracelets. These berries emerge from delicate, lacey flowers that are rose-tinted and small, clinging to its stem. Alabama, Choctaw, Creek, Koasati, Seminole, and other Native American tribes have used it as an insect repellant, the root and leaf for sweat baths to treat fevers and malaria, and the root for dysentery and stomach aches. Science has confirmed the folk usage of this plant through finding it indeed has compounds that repel mosquitoes and other biting insects.

            A pollinator garden is versatile, like much of nature, and can provide so many things for those who take the time to grow them. It will help your raised bed of squash and tomatoes, provide a safe haven and place to feed for our pollinators that are becoming increasingly challenged by human development, and can also be your medicine cabinet for making teas, tinctures, and a fresh, flowery snacks with benefits abound. Looking across the garden now, you can hear the beating of a hummingbird’s wings, and the colorful robes of the butterflies that move from flower to flower. A mixture of lacey, white flowers and bold, impressive fronds of scarlet and crimson petals, these plants have grown from this earth and provided medicinal help to people who have lived on the same land for hundreds of years. Just as the honeybee can get pollen from the flowers, you too can improve your life and health from growing these pollinator friendly plants in your own garden.