By Lauri deGaris
Every Sunday morning, I must rise before the bird song is heard and head west on Nassau County Road 108. I am helping to care for 13 horses while the barn owner recovers from ankle surgery. Each Sunday that I care for these magnificent creatures, I find myself counting many blessings as the day progresses. Always, I am grateful to worship in nature’s cathedral.
This past Sunday, as I made my way to the barn, I witnessed the soft morning sunlight beaming through the pine tree tops. They showered the forest floor in illuminating light. Fog lingered low across the pastures, leaving traces of morning dew on spider webs woven between the grasses.
After completing my barn chores, I walk through the meadows observing nature’s gifts. I am a gatherer of plants for various uses. I enjoy studying their historical and cultural uses. And, on my walk this past Sunday morning, I found my dear friend “spotted horsemint” (Monardo punctata) in full bloom. Along a long fence line, this wild, softly fragrant herb was growing in earnest.
I found myself a place to sit quietly among the aromatic flowers. I observed my surroundings as I listened to the sermon Mother Earth presented. I heard the message of the busy bees buzzing around the beautiful purple and yellow flowers. I witnessed them dart under leaves aiming for blossoms filled with sweet nectar. What a glorious sight to see. It was a salve for my soul. I was observing the hand of the great spirit and I was very grateful for the enlightenment received.
I forage plants for all kinds of uses. Horsemint is a plant I have gathered before. Each year, I harvest just enough to use as a supplement in tea and healing baths. My Creek ancestors considered Kofockv-rakko, aka, horsemint, a sacred plant. The Alabama, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Creek used it to ward off rheumatism, fever, infection and other maladies.
Traditionally, the leaves and flowers are steeped in water and used by applying to back pain and joint pain. It can be used to relieve swelling in feet and ankles. It is also used to help relieve mental stress by taking a bath in the flowers. This is my favorite way to enjoy the gift of horsemint.
According to “African American Slave Medicine” by Herbert Covey, horsemint was reported to be used across the South from Texas to South Carolina. It was known as a tea for all ailments. Covey also noted that it can be mixed with castor beans and nettle for a bath to relieve swelling. Other uses include pain relief associated with cough and chest complaints.
Horsemint is an erect perennial ranging in height from six inches to three feet tall. Rosettes of purple and yellow are highlighted with colorful dots. Tubular flowers occur in whorls; they form a dense, long spike at the end of each stem. Each whorl is subtended by whitish, purple-tinged, leaf-like bracts. Spotted horsemint is without a doubt one of the most striking plants in our area.
The genus Monarda (family Lamiaceae) contains 22 species of which three are native to the south — M. citriodora, M. fistulosa, and M. punctata. In a recent study, several species of Monarda including M. punctata (horsemint) were collected and the essential oils obtained by hydrodistillation. The essential oils were analyzed by gas chromatographic techniques to determine the chemical compositions. The compounds thymol, carvacrol, p-cymene, and their derivatives were the primary components found in the essential oils. The known biological activities of these compounds are consistent with the traditional uses of Monarda species to treat wounds, skin infections, colds, and fevers. You can read full study here.
Despite the long, hot “dog days of summer” I enjoy being outdoors in Mother Nature’s cathedral. There are many blessings to be received among the meadows if we allow ourself time to discover them. Horsemint is a blessing and I am grateful to share this gift of horsemint knowledge with you.
Finally, there was one other blessing I wish to acknowledge. I am super grateful for the commencement of “re-paving” County Road 108. Thank you, Nassau County. I know many other folks will agree, it is about time. Halleluiah!
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Crow, Tis Mal, Native Plants and Native Healing the Traditional Muskogee Way. Native Voices Book Publishing Co., 2001.
Cunningham, Scott, Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Llwellyn Publications, Minnesota, 1985.