The Crestone Eagle • August, 2020
There’s No Such Thing as a Weed: Rocky Mountain Bee Plant (Cleome serrulata)
Rocky Mountain Bee Plant (Guaco in Spanish) was responsible for saving the people of this area from starvation. Some two hundred years ago there was a great drought in the SLV and northern New Mexico, and people were on the verge of starving to death. It was discovered that the seeds of Cleome could be dried, ground, and made into tortillas. Although not perhaps the best tasting tortillas, they did fill the stomachs of the people and got them through until times were easier. Gather the seedpods when the seeds are black and completely dried.
Rocky Mountain Bee Plant can be found throughout Crestone and the Baca, along road sides in dry, sandy soil. The flowers are usually purple, occasionally white, with 4 petals and 6 stamens, and bloom from the bottom of the stalk to the top. They can grow up to 3’ tall. They bloom from June through early September, producing bean-like seed pods beginning in July. This is probably the most plentiful purple flowered plant visible right now.
In addition to the nutritional value in the seeds, the young tender shoots, leaves, and flowers of the Bee Plant are edible as a pot herb, and can be dried as a winter green. For cooking, it might be necessary to change the water 2-3 times for taste. Apparently, the Navajos ground two ears of blue corn with ¾ cup of bee plant seeds to make flat cakes.
The leaves of Rocky Mountain Bee Plant can also be used as a poultice to reduce the inflammation of poisonous insect bites. Poultices can also be used on the eyes, presumably for irritation or inflammation. Based on my knowledge of other herbs used for conjunctivitis, I would certainly try bee plant in a pinch. I’ve heard that an infusion of the leaves has been used for “stomach troubles”, and to reduce fevers. (see “Supplemental info” on my website, www.rootsofhealing.com to learn how to make poultices and herbal infusions).
A further use for this plant is as a paint or dye. The plant was boiled down to a thick syrup and used in painting pottery. I would love to see some of our artists work with bee plant this way. And finally, the gardeners among us might be interested to know that bee plant has been used in certain tribes of New Mexico as a companion plant for beans and corn, attracting pollinators and bringing up minerals from the soil, making them more available to the beans.
Dorje Root, RH (AHG) is an herbalist and energy healer. For an appointment call 719-937-7786 or visit www.rootsofhealing.com.