Native Medicines for NM Pollinators


By Melanie Margarita Kirby
 
Melanie Margarita Kirby is founder of Zia Queenbees Farm & Field Institute. She is a native New Mexican from Tortugas Pueblo and has been keeping bees professionally for 20 years. Her farm specializes in local honey bee breeding, pollination services, and exquisite hive medicines. For more info, visit www.ziaqueenbees.com/zia


Sol, Agua, Tierra. The combination of sunlight, water and earth gives us sustenance by nurturing the growth of plants. These plants exchange pollen- their life giving force, and in doing so, give birth to seeds. These seeds carry on the stories of the plants, from one generation to the next. And while seeds are the stories, who are the storytellers sharing the pollen?
 

Those who tend to the elements are considered caretakers of creation. They are the storytellers sharing the seed stories. But before they are able to share these stories with their comadres and compadres and their communities, the seeds themselves had midwives. These midwives helped to birth these seeds by transferring pollen from flower to flower.
This pollen is also part of the midwives tradition. Pollinators do rely on the exchange of pollen and its life giving properties to sustain their health. They rely on clean water resources and healthy plants for nectar. They collect resin from trees and shrubs to seal their home with propolis. They share their foraged medicines- transforming them into liquid starlight- honey, among other raw hive products.
Their cultural traditions are passed down from one generation to the next, just like us Nuevo Mexicanos. Their stories have been of adaptation and resilience. But sadly these days, pollinators are struggling. Between fluctuating weather, increased importation of unhealthy bee stock, pest and disease issues, and toxic pesticide, herbicide and fungicide applications, our pollinators are faced with daily challenges that can affect their ability to endure. If their habitat is compromised, then their forage and diet will be insufficient. And this statement can be true for us humanos, too. If our habitat is compromised, and our fields and waterways contaminated, our delicious cuisine and communities will be unhealthy.
 
There is a profound interconnectedness between all species on this planet. Those of us who work with the land, as caretakers of creation live it daily. We recognize that water is life and that along with it, the sun, the sky, the earth, the pollen, seeds, and the bees– all help to carry on our stories. Our pollinators need nurturing, too. Their stories of resilience are crumbling. They need caretakers of creation who can work with them, for them and promote their local stories.
 
This spring, farm led medicinal herb research is being conducted through a NMDA Specialty Crop Block grant awarded to New Mexico State University- Alcalde Sustainable Agriculture Science Center. Robert Heyduck, Horticulture Research Associate for the center along with Todd Bates of NM Native Plant Recyclers in Embudo, and Melanie Margarita Kirby of Zia Queenbees Farm & Field Institute in Truchas are collaborating to investigate the benefits of Oregano de la Sierra- a native NM medicinal herb for pollinator and human health.
 
Oregano de la Sierra (monarda fistulosa var. menthafolia) is a high mountain bee balm that grows between 6000-8000'. Todd Bates has been growing this medicinal herb for several years. He has been selecting strains and harvesting their big, purple flowers and leaves for drying. He has noticed that pollinators of all sorts are very attracted to this plant. He wonders if the different kinds of bees and butterflies are medicating themselves with the nectars and oils.
It is this curious question that inspired this collaborative effort. Todd and Melanie have already steeped the flowers in NM varietal honeys as well for human health benefits. This collaboration encouraged Rob to assist and enlist scientists from various parts of the country, including Dr. Don Hyder- Chemistry Professor at San Juan College in Farmington and Dr. Jay Evans, Director of the USDA Beltsville, MD Bee Lab. Their joint investigation will look at the medicinal benefits this native plant shares with both the bees, and with people.