Innumerable Bees in Lemon Balm
July 19, 2007

The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And the murmuring of innumerable bees.


Alfred Lord Tennyson
The Princess


Bees worship God and the nature goddess as they go about their work, humming anthems of praise all day long. If you listen closely on a summer's day, you might agree that several bees buzzing in unison sound like a fairy church organ! This buzzing becomes very intense on Christmas Eve, when the bees hum the Hundredth Psalm in their hives on the stroke of midnight in joyful welcome and honour of Christ's birth.

Claire Nahmad
Magical Animals: Folklore and Legends from a Yorkshire Wisewoman


Someone asked me the other day, "What happens if you don't tell the bees about important occasions in your household?" Well, according to a little book I discovered the other by Claire Nahmad, failure to tell the bees about marriages, births, deaths, separations and reunions, they will fly away, never to return again. The idea is haunting in light of the recent outbreak of Hive Collapse Disorder, with honeybees abandoning their homes across the United States and Europe. The author fills in a few more details about the traditions around telling the bees. She describes bees as embodying both Christian and pagan spirituality. It's interesting that Nahmad says bees like to be owned by both a woman and a man, so that they are connected to the goddess and God. I gather that the pagan traditions around bees must have been particularly strong to link with the Christian traditions rather than to be completely subsumed by them, particularly when the Christian monks took on the tradition of beekeeping.

I had read that if the beekeeper dies, someone was to knock on the hive three times and announce the mistress or master was dead, but Nahmad says you are to knock on the hive using an iron key. Furthermore, a sample of each dish served at the funeral is also to be served to the bees, and the bees are to receive a gift of one of the beekeeper's possessions. She says that a bees is sometimes seen as an angel of death leading a soul to paradise, or sometimes people's souls actually inhabit bees just after death.

What an incredible mystery this is--tracing the origins of a rich folkloric tradition. At the same time I am researching bee gardens and creating a list of flowers that are the most attractive to both wild bees and the European honeybees. Today I was reading a book about planting scented gardens which states beekeepers used to rub lemon balm on the hives to help the bees find their way home. Perhaps we all need a patch of lemon balm to give as a gift to our local beekeepers. God knows, the stuff is prolific enough to share it around. Lemon balm anyone?

I have chosen the plants in my garden purely on intuition. There's a theory that the plant remedies you need are the ones you have right around your home. I've just potted some new mints: chocolate and lavender mint. I made some tea with the chocolate mint as an after-dinner drink that was very soothing. I have a healthy crop of lavender, so I planted even more varieties, including one with rounded white bunches of flowers. Apparently bees love lavender more than any other flower, so I shall have to put that theory to the test. I was also drawn to a couple of varieties of Salvia, one is called "Purple Rain." It's supposed to attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

I love to sit in my garden and hear the scritch-scratching of paper wasps scraping off bits of our aging wooden fence. The other day I saw two leaf cutter bees absolutely basking in the pollen of one of my favorite yellow-pink roses. They have been cutting polka-dot shapes out of the leaves of one of the other roses. Tonight I saw a bumble bee land squarely in one of the marigolds given to me by my father in law who is an intrepid master gardener. He's probably still out there in his own garden tonight, enjoying it's fragrance in the humidity as the light slowly dims.

Tonight I will end with Frank C. Pellet's Creed, which I discovered while looking for flowers to attract bees. His book which is dedicated to his "indulgent" parents who encouraged him in his "passion for the study of Nature" is called American Honey Plants.

"The Universe is mine with all eternity to explore.

My limitations are only such that I myself shall make.

No one can injure me but myself.

The greatest calamity that can befall me is but temporary and in the light of the future will seem but a trifle.

I will therefore be serene, unruffled and content, knowing that the thing which I desire is beyond me today and will come to me tomorrow."

Those are good thoughts to go to sleep on. Bless all of you and your gardens, sleep peacefully with dreams of bees finding their way home to their lemon-balm scented hives.