Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
from the February 9, 2007 Newsletter issued from Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, QUERÉTARO, MÉXICO
LION'S EARS IN THE MOUNTAINS
Very prettily flowering in most of the small mountain towns near here these days is a six-ft-tall Mint Family member whose stiff stems bear at their tops two or more widely-spaced, baseball-size spheres of reddish-orange flowers. The plants are similar to red-blossomed Bee Balm grown in northern gardens, but these plants are much more robust. In the villages they've escaped from gardens and grow weedily along roadsides. The plants, originally from Southern Africa, are known in English as Lion's Ears and Wild Daggas. They're LEONOTIS LEONURUS, and you can see a picture of flowers from a plant at Soledad de Guadalupe above.
Don Gonzalo tells me that the plants are medicinal, but he's forgotten what they're used for. A bit of Googling reveals uses ranging from being a digestive aid to curing leprosy, to being smoked as a hallucinogenic. You can review a whole page of uses -- where it's called Wild Dagga -- at http://www.iamshaman.com/dagga/folkuse.htm.
This is such an eye-catching plant that it deserves to be planted more often, at least in southern gardens. It takes a long time to flower and seems a bit intolerant to colder climates. Several gardeners have posted comments on acquiring seeds and the plant's growing needs at http://davesgarden.com/pf/go/1048/index.html.