Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Herbs - B is for Bee Balm or Bergamot

Bee Balm

Latin Name:  Monarda didyma of the family Lamiaceae

Alternate Name(s):  Scarlet Bee Balm, Wild Bergamot, Bergamot, Scarlet Monarda, Oswego Tea, or Crimson Beebalm)

Description:  The flowers themselves vary in appearance and color from light pinks to mauves and deep scarlet.  The most often seen are the bright red variety.   The tubular blooms usually show in clusters of about 30 or so.  This hardy perennial has opposing leaves on square stems.  They are mostly dark green with reddish leaf veins. 

Habitat:  The monarda tends to favor areas with moist, well-drained soil.  Full sun is its preferred lighting.  Bee Balm is an excellent companion plant in the vegetable garden, especially for tomatoes.  It tends to attract the pollinators as well as some of the beneficial predatory bugs.  The fact that it is a very attractive plant just adds to it's appeal.

Growing: Bee Balm can be started by seed, division, or by cuttings.  Seeds usually need to be scratched up a bit before planting.  They can be planted directly outdoors once the soil has warmed up considerably (70 degrees or above) or they can be started earlier indoors.  Root cuttings are possible and suggested in the spring, but division seems to be the most popular way to expand your Monarda collection.  It is actually very beneficial to the plant to divide them every few years as they can get too crowded  and not get enough air circulating through the lower sections.  They will also become susceptible to various ailments such as root rot and mildew if not allowed enough space.  The plant can reach up to 3 feet high.

Harvesting:  The leaves and flowers are the parts used.  Harvest on a sunny morning after the dew has dried.  After gathering bunches, tie them with string and hang upside down in a darkened, airy room until completely dry. Once they are dried, the leaves and flowers may be removed from the stems.

Uses:  Can be used as a digestive stimulant and as an aromatic in potpourris or the bath.  The taste of the leaves and flowers are rather citrusy and can be used in teas.  The teas can be made with either fresh leaves or dried.  It is also an ingredient in many modern mouthwashes as it has antiseptic properties.   It is not to be confused with the Citrus bergami which is where we get the bergamot flavoring that is used in my beloved Earl Grey tea.  It can be a bit much to seperate the two since they're both called "bergamot" and both are used in teas and cooking.  The bee balm is from the mint family while the latter is from the citrus family.  A distinct feature of these flowers is that they will hold their color when dried.

Notes:   I really love growing these gorgeous plants.  While they do have many varied uses, I pretty much grow them for the dried flowers and for the hummingbirds.  It is a lovely sight to see the plants covered by butterflies, bees, and the little hummers.

Photos courtesy of:
Disclaimer: The information presented herein is intended for educational, informational, and recreational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent disease. It is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider before taking any supplements, herbs, or other substances.


  1. Great post! I love Bee Balm and have quite a bit of it in our yard - was there when we moved in. I was amazed at how tall it got! I'll have to dry some this next summer for tea and potpourris. Thanks for the post.

  2. Isn't it a neat plant? I had to leave several behind when we moved this last Fall. Mine are the red ones and I'm thinking of trying to get a few of the other colors this Spring.

  3. great of my favorite herbs too...

    enjoyed reading this

    came here via lemon verbena lady..nancy...she is such a sweetheart...

    i'll be back soon....

  4. Hi Kary,

    Welcome to MoonCat Farms. I'm on my way to visit yours now!

    Nancy is one of my favorite people too! I'm looking forward to meeting her in person someday.

    Glad you've found us.

  5. I really like Bee Balm. I planted it in my garden one year and the bees were everywhere! Now I have to have it - so my pumpkins get well-pollenated!

  6. I didn't think about the pumpkins and other squash reaping the rewards too! Yum, pumpkin pie and fried squash....

  7. This sounds wonderful! Definitely a must-have for my future gardens.

    Thanks for the information.

  8. I just ordered some more in some different colors today. Can't wait to see how they do.


Thank you for taking the time out of your day to come by MoonCat Farms. We welcome your comments and look forward to hearing what you think. (Please note that we do have comment moderation on so that we will be sure to never miss a comment from one of our valued readers.) If you're entering one of our giveaways, PLEASE be sure to leave a way for us to contact you if you're the winner.