Bee Balm, also called monarda and wild bergamot, is a flowering, edible herb native to North America. Aside from being an eco-friendly native to our region, bee balm has many virtues: its foliage is fragrant, it is great in pollinator gardens, it has medicinal properties, and its flowers are beautifully bright and vibrant.
A member of the mint family, bee balm’s leaves can be dried to make a spicy-sweet tea and its flowers can be used to garnish salads. Native Americans and colonists used it in salves and drinks, and a balm of the plant can be used to treat rashes, other skin irritations, and bee stings (hence the name). Here are several bee balm herbal recipes for those that are interested in bee balm for more than its beauty.
Bee balm attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, has pink, purple, red, or white varieties, and likes to be planted in full sun, though it will tolerate partial shade and still bloom. Deer-resistant, most varieties of bee balm will grow to about 2.5-4 feet tall. It likes loamy, rich, fertile soil and will thrive if kept moist.
I learned about monarda when one of our garden club members divided hers in the spring and gave me some. I planted it straight away in a partially shady spot, not realizing it would be happier in full sun. Still, it bloomed the first year. I’ll never forget how astonishingly vivid the red flowers seemed the first time I saw them–I was immediately hooked.
Other growing tips:
- Plant in spring or fall
- Deadhead to encourage more flowers
- Left unchecked bee balm will spread, it should be divided every 2-3 years to keep it vigorous.
- Bee Balm is susceptible to powdery mildew after flowering; so planting it where there is good airflow is beneficial and it benefits from cutting back when the mildew appears. You can cut the plant all the way back to the ground if foliage looks tattered, it will return again next year with its brilliant blooms.
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