So much for April showers. We got snow in Massachusetts today which, while unseasonable, isn’t exactly shocking. We’ve had snow storms for Halloween, too.
At this moment, the lettuce, radishes, swish chard, and broccoli are looking a bit beaten down out in the garden. The few flowers I planted and covered are smooshed but alive, and the flowers I brought in are cozy. The temps never dipped below freezing and we have a fire. Lucky us.
But this just goes to show you that mother nature likes a joke now and then. Strings of days over 70 with sun … who can resist going to the garden center and bringing home some new lovelies … ? … and then a little mid-April wind and snow to keep us on our toes and out of the garden.
Fortunately I had some old sheets nearby to cover everything with when the snow started. I’m not sure it was truly necessary but I think it helped rescue a few blooms that would have otherwise been doomed, and my husband looked very cute out there trying to make a tent with one of his tarps over the new english daisies. You don’t see that every day. 🙂
As I write this, a couple of hours later, the snow has disappeared leaving us with a dreary but unfrozen landscape. The sheets and specially-engineered tarp tent are off the garden and everything is waiting for some sun to cheer things up.
The forecast has two more snowflakes (days with snow predicted) over the next week – this, after weeks in late March and early April with no frost. I’m pretty sure there’s no moral to the story other than keep a sense of humor, don’t throw old sheets away, and keep an eye on the forecast.
I’ve kept a stickie by my computer monitor for years that says: New Moon. Let Go, Declutter, Sleep.
The descending dark moon is a good time for letting go of the things that are “eating” at us, aren’t benefiting us, or are creating noise and clutter around us; it’s a little like cleaning out a backpack or purse. There’s the opportunity for unloading, for unburdening, and with that, a potential for rest.
I think of harnessing the energy of moon tides as paddling downstream instead of across or upstream – working with the tide encourages ease and success. In the case of the waning new moon, releasing, reflecting as appropriate, and resting.
On the flip side of the waning dark moon is the new waxing moon – a good time to set a new intention or make a new beginning. They kind of go together since letting go of something creates an open space. And since nature abhors a vacuum, it’s best to decide what you want to fill the space with … and then the waxing crescent is for planting seeds (intentions or actual seeds!). And so on.
For me this year I chose to release some old “shoulds” that clutter up my thinking. They are like rocks under my carpet, creating a tripping hazard. Every time my mind settles on a “should” it means I am not present for the moment or for what needs doing right now. So they are out. bam. Released into the receding tide of dark moon energy. Just like that.
As we begin our ascent out of a dark pandemic winter, sowing early spring vegetables and visiting garden centers (yes! woohoo!) a glance back in time has me feeling grateful for spring, for lengthening days, for the vaccine, and for the earth, rain, and sun that will nurture my gardens this year. So that’s my new moon intention.
So … a couple of last little notes about the new moon: It rises around sunrise and sets around sunset. We can’t see it because it’s between the Earth and the Sun, and the dark side of the moon is facing us.
Years ago I was involved in a motorcycle accident. It was just after my 21st birthday and what started as a lovely autumn cruise turned into an accident that left me with a compression fracture in my back, three breaks in my pelvis, and a shattered right ankle. It could have been worse! The person driving the bike skillfully put us down into the side of the car tires first, rather than colliding with the car, which hadn’t seen us.
Some years later, I do an awful lot of yoga and have tried various pain relief for the arthritis that has developed in my poor little ankle.
I’ve found CBD taken sublingually and applied as a topical oil are the best natural remedies. So, I started making my own since it’s expensive!
Last year I ordered 10 seeds from ilgm.com, managed to germinate 4 under a grow light in the early spring, and away I went on my adventure, growing the hemp alongside my other spring seedlings:
As you can see from this photo, my hemp plants were dwarfed by the brandywine tomatoes that are right behind them in this picture. I didn’t know much about nutrients or hemp, but they grew and flowered anyway. They were forgiving.
I put these little guys in a sunny spot in my vegetable garden. They didn’t grow much, it turned out the roots were so developed by the time I brought them out that they filled the pots they were in, and when I put them in the ground they didn’t spread out. Also, they were also competing with squash. I know. It sounds silly but I put the plants in there together and let nature take its course.
I decided to clip the flowers when my son, who knows about marijuana, advised me that the flowers should be harvested NOW. So I did, hanging them to dry after clipping off a few leaves under his direction, and after they were dry I “processed” them.
Processing, it turns out, is very simple. You “decarboxylate” the flowers in an oven at a low temp for 35 -60 minutes at about 280 degrees Fahrenheit. After that I put them into a jar, covered them with olive oil, and left them sit for 6-8 weeks. I see lots of websites suggest using a precision cooker or crock pot. I didn’t.
When the time passed I strained the oil out of the hemp et voila! CBD oil.
This year I bought more seeds and am growing a bunch of plants to make into oil. It’s easy to do and I really enjoy growing the plants themselves. They are cute, and they become big and impressive if you care for them properly, so I’ll give them their own garden bed this year. 🙂
If you want to give making oil a try or have questions please feel free to get in touch!
Spring in the northern hemisphere has arrived, and with it a full moon in libra. Dazzling balance energy. For those working balance issues it’s been a big week of shifts. Whatever has been out of balance seems to have corrected in the other direction. And for me, the stories that carried me through winter fell to pieces with the equinox. They are like ashes left from a warm fire.
But, spring. Crocus, chives, and the first buds on trees; I wandered out to the garden to see. No sign of asparagus yet but the very first red rhubarb spears are emerging. The soil is warming, workable.
Yesterday I made a half-hearted start at spring clearing. Pulling old dead verbena stalks I uncovered Hellebore—beautiful nodding spring flowers. I felt a wave of comfort wash over my heart. Turning toward the kitchen garden, I found the thyme is starting to green. Just barely. And the oregano is still asleep but I could feel it stirring when I brushed my hand over it.
Seeing my old friends have made it through winter gave me quiet feelings of joy, yes, but there was something more. Signs of life emerging reminded me that it’ll be okay. Dreams break. And then there is something new to watch emerge, flower, and die back.
Flowing with the planet’s rhythm teaches impermanence. And this week I found comfort and balance in what’s emerging and quiet hope for what I’m waiting on.
Feeling good takes self-care and attention—not an area that many of us are great at making time for. This year I’ve put more effort into my well-being, though, creating a yoga practice and spending more time in my garden. I have always looked for shortcuts to wellness … teas, cooking with herbs, and simple oil infusions are easy ways to take care of yourself without breaking the bank, and a natural way to score wellness points since we all have to eat and stay hydrated…
Since connecting with the planet is the fastest way I know to feel better, here’s a list of 5 plants that offer support for mood, healthy, glowing skin and hair, anxiety, and a happy belly. Look no further than your (sunny!) window garden when prioritizing beauty sleep, glowing skin, mood support, and a little boost of zen. So without further ado, read on to meet a few allies in our quest for well-being:
For Glowing Skin – Calendula is a pretty orange flowering annual that loves the sun and is easy to grow in a pot. Also called Pot Marigold, Calendula is known to have anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties, and it’s rich in antioxidant components. But Calendula’s claim to fame is its support for your skin: it soothes rashes, eczema, helps heal wounds, and is known to help remedy practically any skin complaint. A calendula-infused oil is a soothing moisturizer that’s great for your skin. You can even eat the flowers, sautée the petals in oil to release a saffron flavor in your cooking, or dry them for tea.
Find a sunny spot to grow your calendula in a large pot with drainage and water as needed. To encourage flowers, let the plant dry out between waterings for a few weeks. Calendula takes about 55-60 days from sowing to harvest.
To make calendula-infused oil fill a jar with dried calendula flowers. Pour an oil of your choice–like grapeseed or olive oil—over them. Let the jar sit for a few weeks, shaking it now and again. Strain out the flowers and you have a beautiful, healing oil for your skin.
To get your beauty sleep drink chamomile tea. The use of chamomile tea dates back to ancient Greece, where it was used as a cold remedy. Nowadays though, chamomile is famous for calming frazzled nerves and promoting rest.
Studies have shown that drinking chamomile tea improves sleep quality and reduces insomnia. This may be because chamomile contains antioxidants that bind to receptors in your brain which are thought to promote sleepiness. Along with helping you relax and get a good night’s sleep, chamomile’s benefits include having anti-inflammatory properties thought to support digestive health and benefit blood sugar control, and antioxidants that help fend off some kinds of cancer. Moreover, chamomile tea is linked to reducing menstrual pain.
Growing chamomile: There are two kinds of chamomile – roman and german. For the most abundant flower (and tea!) harvest, choose german chamomile. To grow chamomile, choose a pot that is 12-18 inches wide and has a hole at the bottom to drain, since chamomile doesn’t like to be kept too wet. Place your chamomile in a sunny window with at least 6 hours of light. Water when the top ½ inch of soil feels dry and fertilize once a month after your plants have reached a mature height. No need for fertilizer if you plant your chamomile in the ground!
To make tea, pick the flowers when they bloom and set them on a baking sheet to dry. When they’ve dried, pop a few in a teacup and infuse with hot water.
Mint tea is a delicious way to calm your stomach and improve your digestive function. Studies have shown that mint tea relaxes the gastrointestinal system, helps sooth upset stomach, and fights off nausea, gas, and bloating. Studies have found that peppermint even helps improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Along with promoting a happy gut, mint is a good source of potassium, calcium, vitamins A and C, and folate, as well as antioxidants which protect against aging and chronic illness. It’s also an antiviral and antimicrobial, so it supports your immune system and helps fight infection.
Mint is an easy to grow perennial. You can grow it from seed or you can find little mint herb plants at garden shops. Give it a sunny window and consistent water and it will be happy. To make tea, just snip some of the plant and steep in water. You can enjoy mint tea from fresh leaves or dried leaves or even pop a few leaves in your bath for a refreshing soak.
Boost your mood and treat dandruff with rosemary. I have grown rosemary for years. My love affair started with a recipe I found in an Andrew Weil article, and it’s been an occupant of my kitchen garden ever since. I just learned this year, though, that there’s more to rosemary than good taste! The aroma of rosemary has been linked to improving the mood, clearing the mind, and relieving stress. Considered a cognitive stimulant, it is known to boost alertness and focus. A source of iron, calcium, vitamins A, C, and B-6, rosemary is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds which support the immune system and help improve blood circulation. And it’s effective against candida albicans – the yeast that causes dandruff!
Grow your rosemary in a pot with drainage, and make sure it has a nice sunny window – it loves the sun! Rosemary prefers dry roots and moist foliage; you can sit your rosemary in a pot that has rocks and water in the bottom – it will enjoy the evaporation–or spritz with a spray bottle.
To boost your mood, memory, and focus, infuse your drinking water with rosemary, make a tea from it, keep a plant or dried rosemary nearby, or use a diffuser with rosemary essential oil.
To add shine to your hair and protect against dandruff, make a rosemary rinse. Boil a couple of tablespoons of fresh rosemary leaves (or a tablespoon of dry leaves) in 2 cups of water for a few minutes in a covered pot. Strain out the rosemary oil, let cool, and use as a final rinse in your hair. You can add some lavender essential oil if you’d like.
Treat anxiety with Lemon Balm. Lemon Balm is perennial, is in the mint family, and is named for its lemony scent. Studies have shown that the rosmarinic acid contained in lemon balm helps with stress and anxiety by increasing the availability of some neurotransmitters that are associated with anxiety.
Lemon Balm claims other potential benefits related to rosmarinic acid, which has potent antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, including helping with cold sores, insomnia, high cholesteral, genital herpes, heartburn, and indigestion. Notice a pattern? Herbs often have a range of benefits related to antioxidants and antimicrobials.
To grow lemon balm inside keep it in a sunny spot and don’t overwater. It doesn’t need a big pot since it will grow right up to the edges. You can propagate lemon balm in water. A couple of notes: it has a lovely citrusy smell, running your hand over its leaves will release the aroma into the room. Once it blooms it becomes bitter, so keep it cut back to always have sweet tasting leaves.
To make lemon balm tea snip some leaves and then muddle, cut, or tear them into small pieces, and place them into a tea infuser. Pour hot water over them and let them steep. I also infuse iced drinking water with fresh lemon balm leaves for a refreshing summer cooler.
You might be surprised at the potency of these herbs—they are mighty! Simply brushing your hand over their leaves releases oils and scent into the air and onto your skin, and can have an immediate effect. Herbs are also surprisingly beautiful and add charm and life to living spaces.
I keep peppermint and rosemary in my office year-round in a sunny window because they are beautiful, give the room a wonderful fragrance, and have a lively energy that grounds me. It is fun and rewarding to experiment with herbs to find which ones speak to you – which aromas you find the most pleasing, which of them you find the most beautiful, which ones thrive with you, and of course, which ones contribute most to your well-being.
One last note: It’s a good idea to check with your doctor before adding new supplements to your diet, since some herbs can interact with medications or prolonged use can have side effects. 🙂
I love to make enchiladas and chili, so I grew jalapenos last year. I had more fun growing these then I did other vegetables because of how quickly and profusely they fruited. It was so much fun to go out and pick what seemed like an endless supply of gorgeous long deep green peppers on just a few plants. I filled 3 freezer bags full!
If you are a hot pepper enthusiast you may already know what kind of peppers you want to grow. A very quick overview of some choices in order from least to most hot in case you’re not sure:
Poblanos, spicier than a bell pepper and, I think, the mildest of hot peppers.
Anaheim, mild to medium heat
Jalapenos, milder than cayenne peppers but still pretty hot. You definitely want to wash your hands after cutting them.
Serrano, medium to high heat.
Cayenne, hotter than jalapenos with smaller fruits
Tabasco, medium-high heat.
Thai, these are smaller and very hot.
Habaneros, and around 3 times hotter than thai peppers.
Ghost peppers – the hottest, I’m told. These need 120 days after planting to mature.
Growing hot peppers from seed isn’t hard, and vegetables still warm from the sun are a giant step up from supermarket produce – its hard to overstate the pleasure and satisfaction of cutting your own peppers and cooking with them.
Start them about 6 weeks before your last frost date and they will be ready to plant when it warms up outside. My seed starting primer is here, and the process I’ve outlined there is essentially the same, but I’ve added a few specifics around planting hot peppers that are worth noting. The basic supplies you’ll want to start your peppers inside include:
pots and plastic wrap or a a seed starting tray with humidity dome – the plastic cover is to keep seeds moist.
good potting soil or seed starting mixture.
A warming mat; hot peppers like warmth and the extra heat will help them germinate. Alternatively they can go on top of a warm appliance.
a grow lamp or a south facing window.
General procedure for starting seeds
Fill your pots/tray with seed starting mix or potting soil. Water the mixture so that it’s thoroughly moistened.
Sprinkle seeds in pots, cover very lightly with planting mix, about a quarter inch deep.
Keep them moist. Misting seeds is a great way to moisten them without overwatering. Lightly watering works too, though.
Cover the pots with a plastic dome or plastic wrap to keep them moist.
The seed package should tell you how long until germination; extra warmth helps speed this along.
Once seedlings appear, remove the plastic cover and keep little plants in direct sunlight or under a grow lamp. They will want 6 hours of light.
Thin: you cut back extra seedlings appearing in the pots, leaving the strongest seedling to grow.
You can transplant them into a larger 3 to 4 inch pot with potting soil, which is more nutrient rich than seed starting mix.
When plants are 4-6 inches tall and temps outside reach about 70 degrees with warm nights and no risk of frost you can plant them outside in full sun. Add compost to the beds you’ll be growing the peppers in, and space them about 18 inches apart.
Let the sun work its magic, keeping the plants moist until the peppers start to flower.
To encourage heat in the peppers, don’t overwater once fruits form, let the peppers dry out between waterings.
Generally hot peppers are ready for harvest in 60-95 days after sowing, depending on the variety and conditions.
Tis the season for … seeds arriving! Little square packages full of potential.
I have friends who are embarking on new culinary herb gardens this year. New gardeners, new gardens. Woo!!!
If you are starting an herb garden, you may be planning to start your seeds outside and buy some plants — this is a tried and true method that works great. However, a couple of my friends have seeds and want to start them indoors. Our last frost date in Massachusetts is just too far away! So before I move onto a few tips for starting seedlings, one word about what herbs need: sunlight, well-drained soil and water. So if you are planning to put your green babies in the ground bear that in mind.
Onto seed starting: generally, you’ll want to start your seeds about 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. If you don’t know what that is, google “last frost date” and your zip code. With respect to gear, you can buy seed starting kits and there are mountains of types of pots and gadgets. What you need, at a minimum:
a south facing/sunny window,
pots/a tray of small pots
good potting soil or seed starting mixture. Note on this: seed starting mixture isn’t high on nutrients. This is fine for the first few weeks, but I recommend a more nutrient-rich potting soil or organic plant food for the plants once they get going.
Very helpful to have:
I have found a warming mat to be invaluable for seed germination; if your space is colder than 65 degrees F you’ll want one.
a grow lamp for long, grey days and even weeks in the spring,
a spray bottle is a great way to water–seedlings are delicate!
A seed starting kit with humidity dome to keep seeds moist.
General procedure for starting seeds (any kind):
Fill your pots/tray with seed starting mix or potting soil.
Lightly cover seeds
Lightly water. Misting seeds is a great way to moisten them without overwatering. Lightly watering is fine, too, though.
Cover the pots with a plastic dome or plastic wrap to keep them moist.
Store in a warm, sunny spot. Germination generally takes 2-4 weeks but can happen within 5 days, depending on which plant you are watching and waiting on.
Pause to enjoy the feeling you have when the little green heads of your seedlings emerge.
Once seedlings appear, remove the plastic cover and keep little plants in direct sunlight
You can transplant once they are 3-6 inches tall, in a sunny spot — they prefer 6-8 hours of sunlight!
Some other notes I’ve collected on a few herbs with particular tastes:
For oregano: no need to cover seeds with soil. Mist them and cover the container with plastic and place in a sunny window. They should germinate in a week or so. If you are using a seed starting kit with a humidity dome this should do the trick in place of plastic. Oregano is a nice companion plant for beans and broccoli, because it helps fend off pests that like those vegetables.
For basil: Basil doesn’t like the cold; when it is exposed to temps below 50 degrees F or is sprayed with cold water it can develop spots. So keep the water room temperature when watering basil!
Most seeds just needs some heat and moist soil to germinate; they don’t need the sun until they pop their little green heads up. But Thyme and lemon balm like light to germinate, so be sure to stick these in a window or under a grow lamp.
Dill, parsley, and cilantro don’t really like to be transplanted so if you can plant them where you plan to have them grow, that might be best.
To round out my recent posts showcasing some very showy flowers native to the Northeast (and far beyond), I’m presenting 6 more here. All but one are loved by bees and butterflies … the outlier is a friend of lizards and toads, who are important and adorable, too! Read on to learn more about North America’s native beauties.
Joe Pye Weed
A fifth native flower that benefits the North American ecosystem is lesser-known: Joe Pye Weed. Native to eastern and central North America, this wildflower has a vanilla scent and attracts pollinators and butterflies. Also known as gravel root, kidney root, and trumpet weed, Joe Pye Weed is commercially available, grows up to 7 feet tall and each plant is 2-4 feet wide; it has lance shaped dark green leaves that grow up to a foot long – this is an impressive plat! An herbaceous perennial, it blooms in late summer and likes moist soil and full or partial sun.
Garden Phlox has been a summer garden mainstay since colonial times. Native to the eastern and central United States, it’s popularity isn’t mysterious – it has big blooms, long blooming times, and easy care. It attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Garden Phlox blooms from July to September, carrying flower gardens through the hottest period of the year. It comes in many colors and cultivars, can be between 1 and 5 feet tall, depending on the cultivar chosen, and is also called summer phlox, tall phlox, and border phlox.
Phlox is easy to grow– the plants in my garden appear every year even though I ignore them! Plant in full to partial sun and loamy soil, mulch and water to keep it moist, and you’re done!
New England Aster
Native to the northeast, The New England Aster typically has bright purple flowers with yellow centers, but the flower color can vary, appearing in lavender, pink, and a variety of shades of purple. New England Aster are unique: they have a hairy stem and leaves that clasp the stem in a unique way, making them easy to identify.
Blooming from August to October’s first frost, asters attract butterflies and have special value to native and bumble bees. They are a nectar source and are often seen with goldenrods in native fields. Asters are between 3 and 6 feet tall, likes full sun to part shade and do well when they are divided every few years. They are drought resistant though they prefer moist soil, can be self-seeding and can grow to 5 feet.
Coral Bells (Heuchera)
Coral Bells (Heuchera) are perennials native to the United States and come in a wide variety of varieties, colors, and variegations. They send up clusters tiny bell-shaped flowers, called inflorescences, in pink, white, red, or coral from their foliage; they are a source of nectar for native bees and hummingbirds love their delicate flowers.
While these plants do make flowers they are treasured by gardeners for their foliage, which comes in a spectacular array of vivid colors. Heuchera form a leaf mound, and the flower stalks can be very tall compared to the height of the leaf mound, which range from 12-36 inches tall and 12-18 inches wide when they are mature. Heuchera are semi-evergreen in the northeast and evergreen in warmer places, versatile and easy to care for; they can be grown in the sun, shade, or partial shade, preferring some shade, and they like well-drained, rich soil. Mine did perfectly well in full sun with mulch around them, retaining their gorgeous eggplant color right up until they disappeared under the snow. To care for them: water regularly during the first year of growth, mulch them to avoid root exposure during seasonal soil shifts and cut back flower stalks in the fall.
A cousin to Coral Bells, Foam Flower is native to the United States and Canada. Also called the Heartleaf Foamflower, and Tiarella Cordifolia, these wildflowers are shade-loving. The origin of its name is fun: Tiarella from the Greek tiara, and Cordifolia from the Latin cordi, meaning heart, and folia, meaning leaf.
Foam Flower has long, flowering stems with frothy-looking, cream-colored inflorescences (flowers) that grow up to 12 inches. The frothy appearance of the flowers comes from its long, slender stamens. Mature foamflower send out runners or rhizomes, and can grow into colonies over time, but they are not invasive.
Small bees and butterflies pollinate foamflower, and in its native setting it compliments a matrix of streambank plant systems.
Our final native plant is not a bee-friendly, butterfly friendly, hummingbird friendly plant. Instead, this plant, the Maidenhair fern, which is native to the eastern United States and Canada, provides shelter for toads, lizards, and small mammals. Not everyone gets excited about toads and lizards, but I do. I think they are sweet. One time we found a little newt trapped in our basement – somehow it had gotten into the pan that our hot water heater sits in and tripped the alarm that alerts us to water in the pan. Poor little guy. I found a nice fern and dropped him off.
Which brings us back to the Maidenhair fern. Commercially available, maidenhair ferns have delicate, light green foliage and don’t like to dry out, they need to be kept moist and will thrive in shard or part shade locations. They grow between 12 and 24 inches tall, are deer resistant, and reproduce by spores, which are reproductive cells. An interesting fact about maidenhair ferns: native americans made tea from the leaves to treat cough and other respiratory conditions.
In this fourth post of the series, another native flower that is friendly to our North American ecosystem and lovely in the garden: Coreopsis. Sometimes called tickseed, this flower grows wild in the United States and parts of Canada and Mexico. It is adaptable and prolific, a part of the Aster family, and has flowers that look like little daisies. Most bloom in yellow, but there are pink and red varieties, too. And with respect to varieties–there are many. Threadleaf, lance-leafed and large-flowered seem to be the three main varieties. I have a bunch of threadleaf Coreopsis growing next to my potting shed; the thin little leaves have a bunching, delicate look, and this variety makes a nice border since it doesn’t grow tall. Some varieties do, though, so check to see which type you are planting before you clear a place on the border of your garden for it!
This plant has been popular with gardeners since the 19th century and comes with references: The Spruce calls it easy to grow and adaptable, even foolproof. They have a nice article that features 8 varieties. The U.S. forest service calls the lance-leafed Coreopsis, which is the most common variety of this plant a “dependable and prolific flowering native perennial.”
A few attributes that are of interest to the ecologically minded:
it has special value to native bees
attracts birds and butterflies
is a nectar source
its seeds are eaten by birds.
Coreopsis, like Rudbeckia, Bee Balm, and Purple Coneflower, is commercially available and can be propagated with seed. It likes well-drained soil and full sun. These plants grow in clumps but they have rhizomes and form in colonies. It is drought tolerant, and will self seed where it doesn’t come back after a cold winter. Of note, Coreopsis requires frequent deadheading to keep it blooming–that is the the only drawback to this plant, I think. Dividing every two seasons will keep them vigorous.
Consider leaving them uncut for the winter to provide food for your local birds! And then in the spring, cut back as needed before new growth begins to enjoy a season of beautiful, bee-friendly blooms!
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.