Lots of people have heard of bee balm, though they might not necessarily have heard of it by that name. It is quite worthwhile to grow this plant, particularly if you are a gardener, and it isn’t difficult to grow.
Bee balm in general
Bee balm is a reference to plants of the Monarda genus, rather than to a species. However, the Monarda didyma species is representative. This plant goes by many names; bee balm, horse mint, mountain mint, monarda, bergamot, and Oswego tea among them.
This herb is a perennial and as some of the common names indicate, it is a member of the mint family. The plants have square stems like other kinds of mint and also like other mints, bee balm has some very useful medicinal applications.
Under ideal conditions, the plants can grow to nearly five feet tall, though they are more commonly two feet tall with bushy growth. There are a number of cultivars and the flowers range from pale pink to red to purple.
Hummingbird, butterfly, and bee attractor
The flowers are showy and usually appear in mid-summer, lasting until fall. The blossoms are also highly attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees, as the common name implies. This is great news for gardeners as it attracts major pollinators.
Medicinal uses of bee balm
Native Americans have been using bee balm medicinally for a very long time. Bee balm is a powerful antiseptic and is used on cuts, scrapes, punctures, and insect bites, interestingly including bee stings. The tea is also used for sore throat, fever, water retention, inflammation of the gums, toothaches, skin ulcerations, blisters, upset stomach, stomach gas, and flatulence. The herb can freshen the breath, too.
The tea is made by putting one to two tablespoons of the fresh herb leaves in a tea ball and putting this in a cup of hot water, covered for 10 minutes. Like thyme, which is another kind of mint, the active ingredient in bee balm is thymol. Honey can be used to sweeten the tea. The flavor is somewhat like a mixture of peppermint and spearmint.
Note: Bergamot oil doesn’t come from bee balm, though a common name of bee balm is bergamot. Bergamot oil comes from a different plant called bergamot orange, which was used to flavor Earl Grey tea at one time.
Growing bee balm
Bee balm grows in most soil. It prefers soil that stays damp, though. It also loves sunshine, but also likes having some shade, particularly in the hot part of the day.
The plants are hardy as long as they get plenty of water and they don’t require heavy fertilizing. This herb grows well in regular garden soil.
Bee balm can be grown from seed. However, germination is slow. An easier way to do it is to grow the plants by stem cuttings put in water until they root. Bee balm roots almost as easily as peppermint.
Alternately, root cuttings can be used to establish new plants. Harvesting can be done anytime the plant is actively growing, by simply snipping off leaves. The plant simply produces more leaves. In fact, snipping off the tips of growing stems encourages bushy growth.
Bee balm can be dried, just like thyme, peppermint, spearmint, basil, thyme, sage, and other kinds of mints. However, as with all of these, the dried herb isn’t nearly as powerful or flavorful as the fresh herb. A lot of the thymol is lost during the drying process, especially if heat is used to dry the herb.
Note: It is unwise to dry any herbs with heat or in the sun. Doing this forces out the essential oils that give the herb its aroma, flavor, and medicinal value.
Bee balm has a valuable place in any garden, and since it can be easily grown in pots like other kinds of mint, it can even be grown on a patio, balcony, or other container gardens. Whether you want to use the tea for medicinal purposes, drink it just because it tastes good, or want a plant to attract pollinators, there are some excellent reasons to grow bee balm. Thankfully, it is quite easy to grow.