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B is for Bee Balm on the A to Z Blogger Challenge


Bee Balm or Monarda didyma

B has to be  for Bee Balm because a post I did about Bee Balm in 2009 is one of the most popular posts I ever did. I don’t know quite why. Maybe I did some SEO magic without knowing? Maybe because ABC Wednesday still remains very popular, running through the alphabet for six years now?

In any event, bee balm, more properly known as Monarda didyma, is an American native that has it’s own place in American history. It was a popular substitue for ‘real tea’ in the wake of the Boston Tea Party, and remains a common ingredient in herbal tea blends today.  It grew in the Oswego,ew York area and therefore (maybe) is sometimes called Oswego tea. According to my old Rodale Herb Book, it is also sometimes called bergamot because “The entire plant emits a strong fragrance similar t citrus, but most like that of the tropical orange tree, orange bergamot. . . The fragrance contributes to its value as a garden plant, and, moreover, makes it suitable for use in potpourris and other scented mixtures.” It is the leaves that are used in tea mixtures. They should be stripped off the square hollow stems and allowed to dry for two or three days in warm shade. I store the dried leaves in glass jars, and keep them in my dark pantry.

Bee balm is an easy plant to grow, but you must begin with a division. That is the only way you know exactly what you are getting. There are a number of cultivated varietie in shades of pink, red and purple. Bluestone Perennials offers a good selection including Colrain Red, a beautiful scarlet, which was first found in a neighboring town and then put into commercial production.

I grow my bee balm in my sunny Herb Bed which borders our piazza right in front of the house. There I can see the hummingbirds that regularly visit. The soil is of average fertility and drains well. It is supposed to like a moisture holding  soil, but mine does fine even in drought. I always have plenty to share for friends and fund raising plant sales. After the first bloom in midsummer, you can cut it back and you will get another flush later in the season.

To see what else begins with B click here.

Country Roads – and Home

And home again.

For more Wordlessness click here.

Bee Balm – ABC Wednesday

B is for Bee Balm, otherwise known as Bergamot and Oswego Tea is more properly known as Mondarda didyma. It has been used  as a tea for centuries and is still found in herbal tea blends, and other flowery tea blends such as Earl Grey.

The Shakers grew bee balm commercially because of its many uses as a tea and culinary herb. It also was used medicinally for colds and sore throats. It is the leaves that are used. A good pruning after bloom will usually generate a second autumnal bloom.

The leaves can be used fresh for tea, or harvested and dried for two or three days, out of the sun, and then stored.

Early in my friendship with Elsa Bakalar who lived and gardened in Heath, we collaborated on an article for Horticulture Magazine about color in the garden.  Shades of color are always difficult todescribe and define. Elsa expressed her frustration with catalog descriptions and complained that using the word red was not useful. “I need to know what kind of red a flower will be if I am going to make a useful garden plan. To me, scarlet is the color of a gurardsman’s tunic and crimson is the color of Victorian draperies. Bee balm gives a perfect example.

Crimson bee balm

Crimson bee balm

This is my crimson bee balm, a rich royal red with a touch of blue.

Scarlet bee balm

Scarlet bee balm

I cannot say that my other bee balm is ‘Cambridge Scarlet’ or ‘Colrain Red’ but it is a light bright red. “Just think of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, tall dashing men in their brilliant tunics.”

Elsa is no longer gardening, although she is still willing to give some pretty sharp opinions. My bee balm continutes to remind me of beautiful days in the garden with Elsa and being inspired to grow flowers for the first time.

Logon for more Bs in this the 5th round of ABC Wednesday.  Thank you Mrs. Nesbitt.

Bloom Day April 2009

Finally I have blooming flowers other than houseplants to report on Bloom Day. I planted scillas and a few Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa) in the grass a few years ago. Yesterday, when I tramped through all the dead tansy stems from last year, out to the new Potager my eye caught these two tiny plants pushing up through the rough stems and weeds. I can tell you that I have never planted any little bulbs in this area which has been overrun with spearmint and tansy for probably 20 years. Take note. Never ever plant spearmint or tansy where it cannot be firmly controlled! In fact, there were several isolated brilliant blue scillas winking at me, far from where any were intentioally planted.

I certainly intended those two sets of little bulbs to increase, but to find them so far away from the orignial planting is very mysterious. Does anyone know whether these flowers can somehow self seed? It seems as if they must, but so unlikely.

It is also amazing that these flowers growing among strong weeds should bloom before the ones planted in grass. Those showed their heads just this morning.

The daffodils that were here when we bought our house in 1979 have also just started blooming. This is a daffodil unlike any other I have seen. It is a very early bloomer, although I have to note that it is growing in a protected spot, against a bit of stone wall. Also the flowers are very fringey, both cup and petals. I think it must be a very old variety.

I am going to take a cue from Veg Plotting in the UK and note that this is the Middle of the Middle Month of spring and send you on to Carol of May Dreams Gardens who hosts Garden Bloggers Bloom Day and Mrs. Nesbit of ABC Wednesday.

Lemon Balm and Lettuce

L is for lilies, liatris, lilacs and lemon balm and lettuce.

One of the joys of an herb garden is the way perennial herbs appear so very early in the spring.

Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, has beautiful crinkled bright green leaves and the delicious sweet fragrance of lemons. It is hardy; a strong grower that allows me to give divisions to anyone who admires it in the garden.

I love having lemon balm in the garden for the simple pleasure of its scent when I brush it. Functionally, for the most part I use lemon balm fresh in iced tea or other summer drinks. However, it can be preserved by drying.

Like all herbs it should be harvested before it flowers. Chose a day that is hot and when warm dry weather is predicted for several days. Cut the whole stem and leaves, leaving enough stem to produce another crop. Be careful not to bruise the leaves as you work. Gently place the stems on drying trays in the shade, or in an attic heated by the summer sun. You can also hang them inside paper bags, and let them dry in that same shady place.

Historically lemon balm tea, possibly sweetened with honey, has been credited with granting long life .
Two weeks ago I was seduced by a six pack of lettuce at the garden center. On March 31, after a warm spell, I succumbed and planted it in the sunny herb bed in front of the house. Since then it has surived some frost, but I’m beginning to think my optimistic welcome of spring was a big mistake. There is a dusting of snow on the ground this morning.

For more ABC postings click on ABC Wednesday.