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.