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.

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Joann

    Very nice post about colours and Bee Balm. I’d forgotten about that plant and would like to add some to my garden. I agree with Elsa that the shade of red is important. The first photo is closer to a fuchsia colour in my mind.

  2. Roger Green

    Not familiar w bee balm. I learn something new each week.

  3. Regina

    Wow, I love the scent of Bergamot.
    Beautiful shots and post!

  4. admin

    Joann – My camera isn’t always true to colors, but you are right, crimson is closer to fuchsia.
    Martha – Bee balm is a strong grower. Carefree.
    Roger – Bee balm is a great plant. Bees and hummingbirds love it.
    Regina – They do have a good scent. Thanks for the kind words.

  5. Frances

    Hi Pat, what a healthy stand of Mondarda! Ours does not grow that luxuriously, perhaps the lack of rain and too good of drainage for this moisture lover on our slope. Your color explanations are fabulous, as the dear Ms. Elsa must also be.

  6. Peter

    When we first moved to rural Massachusetts we were too overwhelmed by all that needed to be done to the house, so the garden (which did not then exist) was something we put on hold that first season. Lo, and behold! First there were the seemingly indigenous orange daylilies everywhere, for which we were thankful. And then what had at first appeared to be a rather tall weed (what did we know?) revealed itself as the most perfect shade of red bee balm. I’ve often puzzled over how a woman finally chooses the “right” shade of lipstick or nail polish. So many choices, so many shades. Is it Schiaparelli’s “Shocking” red or “Love That Red”? For the first time in my life I learned the difference (substantial) between crimson and scarlet. And I learned of “Cambridge” red. How to describe our red? Apparently it was unusually enough for people to stop and suggest that they’d love to have some seeds or cuttings. The red did not veer off toward purple. It was a strong red with just the right balance, a monarchical Monarda with a strong and clear color presence. That it’s bergamot scents evoked Constant Comment tea (this was thirty years ago and at that time that tea was, for us, infinitely exotic in comparison with our daily Lipton). In the winter we learned to appreciate the robust structure of the bee balm as it withstood the winter snow. It was a new plant to me, neophyte gardener that I was, and I’ve had an affection for it ever since. Bee balm does all the work as long as I do my part: admire it year round. A deal made in heaven.

  7. admin

    Frances – There has been NO lack of rain this summer. 3 inhces in the last 24 hours. We are hoping for no rain tonight. Tents are being set up and the Family will be arriving.
    Peter – Bee balm is only one of those heavenly flowers that requires nothing more than admiration.

  8. Anne

    What beautiful plant – such a wonderful colour. A

  9. Barbara

    Will Bee Balm grow in North TX climate, with heavy red clay soil. Barbara

  10. Judy White

    I have 2 Bee Balm plants.One is very full from top to bottom,leaves as well as blooms.The other had leaves truning red towards the base of the plant which I guesses was maybe over watering?I removed many of them and now the plant is starting to bloom at the topbut looks bare at the bottom.Why were the leaves red and did I harm the plant by removing them?I am in zone 7 Thanks.

  11. Dee

    Love seeing your monarda, and I agree, red is not a color that should be bandied about by catalogs. I have a brilliant red crapemyrtle, ‘Red Rocket’, and I have scads of red daylilies, but the color red is so hard to define. I like your definition. Your story of your friend made me smile too.~~Dee

  12. Otis Hopson

    I have seen picture of White Bee Balm on Face Book at some Point of time. I am interested on getting some seed to start growth next year. I have the short and tall Red Bee Balm now. It grows well and has an attraction to the Various Butter Flies. Help will be appreciated on where to obtain the seed.

  13. jaymart46

    Colour very much depends on position of the plant in sun. I have exactly same (and same age) plant in morning sun which is very bright red and another one in shade/afternoon sun which is very dark red. Try it to see how it does in different areas of your garden.

  14. cathy

    Does it attract BEEs …..I have not seen any mention of this in all the comment

  15. wstyrskyWanda

    Mine Does not grow that tall or bloom. I am in North Texas. Any suggestions?

  16. Pat

    There are different cultivars of Bee Balm, and should be able to bloom from the EAst coast and Minnesota to Texas. I an only speculate that in your particular spot it is either too hot or too dry.

  17. Peggy

    Will Bee Balm grow in North Eastern Ohio? I have a barbed wire fence separating my back yard and a corn field. There are fence line trees that provide some shade. I would like to plant something along the fence line, but I do not know what would grow. I would like some color and something that is also somewhate wind tolerant. Thanks for any ideas anyone has to share.

  18. Pat

    Peggy – I think Bee Balm is a good bet for that spot. They don’t mind wind, but the biggest question is how much shade. They will need at least 6 hours of sun. Good luck!

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