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