Bee balm, also known as bergamot and/or Oswego tea, Monarda didyma is so named not as a balm to make our little pollinator friends more comfortable, but rather for the soothing properties of its crushed leaves when applied to bee stings. Bee stings? Well, they will sting if grabbed or stepped upon, or their nest is disturbed. We find the bees to be good neighbors out and about in the garden here, but we have been stung, when wearing a long flowing skirt at the time the Ajuga was in bloom along the edges of the stairway to the Knot Garden. But that is another story…
Monarda didyma was discovered by botanist John Bartram and given the common name of Oswego Tea after it was noted that the Native Americans of northern New York into Ontario used the leaves for a medicinal beverage. The genus was named for Nicolas Bautista Monardes, a sixteenth century Spanish physician who established a botanical garden in Seville to study plants brought back from the New World.
Monarda likes sun or part shade and is moisture loving, but will grow in drier soils, as evidenced by its presence on the well drained slopes of the Fairegarden. The plants we grow, M. ‘Marshall’s Delight’, M. ‘Raspberry Wine’, M. ‘Jacob Kline’, M. ‘Pink Lace’ and M. ‘Blue Stockings’ struggle somewhat here in times of drought, but do well enough to earn their keep by attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and countless other pollinators.
The plants like to move about from year to year with running roots, and are welcome wherever they pop up. The leaves can be afflicted with powdery mildew, which may be unacceptable to those gardeners who require pristine perfection. That is not the case, so not the case, with the attitude about appearance here, be it in the garden, in the house or in the color of our hair. We are naturalists. Imperfection is a natural fact.
Beautiful in the landscape, Monarda has a very long period of prettiness throughout most of the summer and is allowed to stand in the fall after it has turned to sepia tones for the interesting shape of the seedheads and as food for wildlife.
The bees love Monarda so much, they will grab a quick forty winks, or more whilst hanging onto the petals. I woke this little sweetheart with the click of the camera and away he buzzed to visit more of the balming blooms. Pardon me!
Some facts about Monarda didyma:
Use Ornamental: Valued for its bright flowers and minty aroma.
Use Wildlife: Hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees are attracted to the blossoms.
Use Food: Occasionally used in Earl Grey tea.
Use Medicinal: Its medicinal uses include expelling worms, and for treating gas, fever and stomach ailments. The name Oswego Tea comes from the fact that the leaves were used for a tea by the Oswego Indains of New York. Early settlers also used the plant for this purpose when regular tea was scarce. The name Beebalm comes from the folk use of crushed leaves to soothe bee stings.
Nectar Source: yes
Deer Resistant: Moderate
Size Notes: Normally 2 to 4 feet tall, but can get to 6 feet
Give a lift to your pollinator friends. Try some Monarda and watch them flock to your garden. You’ll be glad you did.