If You Plant Bee Balm, Pollinators Will Come

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Lawn & Garden

Bee balm, also known as genus Monarda, is a member of the mint family and was named in honor of the 16th century Spanish physician and botanist Nicolas Bautista Monardes. It was discovered by early explorers who wrote some of the earliest books about the medicinal uses of America’s native plants. Native Americans used bee balm in tea to treat lung ailments and topically as an antiseptic for wounds and to reduce the swelling of bee stings. Bee balm is not only a pretty flower but also a versatile herb that has lots of health and culinary applications. It is a perennial powerhouse that attracts a plethora of pollinators to its spectacular blossoms and has a storied history as well.

The Story of Bee Balm

Bee balm, also known as wild bergamot and horsemint, was regarded as a desirable kitchen and ornamental plant by the early 18th century. In 1744, the American botanist John Bartram sent Monarda didyma seeds he’d collected from the gardens of settlers near Oswego, New York to England. By 1760, there was an abundance of Oswego tea (another common name for bee balm) to be found in the markets of Covent Garden. Bee balm even saved the day as a patriotic replacement for English tea after the Boston Tea Party in 1773.

Bee balm has a spotted variety that was believed to ward off ghosts!

What to Know About Growing Bee Balm

More than 15 species of bee balm grow in North America, some more widespread than others. Rose and lavender-colored Monarda fistulosa, also known as wild bergamot, is a cold-hardy perennial that grows from the Rocky Mountains to the east. Monarda didyma, native to the eastern U.S., includes garden hybrids with scarlet and lavender-hued whorls that look like exploding fireworks.

Monarda didyma, also known as red bee balm, is a perennial flower that adds a burst of color to gardens in late summer. It thrives in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4-9 and can grow up to 5 feet tall. With its square stems and opposite leaves, it prefers full sun but can tolerate partial shade and various soil types. However, powdery mildew can be an issue, especially in humid areas. To combat this, plant it in the back of your garden and choose powdery mildew-resistant varieties like ‘Jacob Cline’ and ‘Bee-Happy’. Bee balm is loved by pollinators and beneficial insects and is also edible and fragrant. Interestingly, its symbolic meaning is good health and protection against evil and illness, and a bee balm tattoo represents good luck and prosperity.


1. What is Bee Balm?

Bee Balm is a flowering plant native to North America. It is also known as Monarda, Oswego Tea, and Bergamot. The plant grows up to 4 feet tall and blooms with bright red, pink, lavender, and white flowers in the summer. The leaves of Bee Balm can be used to make tea and have a spicy flavor similar to oregano.

2. Why is Bee Balm important for bees?

Bee Balm is a nectar-rich plant that attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. The flowers are tubular-shaped, making it easy for bees to access the nectar and pollen. Bees are essential pollinators for many crops and plants, and planting Bee Balm in your garden can help support their populations.

3. How do I plant Bee Balm?

Bee Balm grows best in full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil. The plant can be started from seeds or transplanted from established plants. Plant the seeds or plants in the spring after the last frost and space them about 18 inches apart. Water the plant regularly and deadhead the flowers to encourage more blooms.

4. How do I care for Bee Balm?

Bee Balm is a low-maintenance plant that doesn’t require much care. Water the plant regularly, especially during hot and dry periods. Deadhead the flowers to encourage more blooms and cut back the plant in the fall to prevent the spread of disease. Bee Balm is susceptible to powdery mildew, so make sure to plant it in an area with good air circulation.

5. Can I use Bee Balm in cooking?

Yes, the leaves of Bee Balm can be used in cooking. The leaves have a spicy flavor similar to oregano and can be used fresh or dried. They are often used in salads, marinades, and soups. The flowers are also edible and can be used as a garnish on desserts and drinks.

6. Are there any health benefits to using Bee Balm in cooking?

Bee Balm leaves contain thymol, which is a natural antiseptic and can help soothe stomach and respiratory issues. The leaves also contain antioxidants and can help boost the immune system.

7. Can I use Bee Balm to make tea?

Yes, the leaves of Bee Balm can be used to make tea. The tea has a spicy flavor similar to Earl Grey and can be served hot or cold. To make the tea, steep 1-2 teaspoons of dried leaves in hot water for 5-10 minutes. You can also add honey or lemon for extra flavor.

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