Monarda Didyma (Bee Balm)

It is also sometimes called ‘Bee Balm,’ as bees are fond of its blossoms, which secrete much nectar. […] It is a very ornamental plant and readily propagated by its creeping roots and by slips or cuttings, which, if planted in a shady corner in May, will take root in the same manner as the other Mints.  —Grieve 1931.

Week 27 of the PBP.

Bee balm, often called bergamot, is really funny looking stuff.  With flowers that range from blood red to Barbie pink, they look like punk teenagers clustering together with spiky Kool-Aide hair. My fascination with bee balm (pronounced “bee bomb” in my native NJ :p) started when I first thought it was that oh-so-wonderful citrus flavor that is the hallmark of Earl Grey tea. It’s actually not, Earl and Lady Grey being flavored by the bergamot orange, but it was enough to pique my interest at the time. I worked at a garden center when I first encountered this guy and was truthfully a little shocked when I saw the plant that produces such a wonderful aroma. I suppose it makes sense that the flower would be just as showy as the flavor!

Bee balm will grow happily just about anywhere there’s full sun. It’s in the mint tribe, although not a true mint, and multiplies beautifully over time—one of the reasons garden centers and the like charge more for perennials, since you only ever have to buy one! Native to the U.S., Monarda was used as both a medicinal and culinary herb by a number of Indigenous American tribes, including the Blackfoot, Menominee, Ojibwa and Winnebago.  Another common name, Oswego Tea, “refers to the use of the leaves for a tea by the Oswegos of New York. Early colonists also used the plant for this purpose when regular tea was scarce.”

Wrong kind of bergamot, but the pic was too good to pass up!

Magically speaking, bee balm is written about only by Cunningham, who sees it as Feminine, Airy and unattached to any particular planet; it brings “clarity and good working order” to any situation (2003, 54). Personally, I associate Bee Balm with Fire and Mars, both from its growing habit and flavor. I do agree about it’s ability to bring clarity, or more specifically, burn away confusion. While I have not yet brewed tea from its leaves, it’s something I would like to try this summer since my neighbors have a bumper crop this year!

6 thoughts on “Monarda Didyma (Bee Balm)

  1. The tea is lovely – I have a bergamot in my garden; a little goes a LONG way and even a few leaves added into my regular black tea in the morning flavours the entire pot. Absolutely love the stuff.


      1. They can be either or – I use them fresh while they’re growing, and harvest and dry them for over the winter.


  2. My monarda didyma did very well this year.
    Reached to around 5-6 ft level and brought in my friendly humming birds constantly racing for territory. They are like a new friend.


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